Negotiators often mainly react to the other’s side moves. But for complex deals, a proactive approach is needed. Strategic negotiators look beyond their immediate counterparts for stakeholders who can influence the deal. They intentionally control the scope and timing of talks, search for novel sources of leverage, and seek connections across multiple deals.
What’s your Negotiation Strategy
- Rethink counterparts: People tend to pursue deals with the obvious parties. But we often overlook many others in the ecosystem surrounding the negotiation: our competitors, suppliers and customer – and their competitors, suppliers and customers. We need an approach that encompasses all the parties that can and will help us fulfil our objectives.
- Analyse counterpart’s constituencies: In high-stakes negotiations, we often talk about how much power and leverage the other side has, what the other side will or won’t agree to, and how to influence its behaviour. While viewing counterparts as if they were one monolithic entity is convenient, that attitude regularly leads to analytical and strategic missteps.
- Rethink the deal’s scope: The vast majority of negotiators take the fundamental scope of a deal as a given. They may consider a limited set of choices – for instance, shorter-versus longer-term deals – but by large and their tactics are guided by a comparison between their best alternative to a negotiated agreement and how close to some preferred outcome they think they can get. However, there are often significant opportunities to change the scope of negotiations and achieve much better results.
- Rethink the nature of leverage: Think beyond walkaway alternatives and consider multiple sources of not only coercive leverage but also positive leverage. By positive leverage, we mean things negotiators can uniquely offer to make the other side desire a deal rather than fear the absence of one.
- Look for links across negotiations: Most negotiators focus exclusively on maximizing the value of the deal at hand. In doing so, they often undermine the success of future negotiations. A strategic approach requires considering success beyond the current deal and, in particular, how the precedents it sets will create anchors and shape dynamics in future negotiations.
- Consider the impact of timing and sequencing: Pressure tactics can often backfire. Careful consideration of how the other side is likely to respond should guide when to accelerate, slow down, or pause a negotiation.
- Be creative about the process and framing: When approaching a high-stakes deal with a powerful counterpart, many negotiators debate whether to start by issuing their own proposal or by asking the other side to do so. They also often wonder whether they should project strength by asking for aggressive terms in their first offer or counteroffer, or signal a desire for a win-win outcome through more balanced and reasonable terms. But such binary thinking blinds us to the many ways we might shape the negotiation process to reduce risk and increase the likelihood of a great outcome.
A strategic negotiation approach involves more than choosing a cooperative or competitive posture, and thinking in such binary terms is almost always counterproductive. Assessing connections between one negotiation and others with the same party over time, taking a hard look at whether they’re negotiation about the right things, and focusing on when and how to most effectively engage with the other side will unlock far more value for everyone involved in the negotiation process.
Hughes, J. & Ertel, D. (2020). What’s Your Negotiation Strategy? Harvard Business Review, 98(4), 76-85.