This post picks up from my previous one on negotiations, and adds some more of my thoughts on the actual process.
The Communicator Is Responsible for Transmission
I cannot stress this enough. If you are trying to send a message to someone, and you don’t take the time to ensure the message has been relayed they way you intended, then the fault of the misunderstanding is yours. It’s tempting to say, “well they heard wrong”, or “they’re just being sensitive”. You might want to blame the receiver. But the communicator and only the communicator can know whether or not a message has been successfully transmitted.
Remember: the message receiver may take action based on his or her understanding of your message. Those actions could be very dangerous to you if their understanding is incorrect. How do you make sure you’ve sent a message accurately?
1) Take it Slow. Many of us have a tendency to barrel through facts and race to the end. The reason we do this is so that we can get to the part that’s important to us (i.e., “gimme my money”). Walk through facts slowly, and take breaks to ask if there are any questions.
2) Pay Attention. Is the receiver receptive to you? Is he or she speaking in curt, clipped tones suggesting they’re not really listening? Is your only feedback, “yeah, uh-huh, yep, sure” or are you getting real questions? Does your receiver seem interested in what you have to say? If the conversation seems to be entirely you speaking and not listening, that’s a sign that something’s wrong. An ideal negotiation is dynamic.
3) Play the Message Back. Okay, you’ve said your piece, now make sure they understand what you said. Ask them to repeat back what they heard. So many people skip this step, feeling it’s unnecessary. But if you don’t do this, how else will you know they’ve understood you?
Power Plays an Important Role
If you have power over the person you’re negotiating with outside of your actual discussion, you may influence your listener’s position in unintentional ways. You could be the person’s boss, priest, father or mother. You could be legally controlling their interests. You could be someone much higher up in your organization than they are. If any of these are true, your message receiver may enter the discussion thinking that these are not negotiations. They may instead feel you are telling them what to do. That could kill your message very quickly.
You could choose to feel that your receiver is silly if that’s how they come to the table, but such an attitude may derail negotiations before they begin. If you genuinely want your counter-party to walk away from the table satisfied, be sensitive to any power you wield. Take steps to open dialogue with their feelings in mind.
You Have No Control, Only Influence
Remember that once your negotiations are finished, your counter-party will walk away. Once that happens, you have exactly zero control over what they do next. They are free-willed, independent people, no matter what your relationship. Their subsequent actions will likely be influenced over what you had to say during your talk. What influence did you exert? Was it positive and constructive? Or was it negative and divisive?
To ensure you’re setting up negotiations in a way that puts your influence in the best possible light, it’s practical to plan it out ahead of time. Here are some things you can do before you arrive:
1. Think about their starting position. How will your receiver come to discussion? What’s their likely starting point? Will they be hostile? Receptive? Bored? Curious? What will it take to sway them to your line of thinking?
2. Anticipate objections. What might your receiver dislike about your message? How would you counter any arguments?
3. Remember you know more than they do. What parts of your discussion is your receiver likely to be unfamiliar with? Are you prepared to explain details in lay terms they can understand? Glossing over steps is a surefire way to make your receiver’s eyes glaze over. Be prepared with whatever information your counter-party might require.
4. Anticipate consequences. How would you like your receiver to behave after you’re done negotiations? How might they behave contrary to your wishes if they misunderstand something? How can you shape your words to prevent unwanted consequences during discussion?
5. Align yourself with your receiver. People are more receptive to discussion if they believe you’re already on their side. Take time to identify yourself with your receiver. Are they nervous? Calm them. Are they upset about something? Respond compassionately.
But wait, there’s more! No, I’m not done with negotiations just yet. There’s more to come in Part 3 coming soon!
I'm Geoff Crane. After 22 years in the trenches of a lot of tough projects, I decided to change direction a little bit and focus on sparking ideas in the vibrant field of project management.
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