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Ask The Negotiator
John Baker

Ask the Negotiator is designed to afford our readers with the opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of negotiations and provide them with answers from experienced negotiators in future editions of the magazine. Please direct your questions to John Baker at editor@negotiatormagazine.com. We will only publish your first name or the nom de plume you suggest along with your country when your question is published. Your question will be answered either by John Baker or by a member of The Negotiator Magazine's growing list of outside negotiation resources.

John Baker has well over thirty years of active negotiating experience in educational, (USA) Fortune 100 corporations and small business companies. He has negotiated collective bargaining agreements both for unions and for management. Dr. Baker's experience includes agreements across a broad range of negotiation areas, including marketing alliances, purchase and sales contracts, acquisitions, joint ventures, non-profit and government services agreements and even the peaceful conclusion of student protest sit-ins on more than one occasion. He holds a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (USA).

And now, this month's letter...

"The Critical Importance of Negotiation Planning"

From: Arnold (USA)

Dear Negotiator:

If there is one thing you would pick to concentrate on to improve the negotiating skills of a sales team, what would it be?

Dear Arnold,

Unquestionably, I would work on improving preparation skills as the top priority. If you read through the literature of negotiation, you will find that preparation is almost always listed as the single most critical element in the negotiation process. You will also find that the most effective negotiators are careful planners. Despite all this, it remains the most neglected step by many negotiators, some of whom take it to its worst level by choosing to simply "wing it."

Whether you read the old French sage Francois de Callieres writing in 1716, the research on negotiation by Neil Rackham and John Carlisle in the late 1970's or almost every contemporary book on negotiating skills, preparation comes out as the most critical and important step in the process. I heartily agree.

At its core, planning involves gathering accurate intelligence and applying it creatively to some specific questions: Who is the decision-maker and what are the influences upon this person? What are the common interests of the parties that can be served by this agreement? What are the potential conflicting interests that must be treated to reach a satisfactory agreement? What potential alternatives can be found that can build value from the synergies between the parties and ease the potential drawbacks to the deal for each?

This is a deceptively simple outline, of course. To accomplish the planning needed for a future negotiation there is a need for some "brainstorming," a lot of "what-ifs," some tough role-playing and a generous dose of creative time.

Planning is not filling-out complicated forms that become barriers in themselves and can easily move the process into a stifling bureaucratic abyss. Formulas that require that everyone "paint by number" are the last thing that you want. Effective planning must be treated as a creative enterprise best done within the freedom of blank canvas and given life through those powerful twin forces: perspiration and inspiration.

Good luck,
John Baker


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