The Negotiator Magazine

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Power Negotiators Understand The Importance Of Gathering Information

Roger Dawson

Henry Kissinger was once asked if he already knew what the Soviets would propose at an upcoming summit meeting. He said, "Oh, absolutely-no question about it. It would be absolutely disastrous for us to go into a negotiation not knowing in advance what the other side was going to propose."

Can you imagine the cost of getting that kind of information? The budget of the C.I.A. is top secret, but experts think it is almost $4 billion a year, even now that the Cold War is over. So, governments think it's important enough to spend that kind of money. Doesn't it make sense that we at least spend a little time to find out more about the other side, before we go into negotiations? Why do countries send spies into other countries? Why do professional football teams study the replays of their opponents' games? Because knowledge is power and the more knowledge one side is able to accumulate about the other, the better chance that side has for victory.

If two countries go to war, the country that has the most intelligence about the other has the advantage. That was certainly true in the Persian Gulf War-the C.I.A. spies had photographed every building in Baghdad, and we were able to completely take out their communication systems in the first few bombing runs.

If two companies are planning to merge, the company that knows the most will usually end up with the better deal. If two salespeople are vying for an account, the salesperson who knows more about the company and its representatives stands a better chance of being selected for the account.

Despite the obviousness of the important role that information plays in a negotiation, few people spend much time analyzing the other side before starting a negotiation. Even people who wouldn't dream of skiing or scuba diving without taking lessons will jump into a negotiation that could cost them thousands of dollars without spending adequate time gathering the information they should have.

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