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How to be a fearless negotiator

September 05, 2007 09:17 IST

Welcome to the Wish-Want-Walk method of negotiating. This book is designed to take the angst out of any negotiation in which you will take part. The Wish-Want-Walk method of negotiating works from the bedroom to the boardroom and all around the world.

The Wish-Want-Walk method has three simple steps:

  • Conjuring up your Wish result for this negotiation;
  • Understanding your Want (where you think the negotiation is most likely to end up in light of everything you know about the market and the person you are negotiating with);
  • Setting your Walk Away point.

When you have your Wish, Want, Walk firmly in your head before you start negotiating, you know that the deal will have to fall within those parameters or you will not agree. No matter how the person on the other side of the table may scream or bully or put you down, it is not going to change your Wish, Want, Walk.

You know that you are a not going back to the office with a deal that is outside the Wish-Want-Walk plan that everybody agreed to before the negotiation started. When you have made your plan beforehand, you may have to waste some time enduring bad behaviour, but you won't make a bad deal. If you stick to your Wish, Want, Walk, that can't happen.

You might have thought that you really wanted this deal, but now you have an independent reason not to do the deal with this individual. He or she behaves badly. That creates a toxic atmosphere. You don't want that person in your life. You know now that for the deal to be attractive to you, you will have to close it at the top of your Want or even closer to your Wish, because of the nature of the person across the table.

Your Personal Action Plan

Wish, Want, Walk will not keep your blood pressure down and will not make these nightmare situations be the way you want to spend your afternoons. Here is exactly what you should do in these situations:

  • Ask questions
  • Listen
  • Take a break

These are the three silver bullets you can use in response to unacceptable behaviour. They work their magic in a nonthreatening manner. You will see why as you read on.

In the face of unacceptable behaviour, the first thing to do is ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. In most instances, you will be well served to do some probing. Find out whatever you can about the statement that surprised you. Showing some genuine interest in the statement can evoke a further explanation.

The person already is talking. Get him or her to talk some more. It is a powerful tool. Later, you can review the responses that have been provided. Questions are like trowels in the garden. They help you dig up information, examine the soil, and find out what will make the garden grow.

Asking questions produces much more solid results than trying to make an instantly brilliant definitive statement that leaves the other person without a response, flat-footed, befuddled, and running from the room screaming for help. Only in the movies do those ready responses flow so freely from the lips.

Of course, a highly paid scriptwriter had months to come up with the lines that the actor says so spontaneously on screen. You don't have that kind of time. Forget the clever quip. It's not going to happen.

Questions get you past the awkward moment when the other party ahs stepped over the line. They form a break in the dialogue. The answers should give you some information that will help you build a consensus in spite of the other party's bad behavior.

When you have asked any questions that come to mind at these awkward moments and listened to the response all the way through, take a break. Don't try to be brilliant. Don't come back until you are ready. I call this pushing the pause button.

In a negotiation, the pause button works exactly like the pause button on a DVD player. It freezes everything in place so that we can step away from the negotiation. We can see the picture clearly from every angle. We can leave the room. We can take a break that is as long or short as we need. We can get ready to resume negotiating.

It is our internal pause button that helps us maintain our emotional distance. It is the pause button that prevents us from falling in love with the process so that we lose sight of our Wish, Want, Walk.

Everybody has a pause button. Some people just forget to use it or don't even think about using in a negotiation. One you realize what a lifesaver it can be in a negotiation, you will never leave home without it.

In every negotiating seminar, we go around the room and talk about the best way to create a break. People use a wide range of techniques to give themselves room to breath. Some people tell a joke, some "need to go to the bathroom," and some "need to make a phone call." The list is endless.

What is your favourite pause button? Take a moment to think about your own pause buttons. At seminars, participants list a variety of techniques to break things up from telling jokes to asking for a bathroom break - now who could refuse that?

I like to take a break without labeling it in any way. That way, there is no mistake that the reason for the break is the conduct of the other party, not some artificial reason. Whatever works for you to interrupt the flow is what you should do. Do not try to deal with the problem before you take a break. You will not come up quickly with that devastating statement that turns your opponent into a withering mass of Jell-o. Don't even try.

This is also an opportunity to use a tool I've occasionally found effective. It's difficult for some people, but you might want to try it next time you are across the table from a person who is misbehaving. Sometimes, when someone lies, bullies, curses, or screams, I call him or her on it.

I tell that person coolly that this behaviour is unacceptable and that if it continues, our negotiations will be suspended. Calling a person on bad behaviour usually stops it -- not always but often enough to make this technique useful. Remember, that person wouldn't be negotiating with you if you didn't have something he or she wanted.

These people can rein in their unacceptable behaviour if they are convinced that it is in their best interest to do so. If you try this technique, you must take a break if the behaviour continues. You cannot make idle threats during a negotiation without threatening the entire negotiation and any deal that grows out on it.

Wish, Want, Walk will not insulate you from unpleasant experiences in the negotiating room, but it will help you deal with those situations. IT helps you by giving you a framework you can rely on. You simply won't be pushed past your Walk regardless of the trick or tactic or tirade.

If you find yourself in such a position, don't try to be a hero. Ask some questions. Listen to the answers. Then take a break. You are not gong to change the person on the other side. Your job is to close the deal as soon as possible. Maybe you can send someone else to negotiate with this person next time, but if you do, be sure to warn your replacement.

If you haven't been in one of these tight spots during a negotiation, maybe you are just blessed. But then, why would you be reading this chapter? Or maybe you are a screamer yourself, and you don't mind or notice when someone else screams. If that is the case, your problem is beyond the scope of this book, but I hope - for your sake - that you are working on the problem.

Excerpted from: Fearless Negotiating. By Michael C Donaldson. Publisher: Tata McGraw-Hill. Price: Rs 199

Donaldson is an ex-Marine and competitive gymnast whose entertainment law practice has led him to write about and teach negotiating skills. He has been co-chair of the Entertainment Section of the Beverly Hills Bar Association and is listed on Who's Who in American Law. 

Copyright 2007 by Michael C Donaldson.

All rights reserved.

Michael C Donaldson