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Cautious Concessions: Part II

November 29, 2011

In last week’s post, we examined how one unilateral concession can wreck an entire negotiation. Unilateral concessions are usually made when the negotiator is panicking—so the first and most obvious way to avoid making this mistake is to stay calm. When pressure becomes excessive, the surest way out is to ask for a break. Whether you have been negotiating for five minutes or five hours, you’re not required to give any reason for the break. Simply say, “Excuse me, I need to stretch my legs for a few minutes.” In the course of the break, you can calm down and think of an alternative to the unilateral concession.

So how can you get back on track? As I mentioned earlier, don’t panic. The worst possible thing to do is to become visibly flustered—the other party will sense this, and in an instant, you’ve sacrificed your power position. You may have already presented the other party with a concession, but there’s still time to salvage the deal by making it a cautious concession. A cautious concession:

• Demonstrates good will by letting the other party succeed in a certain area of the negotiation. Never surrender your power position, but allow the other party to shine to foster feelings of good will.

• Reduces the insecurity of the other party. In my past blog posts, I discussed how combat in a negotiation usually grows out of insecurity. By reducing his insecurity, you’ll also dramatically decrease the risk of combat threatening your negotiation.

• Leads the other party to let its guard down. When you eliminate combat and insecurity in a negotiation, everyone at the negotiating table is undoubtedly much more relaxed. Use this relaxation to your advantage and present a concession that considers the needs of the other party but also guarantees something for you and your delegates.

• Speeds up the negotiation process. This is the most important characteristic of the cautious concession, yet it is also the one that involves the most risk. A cautious concession speeds up the negotiation by giving into the other party’s demands—but not all of them! Choose your terms wisely and never, ever give away more than you’re getting.

Ultimately, the skillful negotiator knows just how much a concession of any kind can threaten a deal. And realize that there are times in a negotiation where a concession is completely unavoidable, but during those times it’s important to remember to make it a cautious concession. It shows personal strength to be able to concede to having made mistakes in a negotiation, but it shows real skill to be able to recover from these mistakes.

 Do you have any personal experience during which a cautious concession turned your negotiation around? Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section.

This post is excerpted from Keld Jensen’s upcoming book Power Bargaining: Adding Value to Commercial Negotiations to be published in 2012.

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