Negotiating? Be Prepared Before You Sit Down At the Table

By Mark Jankowski

Preparation is the only aspects of negotiation over which you have complete control…


Many people view negotiation as an event – haggling or trading offers at the bargaining table.  If you want to be an effective negotiator, that view must change.  Remember, negotiation is a process – not an event.

Over the years, I have worked with my partner, Ron Shapiro, to develop a systematic approach to the negotiation process.  It’s called The 3 P’s – Prepare, Probe and Propose.  It is this systematic approach which lies at the heart of the negotiation philosophy – “The Power of Nice. ®” The realization that the best way to get what you want is to help the other side get what they want.

In order to craft deals that foster strong relationships that lead to future opportunities, you must approach your negotiations systematically and always begin with the first “P” – Prepare.  Preparation is the only aspect of negotiation over which you have complete control.  You cannot control the other side, outside events and often, not even your own position.  If you are not prepared for a negotiation, you have given the other side an undue, unearned advantage.

So how do you prepare?  I suggest that you begin by creating your own version of our “Preparation Planner.”  Do not go into a meeting until you know everything you can about your position and all you can about the other side, their position and their views.  By going through the following steps, you will ensure that you are ready when it is finally time to sit down at the table.

  1. PRECEDENTS: Knowing precedents give you the power of the past.  If you can quote or cite that which has already happened, you give legitimacy and credence to your position.  Don’t just focus on the precedents that support your position – be familiar with the ones the other side might use.
  2. ALTERNATIVES: Employing alternatives gives you the power of options.  If you know your alternatives, you will be less dependent on one kind of deal and more open to variations.  There’s no take it or leave it when you have alternatives and therefore, there are far fewer impasses.
  3. INTERESTS: Your interests and those of the other side are the keys to getting past what may seem like hardened positions.  You must identify those things in a negotiation that are needed the most – the things that mean the most to your side and conversely, those that mean the most to the other side.  Yours are probably not the same as theirs.  However, if you know both, you may be able to satisfy most or all of your interests and still fulfill some of theirs.
  4. DEADLINES: Knowing your own realistic deadlines, in advance, will tell you how much leeway you have before you taking an entrenched position.  Similarly, understanding the other side’s deadline may give you an edge or allow you to forgo a point in order to gain another elsewhere.
  5. STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES: Virtually all negotiators overestimate their own weaknesses and the other side’s strengths.  Try to take an honest inventory of each side’s real vulnerabilities.  Realistically assess both your own, and the other side’s, strengths and weaknesses.
  6. HIGHEST GOAL/WALK-AWAY: What is your highest goal?  Remember that you will never achieve a lofty goal unless you aim for it.  At the same time, you must know where your bottom line is.  Ask yourself, in advance of a negotiation, at what point are you willing to walk away from a deal.  If you do not face this tough question in advance, you may find yourself lowering your expectations as the deal progresses.
  7. STRATEGY AND TEAM: Create a team.  This group may consist of co-negotiations, various experts, devil’s advocates or anyone with whom you can role-play and practice before you go to the table.  As a group, assess the other side and the members of their team.  Don’t stop practicing until you are comfortable with a strategy that flexes with a variety of opposing strategies.

Make the seven steps of the Preparation Planner a habit, and you will be better prepared for every negotiation.  Feeling more prepared will give you the confidence and competitive edge you need to get the deal done.

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