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When does a negotiation begin?

Take a moment to reflect about your negotiations and think when does a negotiation start. During the first meeting? During an exploratory phase? When someone puts their proposal on the table?

Take 5 seconds to pause and prepare an opinion on the above - Then scroll down...

Surprisingly, most people would say their negotiations begin at the negotiation table. This is incorrect. Negotiations begin whenever you start planning for them, decide what you want i.e. what your commercial and negotiation objectives are and when you start establishing what the counter-party wants.

From there onwards, you should be making a strategic plan of action which allows you to get what you want. Not during the meeting. We have successfully helped close a $2Bn+ negotiation without a single meeting happening between the two parties.

Amongst other things, meetings (negotiation events) are opportunities to explore solutions, present obstacles, favour two way communications exchanges fluidly, make proposals and counterproposals but, by all means, they are not the only tool at disposal of a negotiator.

Zooming-In and Zooming-Out

One of modern history most successful negotiators, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, always stated the importance of being able to zoom-in and out of a negotiation. In other words, being able to see the big strategic picture and then zoom-in to detailed events preparation.

A strategic plan should always inform and direct your tactical preparation and behavioural execution of each negotiation event: email, letter, text message, phone call, meeting, conference, press appearance, legal action and so on.

If you don't have a strategic plan then you'll be more likely to fall victim of your feelings and commercial pressure during the negotiation event and make suboptimal decisions, which, if you manage multi-million dollar negotiations, may signify millions profits you could have otherwise made.

At a "Zoom-Out" level, you can consider a number of tools that can allow you to reach your negotiation objectives which are not meetings such as positioning, pre-conditioning, involving third parties to alter the balance of power, alter the perception of the balance of power, present the consequences of a no-deal scenarios, and so on.

Negotiation Strategy versus Negotiation Events

The above zooming-in and zooming-out practice is what we put in practice when we prepare negotiation plans with our clients. We create a master plan with a series of scenarios, preferred strategies, contingencies strategies, crisis strategies, and emergency ones if everything goes really bad. We aim for success but plan for each failure event.

The higher value the negotiation, the more detailed your strategic and tactical plan should be, and the more rigour in your execution you should put.

If you are a business leader and want to understand the robustness of a member of your executive team preparing a negotiation when they tell you: "how am going to nail this negotiation today!" always ask them what they mean exactly and what their strategy is.

You may typically hear one of two things (one of the two being much rarer):

A) I am going to present our proposal after 15 slides explaining why we should work together and how strong a business we are, when they say "no" I'm going to make a concession and then I'll close the deal - I know them very well I know exactly how to present them. I will convince them of the validity of our proposal! I expect a few objections but nothing I can't handle.

B) "Well, we started planning this 3 months ago, we have planned and executed a series of actions to build pressure through third parties that have clearly outlined the current scarcity of our products, we have then positioned the fact that the consequences of a no deal beyond today would be dire for both of us but more damaging to them, we believe they have received the message as their CEO responded to our letter firmly but with a cooperative tone, signalling interest in finding an urgent solution. We believe that by presenting our third counterproposal today after several email exchanges we have a 70% chance of closing the deal. A rejection, predicted at a 30% probability, will trigger plan B which will make them lose around $5m over the next two weeks and, then, we think they will give in to to pressure and they'll be in a position where accepting will be much more advantageous to them than extending a deadlock scenario. In the meantime, we have built a strong BATNA which will allow us to endure the pressure and remain firm with our position for up to six to eight weeks. Having considered the actual balance of power, even if we recognise the odds are not completely in our favour given the aggressive commercial targets we have given ourselves, I am confident the plan prepared will allow us to achieve our commercial and negotiation objectives - and even strengthen the client relationship by building further commercial credibility and mutual respect. I also have a plan on how to execute the 45 minutes meeting today and have rehearsed with colleagues yesterday, so really looking forward to it."

A negotiation strategy is the overarching plan and multitude of planned scenarios that will allow you to achieve your objective. A negotiation tactical plan is how you are going to achieve that objective by planning a series of negotiation events aka negotiation-flow (number of meetings, phone calls, emails, threats, concessions, etc.) which will always have to be informed by your overarching strategic plan.

Once this is all prepared, you can then focus your negotiators brainpower on preparing and and executing the plan rigorously - with the appropriate negotiation behaviours e.g. verbal communication, body language, facial expressions, posture, proxemics, attitude and so on.


Review your answer now and see if you are in a better position to respond to our first question.

Negotiations are not meetings or phone calls, they begin when you start planning for them and executing your plan using all available tools.

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