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3 Unusual Tips to Prepare for a Negotiation

The great Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu once said, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Sun Tzu’s words, which ring especially true for negotiations, remind us of the importance of good preparation before any strategic endeavor.

The challenge is that many people don’t know how to really prepare for a negotiation. Standard best practices include doing market research, creating a bargaining range, preparing an opening offer, clarifying positions vs interests, and identifying BATNAs (best alternative to negotiated agreement). Yet many of these practices, while important, fail to prepare people for the challenges and dynamics of real-world negotiations.

Outstanding negotiators, however, do things a little differently. In addition to all the above, they prepare by countering their own biases, thinking about obstacles, and even damping down their confidence.

Here are three tips to help you do just that.

Tip 1: Use the Empty Chair method

Research demonstrates that above average negotiators spend three times as long thinking about options for mutual gains (shared or complementary interests) than average negotiators..

Former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, got this right when she said, “The capability of something that means you not only have to understand fully what you believe and what your interests are but, in order to be a really good negotiator, you have to try to figure out what the other person on the other side of the table has in mind.”

Research also shows that asking people to shift perspectives before a negotiation increases the probability they will generate win-win outcomes. Problem is, prior to a negotiation, most of us are fixated on our own needs and interests. At NextArrow, we call this tendency the Naval Gazing Bias (NGB). NGB is an obstacle to generating options for mutual gain.

To override this bias, we recommend employing the Empty Chair Method. Before a negotiation begins, make it a habit to formally ask the following questions about your negotiating adversary/partner:

● Why would they say “yes” to my proposal?

● Why would they say “no” to my proposal?

Our CEO, Roi Ben-Yehuda, loves this exercise so much that when he’s creating workshops he has a miniature chair on his laptop to remind him to always think about his audience.

Tip 2: Do a Pre-Mortem

In planning for a negotiation many of us naturally tend to look for reasons why our negotiation will work and ignore or dismiss why it will fail. When challenges come up during the negotiation, we’re taken by surprise, and try to adjust on the fly. This is often a losing strategy. To overcome this, we recommend adding what psychologist Gary Klein calls a ‘pre-mortem’ to your prep work.

How does it work?

Begin by assuming your negotiation will die a miserable death. Then, work backwards and ask yourself:

  • What led to the failure (Come up with 3 reasons)?

  • What can I do to mitigate the failure from happening?

Doing a pre-mortem is a great way to overcome what we at NextArrow call “Drunken Optimism” bias and win the negotiation before it ever starts.

Tip 3: Use Strategic Doubt

When faced with a challenging task, like a tough negotiation, many of us try to reduce our anxiety and increase our confidence through self-talk.

We say things like:

  • "I got this!"

  • "I'm a badass!"

  • "I can do this!"

Although we know self-talk improves performance, not all self-talk is equal. Studies show — in contrast to much of the advice in self-help books — that when people use self-talk to doubt themselves, they significantly up their performance.

Questioning yourself means asking and answering two questions: “Can I do this?” and “If so, how?”

For example:

  • Can I succeed in this negotiation? Yes, I think I can, I’ve done my research.

  • Can I succeed in this negotiation? Yes, I think I can, I’ve negotiated tough deals before.

  • Can I succeed in this negotiation? Yes, I think I can, I just finished a thorough pre-mortem and am ready to mitigate potential problems.

  • Can I succeed in this negotiation? Yes, I think I can, I just have to remember to breathe and get curious.

The magic of this approach is that you go beyond a pep-talk and begin to think strategically: preparing, focusing, and upping motivation. Conclusion The traditional prep tips for negotiation often fail to capture the challenges and dynamics of real-world negotiations. By putting these three practices into play before your next negotiation (putting yourself in another’s chair, envisioning failure, and drawing strength from strategic doubt), you’ll be better positioned to negotiate successfully.

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