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Proficient negotiators use this "Preliminary Stage" to exchange small talk and get to know each other. They may discuss sports, politics, weather, mutual acquaintances, or other seemingly innocuous topics. It is helpful to look for areas of joint interest, because familiarity makes persons more likable. This part of the process may only take a few minutes, or it may go on for hours - or even days when international negotiations are involved and persons from different cultures are endeavoring to establish both rapport and trust.
Another reason for a thoughtful Preliminary Stage concerns the impact of negotiator mood on bargaining encounters. People who begin interactions in positive moods behave more cooperatively, are more likely to generate mutual accords, and to achieve efficient agreements, while individuals who begin in negative moods behave more competitively, reach more bargaining impasses, and attain less efficient terms. It thus helps for negotiators to work together to generate positive bargaining environments that should contribute to their joint success.
The final portion of the Preliminary Stage is used to establish mutually beneficial bargaining atmospheres. Cooperative/problem-solving negotiators tend to cooperate with others, while competitive/adversarial negotiators tend to compete with others. Difficulties are likely to arise when cooperative/problem-solvers interact with competitive/adversarial opponents. If the cooperative people are too open and trusting, they will give an advantage to their less open and more manipulative adversaries. To avoid such exploitation, the naturally cooperative negotiators must behave more strategically - i.e. be less open and less trusting - until they are certain their openness is being reciprocated. When they encounter competitive opponents who are not as open, the cooperative persons must be less open with their critical information to avoid a one-way information flow favoring their manipulative adversaries.
What should negotiators do when they encounter opponent behavior they consider improper or rude? Some bargainers try to keep others off balance by being insulting or aggressive. People who don't like to negotiate with such individuals should use "attitudinal bargaining" to establish some ground rules for the interaction. They should not hesitate to politely indicate that they do not wish to deal with someone who is behaving in such an unacceptable fashion. In many cases, the aggressive or rude adversary will recognize that this approach is not working and modify his behavior. On some occasions, the offending party may simply be a person who always insults others. If you think you can't change your opponent's conduct, you should work to control the environment in a way that diminishes their ability to bother you. I usually use e-mail or telephone exchanges to control these opponents. When they begin to bother me, I can take a recess to calm down. I may not return their recent e-mail message, or ask for a break in our telephone discussion because of other pressing business. When I feel ready to resume the interaction, I can restart the process.
III. INFORMATION EXCHANGE
As the small talk declines and the parties begin to think about the substantive issues to be negotiated, they move from the Preliminary Stage into the Information Exchange. Each side focuses on the other as they try to determine what terms should be addressed. The best way to obtain information from others is to ask questions. Individuals who issue declarative sentences give up information, they do not obtain it. People who wish to get new information know how important it is to get the other side talking. The more they speak, the more information they disclose. The best way to accomplish this objective is through the use of broad, open-ended questions that can't be answered by short responses. Most negotiators think their opponents know more about their particular situations than they actually know. As a result, when they respond to expansive inquiries, they inadvertently disclose details they think the other side already knows. Bargainers should only begin to narrow their questions once they think they have a good picture of the other side's circumstances and they are trying to confirm what they think they have been told.
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Copyright © 2004, Charles B. Craver
Copyright © 2004, The Negotiator Magazine