In this article (taken from the book, Cheetah Negotiations) you will learn the value of commitment and asking permission to gain commitment to your objectives. Commitment will help you and the other party focus on the issues at hand and move through the negotiation fast. Understanding human nature can give you the self-awareness to keep you from unknowingly compromising or falling into typical sales traps. Knowing common negotiation tactics will save you time; you’ll know not to play out those dramas.
The Five Scenes
There are five standard scenes in every negotiation play. While each negotiation is different with respect to the outcome, the process is the same, whether you are consciously aware of the steps or not. You can move a negotiation along faster and more effectively if you are conscious of those steps. Following this process also engenders commitment from the other party to interact with you on your terms in a more positive and less adversarial negotiation setting.
Figure 1. Five Scenes in the Negotiation Play
The act of entering into a negotiation with someone assumes that there are issues that you need to explore so as to come up with alternative solutions. A negotiation is not a situation in which the decision is a done deal, where one party is the “winner” and gets what they want and the other party acquiesces just to move on. We’ve scoured the popular literature on negotiations and have found that some of the shorter books still view negotiation as a win-lose deal. The method we present is adapted from the ideas asserted in the book Getting to Yes, which views negotiation as an opportunity for mutual gain by all parties at the table. The process presented here will enable you to move the dialogue in your negotiation to the mutual gain orientation, even if the parties you are negotiating with initially view the negotiation as a win-lose interaction.
The best way to get people to engage with you in this process is to ask their permission. This acknowledges their involvement in a positive way, gains commitment commensurate with the stage of the negotiation, and can engage even contentious parties in a more positive and solution-oriented dialogue. People do not like to be viewed as inconsistent. Therefore, if you can get them to commit to engage with you in a positive negotiation style early on, they will be more likely to work through things with you when you run into areas in which you have less agreement.
Some “experts” view asking permission as a sign of weakness. We are not talking about asking for approval — that is different. Asking for permission in this context is a commitment-gaining move that is executed from a position of strength, not subservience.
The following are examples of permission-asking statements designed to develop deepening levels of commitment at each phase of a negotiation. Once you get into the actual negotiation, your questions may vary from these examples. The point here is that you want to ask the other party’s permission to deepen their level of commitment to anything on which you agree. It also serves to engage them in committing to workable solutions for your negotiation issues.
Scene 1: Planning
Planning means making sure the necessary people are present in order to reach an agreement.
I’m drafting an initial meeting agenda. Would you like to see it and provide input?
Very rarely will anyone refuse and if they do, they have, in fact, given you approval to set the agenda. Most frequently they will have one or two small changes, if any. The reality is that most people are just too busy to give much input. Just by asking this question, you’ve gotten their commitment for you to set an agenda.
Have we invited all the people we need at this meeting to close this issue?
Whatever way this is answered gives you the information you need to get commitment to have all the right people at the meeting to close this issue.
Scene 2: Introduction
In the introduction scene, allow each side the opportunity to introduce their needs, wants, and issues.
Is it OK with you if we follow the agenda and the process we originally agreed upon?
You’re implying here that they agreed to the agenda when you gave them the option to review. If they have other ideas on how the meeting should progress, which they may not have fully articulated, now is also the time to get those out and agree to the process of the meeting. If they can commit with you to a process for the meeting, it will be easier to get them to commit to an agreement further into the negotiation.
What are your costs associated with not coming to an agreement today?
They may or may not answer this question. Essentially you’re asking them the cost of their BATNA — the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. This will give you the ZOPA — that is, the zone of possible agreement between their walk away and your walk away. Also, it’s best to frame it this way because your subconscious does not hear the word “no,” but instead it hears “come to an agreement today.”
Scene 3: Bargaining
In the bargaining scene you are exploring solutions and finding options for mutual gain.
Are you open to hearing some ideas that can benefit both of us?
This question gets their OK for you to present your ideas. By framing it in the positive — that the ideas will benefit both of you — it increases your chances of getting an affirmative. Their positive go ahead also states that they are agreeing that your ideas are beneficial to them. It increases their commitment to your suggestions. Additionally, if you go first, you are setting your benchmark. Do your work on the ZOPA and shoot very high on your aspirations of what you want for the ideal outcome.
Can I propose a solution?
By answering this question, they are committing to moving to the solution phase of the negotiation. You can propose a solution that improves your BATNA and diminishes their BATNA. If the other party asks why you’ve proposed your solution, always use the word because. It is irrelevant what follows the word because.
For example: I propose to sell you a car for $25,000, which is $5,000 above the Blue Book value. You ask why I’m asking so much above Blue Book, and I say, “Because the car was very well cared for and has brand new tires.” This is called anchoring your ZOPA. In this case the ZOPA is that you both perceive value in having a car that is well cared for with new tires. In reality, new tires and the fact that I think the car was well cared for does not change the Blue Book value of the car.
Which option do you prefer — A or B?
When you give people choices, they feel as though they had a say in the matter. Once they have made a choice, they have also made a commitment. For example, with the car — “The car is $25,000 without these floor mats, but I’ll throw in the floor mats for an extra $500. They are worth $1,000, but because I can’t use them and I’ll have to take time to sell them separately, I’ll throw them in.” This gives you something to negotiate on as well when they start dickering on the price.
This means if you propose that the car is worth $25,000 and the person comes back with, “Well I think it’s only worth $18,000 because it has high mileage,” you can counter-offer with $24,500, then $24,250, then $24,125 — you aren’t going down in $500 increments every time and it will appear that you are making concessions. Do not make unilateral concessions; take away something every time you drop the price and give reasons. Also label the concessions and appeal to being fair about your concessions. Justifying your claims regarding your initial price as well will increase their perception of the worth.
If you are competing with other vendors on a contract, a good strategy once you get to the bargaining stage and you know that other vendors have underbid you, say, “We really want your business and we don’t want to make this about price. We know you would prefer to have us as your vendor for reasons A, B, and C. What price do we have to meet to win this contract?” These statements followed by the question include two influence strategies. First, you’re asking for the business, and people who ask for the business usually win the business. Second, they have essentially made a commitment to give you the business if they tell you the price you have to meet and you meet it.
Scene 4: Agreement
Agreement is the scene for ironing out the terms and formalizing commitment.
I’d like to propose an agreement — is this OK with you?
They are again committing to making an agreement. This moves you to closing the deal.
To make sure we get things right from your perspective, would you like to document the terms?
If you let them write out the agreement, they are much less likely to go back on any of the terms.
Are you sure you’re comfortable with the terms of our agreement?
You want to make sure they are not just saying “yes, yes, yes” to get out of the negotiation situation, only to change their mind after they have left. Give them an opportunity to recommit to what you have agreed upon. Go back and revisit anything about which they may be uncomfortable. If you schedule your meeting close to lunch, or if they have to catch a plane or go to the restroom, you’re more likely to get an affirmative.
Scene 5: Closure
During closure, the parties determine the steps to start.
I’m more comfortable knowing the next steps. Can we outline them?
This makes sure that the nitty-gritty details of the agreement will be carried out once everyone leaves the table.
What is the best way for us to communicate with you once we leave this meeting?
This question ensures that they know you would like to keep the lines of communication open with respect to what you just agreed upon.
Moving the Negotiation Along
Prior to the negotiation, identify specific questions you can ask at each phase of the negotiation agenda to develop deeper levels of commitment. If you have other people participating in the negotiation, identify who is best suited for various stages of the process and make them the main participant in that section. In the previous chapter, you identified who was best suited to wear different hats in various aspects of a negotiation. Consider who should be doing the primary elements of each negotiation. You will not be sharing this document with the other party.
We complete a negotiation meeting agenda to share with the other party prior to the negotiation. The purpose of this is to start to engage the other party in a win-win negotiation in which you are both creating value. It includes information that you already collected elsewhere on your negotiation prep sheet (a document you will not share with the other party). The example below is an agenda that was created for a negotiation we did with a company we selected to partner with for servers to host our websites.
Figure 2: Sample Negotiation Meeting Agenda
Use the example in Figure 3 to create your own agenda for a negotiation you are doing in the near future. Ask your counterpart if they would like to see this agenda and provide input. See what happens.
Figure 3. A Sample Permissions-based Questions Worksheet
Create your own permissions-based question worksheet and test it out. See what happens and how you can improve the way you interact while negotiating with counterparts.
When you are done with these activities, review the example and see how your work compares. Give a short summary (in three words or less) of your perceptions of the activities. You will remember more about what you did if you can attach a succinct message with some emotion to what you just experienced. Identify three things you learned by practicing the scenes in the negotiation play. Responses might be something like
- “Create negotiation plan before negotiating.”
- “The negotiation prep and practice is also a good tool going into a key session as it further refines the I want/they want exercise.”
- “Setting a proper environment, being organized, and documenting what I want to accomplish in each negotiation will help me have a more positive experience.”
Asking permission-based questions is the best way to gain the other party’s commitment to a positive process and outcome for your negotiation. Understanding how these types of questions are relevant at each of the five stages of a negotiation helps keep momentum going for fast and effective results.
This excerpt was taken from Cheetah Negotiations: How to Get What You Want, Fast by Michelle LaBrosse and Linda Lansky.