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How to Open a Negotiation

November 2, 2010

How to Open a NegotiationOpening a negotiation is a crucial step that sets the tone for the rest of the bargaining process. The purpose of the opening is to create the proper setting for the upcoming negotiation. Oftentimes, the atmosphere you create and the way in which you present your argument can mean more to the transaction than any technical matters or financial terms. These steps will enable you to get the negotiation process off to a successful start:

1. Become acquainted with the other party. The personal chemistry has to work in order to receive a successful result. It is rarely a good idea to leap right into things in a negotiation. Build trust and get your counterpart to relax and feel at ease. Discuss news headlines or the weather, share a meal, or have a drink and enjoy each other’s company. People tend to do business with people they know and like. This skill is especially helpful in international negotiations where socializing between parties is far more common than in North America.
2. Define the interpersonal dynamic. At the opening of a negotiation, your tone of voice, your choice of words, and your appearance will influence and govern the interpersonal dynamic. When the personal chemistry clicks, bargainers often start making decisions based on their feelings rather than making rational decisions.
3. Summarize the background. When you are ready to move forward after getting acquainted, open by summarizing the history of the transaction. Confirm that you and the other party are in agreement about the reason for meeting and about the issues that have been resolved previously. Then fall silent, forcing the other party to start talking. By doing this, you will obtain more, often valuable information while arriving at a discussion in which cooperation is the dominant theme.
4. Prepare an agenda. This can be an effective tool where your ideas are stated in an orderly arrangement and matters can be discussed in a structured manner. Examine what it is the other party intends to get from the negotiation, which questions may come up for discussion, and who will participate. Your agenda will govern the expectations and preparations of the other party and the composition of their negotiation delegation. If your opponent prepares the agenda, insist on a copy in advance so you can prepare your delegation and avoid surprises.
5. Lay the groundwork for bargaining. Your job is to get the other party to specify all of their requirements. If you meet their demands too soon by making a new and better offer, you will diminish your power position. A more hesitant and cautious approach will enable you to inch your way forward and get a read on the other party and their intentions before setting your course.

The goal of negotiation is to find a cooperative solution where both parties feel satisfied. A prerequisite for cooperation is a positive opening. By implementing these tips into your opening, you will create the proper setting for your negotiation where you and your party trust one another and you have positioned yourself favorably as you commence the bargaining process.

* Portions of this post are excerpted from my upcoming book Power Bargaining: Adding Value to Commercial Negotiations (Acanthus Publishing 2010)

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