Negotiating Outside the Boardroom

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Negotiating isn’t just something that takes place in conference rooms with powerful forces aligned on either side of a table. People have informal negotiations every day — with their coworkers, merchants, even family members.

Adapting the Process for Smaller Negotiations

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Some of the principles of negotiation can be useful in everyday situations. For example:

  • Separate the people from the problem. Don’t let personalities get in the way of negotiating.
  • Focus on interests, not positions. Consider what both parties want and need. Don’t let adherence to a particular position narrow the range of options you are willing to consider.
  • Expand the range of options. One way to overcome an impasse in a negotiation is to expand the range of the discussion. 
  • State the terms of an agreement in specific, clear terms.

Even if you are not in a traditional negotiation position, it can be helpful to use the principles of negotiation to bring you a positive outcome in everyday life. Making decisions in the home, you will find that results can be found which are to the benefit of all parties by using these principles. It should be added that you would be ill advised to use these principles for every decision – but where there is some difficulty in reaching a decision, you can reach a positive outcome by taking into account some sound, decent principles which have for years been used to reach positive decisions.

Negotiating via Telephone 

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The phone can be a convenient vehicle for negotiations, especially when the two parties find it difficult to meet in person. But in many cases an agreement reached over the phone needs to be confirmed through some other method. 

For example, suppose you have a phone conversation with a coworker in which you both agree to do certain things within the next week. A week goes by and the other person has not done what he agreed to. You call him and he replies, “I didn’t agree to that.” It would have been better to follow up the first phone call with an email message that begins, “I just want to confirm what we agreed to do in our phone conversation.”

When you arrive at a positive conclusion from a phone negotiation, it can be tempting to just hold on to your belief that you have got the right result, but even if you have recorded the call an unscrupulous counterpart can try to back out of it if they feel they have plausible deniability. Get everything nailed down by following up, and you will be able to put the deal in the record books. It is common sense to keep everything regulated and avoid any difficulties further down the line.

In order to negotiate effectively on the telephone we need to consider a few rules that also apply to face-to-face negotiation:

  • Pay attention to particular points. 
  • Listen Actively. Don’t interrupt the other party; don’t spend your ‘listening time’ figuring out how you’re going to respond to them when they finally stop talking. The better you listen, the better you can learn, and the more likely you will be able to respond in a way that improves the negotiation’s result.
  • Don’t let the immediacy of a telephone call force you into fast, unwise decisions. There is nothing wrong with requesting more time to think about the terms discussed.

Negotiating via Email

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Email can be an effective method of communication, but is has some inherent limitations.

In general, it is appropriate to use email in a negotiation:

  • When the topic is clearly defined.
  • When the topic does not require extensive discussion
  • When the expected response is relatively simple
  • When there is little possibility of misunderstanding

It is not appropriate to use email:

  • When the topic is complex
  • When the topic requires extensive discussion
  • When the topic has great personal significance for the parties involved
  • When the topic is likely to stir up strong emotions

E-mail has become a very popular way of keeping discussions simple and straightforward both in business and personal communications. However, there are limitations to it and it is important to be aware of these limitations. Keeping communications simple and somewhat informal can be helpful, but it should be remembered that waiting on an e-mail can be frustrating. If multiple communications are required, it is best to keep things face-to-face. 

What e-mail does have going for it in a negotiation framework is that it keeps a record of every e-mail sent and received, along with dates and times allowing everything to be official. If you have a relatively simple detail or two to be finalized, e-mail is fine. If you have a situation requiring a full negotiation, e-mail should only be used as a preparation aid and a formal confirmation of things decided in a full, face-to-face negotiation.

Case Study

Roman likes to mountain bike in his spare time. An important part broke on his bike and he needed it repaired. He called a local repair shop, and was told it would cost $200 to have it repaired. Roman told them that a shop a few towns over would do it for $115. The local shop said they’d do it for $160, and Roman agreed and dropped his bike off. When he picked it back up, they charged him $200 and claimed that they never agreed to a discount. Roman had no way of proving concretely they agreed to a discount. Roman realized he should have followed up to make a record of their deal.