The Three Stages of Negotiating
Successful negotiations have three stages: preparation, performance, and follow-up.
1. Before Negotiations. The biggest mistake you can make is to enter negotiations
without a well-thought-out negotiation strategy and plan. Preparation is
crucial for successful negotiations. That is why before you negotiate, you need to
write down and prioritize the goals and objectives of both parties—your client’s
and your own.
Once you establish your common goals as a touchstone, you can then sort
out what you want and need to do the job. Make a list of your needs, and then
prioritize the items by dividing them into two categories: the must-haves (nonnegotiable
points) and the would-like-to-haves (negotiable points). Review the
negotiable points for items that can be modified or omitted. In advance, work
out explanations and descriptions of how modifications, alternatives, and omissions
will affect the quality and power of the final project.
The point of this preparation is to have various scenarios in mind (and on a
note sheet) when you are in the hot seat of negotiations. You don’t want to give
away what you (and the project) can’t afford to lose. Keep your note sheets in
your project file, so that you can find them easily. Whether you negotiate by
appointment or via an impromptu telephone call or e-mail, first take the time to
retrieve your file and review your notes before proceeding.
2. During Negotiations. Your previous preparations will allow you to be balanced
and proactive during negotiations. First, you need to establish your overarching
mutual goals. If you’ve done your homework, you should have a convincing and
strong statement of shared goals. Your client may see these goals differently, so be
prepared to work through to consensus. This means careful and objective listening
on your part, but it’s time well spent in the end. Once established, these
mutual goals can and should be referred to throughout the negotiations.
Second, consult your preliminary notes, and negotiate with a pen in hand to
jot down numbers, dates, processes, and whatever other significant information
you are agreeing upon. Whether you meet in person or via the telephone, date
your meeting notes, list who was present at the meeting, and take notes, paying
particular attention to terms and due dates.
Third, separate the personalities from the negotiation points. As you well
know, clients come in a variety of temperaments. Some people are a pleasure to
do business with, and some are not. But you have chosen to take on this project,
and you want to create an agreement that will foster success. Therefore, when
you negotiate with a difficult client, remind yourself of the reasons you wanted
this project in the first place and focus on the project goals and how they relate to the points of contention. Doing this lends some objectivity to your interactions and helps you to maintain a neutral tone, which is important to your business relations and overall reputation. You don’t want to burn any bridges. In almost all cases, you’ll be able to work through to a compromise, and your cool-headed manner will have served you well. Even in the worst-case scenario, where disagreements over nonnegotiable issues result in an unsigned contract, you never know whom your client knows (or is related to). A pig-headed client might be a potential client’s favorite golf buddy. Separating with no hard feelings is the best way to go