The Negotiator Magazine

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Recognize when the landscape has changed

At the heart of negotiations, are two parties polarized by disagreement. Each party has characterized the disagreement according to what they feel is important and possible. Given the wide ranging backgrounds of individuals, coupled with their abilities, interests, perceptions and manner of resolving issues, each party may possess widely disparate opinions of the issues as well as considerations of potential solution. Chances are, the negotiations opportunity is the first time they will sit opposite one another in an effort to structure some type of formal agreement. Given these circumstances, you should expect the unexpected. As you begin to define your argument, or perhaps after you’ve neatly presented your position and proposal, your initial offer may be completely swept away and replaced with an entirely different set of issues. Don’t allow frustration to rule your thinking. Be attuned to when the nature of the offer has changed, and be flexible in your consideration of possible solutions. Examine what the new offer represents and see if it’s something you can accept.

Be continually clear about what is on the table and what is off. Keeping a clear vision of exactly which issues are being handled is paramount. Allowing commingling of controversial issues is a huge risk and a common tactic. Your adversary may try to sneak in an issue out of context, or within context, yet seemingly small as a concession until you examine all the issues associated with it. Look for these issues to show up attached to those “solutions” you seem more likely to quickly accept. Tricky to spot, they often arrive cloaked as 1) exceptions hidden in concessions or, 2) deconstructed mechanisms which facilitate the outcome of a concession.  

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June 2006