If you’re an experienced negotiator, you will probably have a plan for your next negotiation. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy, according to Helmuth von Moltke, a German field marshal in World War I. More recently, Mike Tyson is quoted as saying, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” This why preparation and training are more critical than planning.
The Only Thing That’s Constant is Change
When you have the right people doing the right things, they will know how to adapt when bad things happen. Because of training and preparation, they will adapt with composure, not panic. How will you react in the next negotiation when your proposals go nowhere or a proposal from the other party comes out of left field?
All too often, negotiators have their set plan and stick to it no matter how inappropriate it ends up being, resulting in a failure to reach a resolution and the relationships between the parties may have taken a step backward.
- Perhaps you made false assumptions about what the other party wants and why. Take time to openly communicate with the other party to make sure you have a firm grip on the other party’s perspectives and what they will need to make an agreement possible.
- You may have made some assumptions about your own client that turned out to be false. During negotiations the other party may have informed you of something your client was hoping you wouldn’t find out. It may be something embarrassing or your client may have some dirty laundry he was hoping wouldn’t be discovered. What you thought was a solid case may actually just be held together with chewing gum and duct tape. If this is the case, you’ll need to have a honest heart to heart conversation with your client to get a clear picture of his or her situation and perhaps re-appraise the goals for the negotiations.
- If something unexpected comes up, roll with it. Be creative and positive. There are many potential paths to a resolution, perhaps ones that you hadn’t thought of. Might the parties be able to meet their needs in a creative way? Don’t automatically dismiss a proposal you or your client hadn’t considered. If it’s not acceptable, perhaps an equally creative counter-proposal might get the job done.
- If you’re just getting stone walled by the other party, try to find out why. Are there facts that your client could establish that might move the other side? Might there be a way to convince the other party that a resolution is in their interests and just bulldozing a path to litigation is not going to serve them well?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to negotiation. Remember that change is the only thing that’s contact. Planning is important, but the willingness and ability to be flexible and creative may actually get the job done.