How Should You Open A Negotiation?

Written by Tony Hughes

Our Chief Executive Officer Tony Hughes talks to Barney Jordaan, Professor of Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at Vlerick Business School. Watch the second episode in our negotiation skills video series and learn essential strategies to negotiate with influence and prepare for success.

Barney Jordaan - From previous conversations with you, I know how important the difference between preparation and planning, or should I say planning and preparation is in negotiation. Can you briefly explain to us what the difference is between the two?

Tony Hughes - Well, preparation and planning are both very important, and most people don't actually split the two up. Preparation is about the facts and figures and planning is really about how to use those facts and figures. So, for example, preparation would be what are our objectives? What are our negotiable issues? What can we trade? What will we lose if we give something away? What will we gain if we get something? What's our target? All those kinds of things. Most importantly, one of the things we must consider is, what's our worst case scenario on each our particular negotiable issues? Whereas planning is what we do with them. So, where do I open? What do I want to do behaviourally in this negotiation? Planning is a little bit like a child’s mobile on a cot. When you push one thing, lots of other things change. To plan to do something sequentially never works in a negotiation, because the other side never does exactly what you want them to do! You have to have a range of options, so that you can cope with whatever comes your way.

Barney Jordaan - So you have to think ahead about things that might happen, that might come your way, and how you would respond?

Tony Hughes - Yes, so in the planning and preparation you consider all those things that I've just talked about. But after you've considered them from your point of view, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the other people and consider it from their point of view and that's vital.

Barney Jordaan - Is there an ideal ratio in terms of how much time you spend preparing and planning versus time at the table or does that depend on the situation?

Tony Hughes - No, I don't think there's an ideal ratio, it depends upon the situation. Some deals are very complex, and the preparation and planning will take far longer than the actual negotiations will. What is important is that you do both, because what we found is that skilled negotiators spend as much time planning as they do preparing, the average negotiators probably only prepare and don't really plan what to do at all.

Barney Jordaan - Okay, and why is that important?

Tony Hughes - Well, there's an old military adage which I don't particularly like in negotiations, because it's quite adversarial, but 'no plan survives first contact with the enemy.' If you haven't planned at all, then you won't survive any contact with the enemy. Don't treat it as adversarial, but at least if you've got a plan and you can try to assume what's going to come your way and how you're going to cope with it - that's very important. Preparation is obviously very important otherwise you could give so much away and you really don't know exactly what you've given away.

Barney Jordaan - Especially if you feel you're dependent on the other side.

Tony Hughes - If you are, then yes - especially then.

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