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How To Effectively Use Concessions In Negotiations

We’ve talked a lot about social conditioning that holds women back from stepping into their power as negotiators. We’ve talked, too, about the importance of preparing for negotiations. Some people have been asking, “So what do I do when I’m in the negotiation? Give me some practical strategies for that, Cindy.” So, ever responsive to your needs, the next few blog posts will be a series dealing with hands-on skills and tools you’ll need when you’re in the thick of it. Because let’s face it – you can’t get to the end of the negotiation and get the results you want without first going through the negotiation.

First up on deck is the misunderstood art of concessions. Contrary to popular belief, concessions do not necessarily indicate weakness. While it’s true that concession is the act of yielding, skilled negotiators strategically plan for concessions in negotiations. I’m going to encourage you to adopt this practice. As with most things in negotiation, the key is to be intentional. Don’t let yourself get caught off guard, or be reactive, or get caught up in the moment and yield things you ought not to yield. Instead, be proactive. Plan in advance. Determine what concessions you’re willing to make and when. In other words, plan the when and what of concessions.

Be strategic. Negotiation is a dynamic process. Effective negotiations (especially those for long-term relationships) involve give and take. There will likely be trade-offs on both sides. Consider your priorities and the other party’s likely priorities. Similarly, consider your why (see my earlier post about the 5W’s) and the other side’s deeper why. Brainstorm to come up with concessions that you can afford to give without losing your needs, or better yet, that will help you get what you really need (by meeting the other side’s why without sacrificing your own). Be clear in your own mind about the boundaries or limits of what concessions you can afford to offer so you don’t slip past your own line in the sand. Be open to entertaining new possibilities while you’re knee-deep in the negotiation but be cautious not to let emotion (whether enthusiasm or fear) outweigh your judgement. Reflect on the pros and cons and consequences before you offer up new unanticipated or unplanned concessions mid-negotiation.

Also be strategic about the timing of your concessions. Many negotiation instructors will tell you to always make the other side give the first concession. I don’t agree. So long as you’ve done your work in advance, and planned for your concessions mindfully, you can use timing to your advantage with purpose. Depending on who you’re dealing with, it may be more effective to offer the first concession and then capitalize on that. Much like my response to those negotiators who advise to always be on higher ground than your ‘opponent’, it’s my view that if I’m strong in my position and my preparation, then nobody is going to move me off my mark unless I want to be moved. It won’t matter if they’re standing above me, below me or on their head. These tactics lose their power once they’re recognized and identified. So, feel free to play with the timing of your concessions – how and when you dole them out.

Having said that, be careful to manage expectations. If you offer too big a concession too early, you may signal to the other side that you don’t believe your own initial demands are realistic and/or signal that there’s more there. Avoid giving all your concessions too early. Pace yourself, so you have concessions in your back pocket to produce as a trade-off for something important that may come up during the negotiation. Studies suggest that people react more favorably to concessions which are doled out in increments rather than all at once. It’s like enjoying family holiday gifts leisurely over the course of the day rather than a mad feeding frenzy where nobody gets time to appreciate each item and moment. Pacing typically increases gratitude.

Before making a concession, consider: Is this still an issue? What’s the value of this concession to each side at this stage of the negotiation? Am I giving it all when something less would do? Has the other side ‘earned’ this concession or is there immediate value for me in giving it now? And I getting something in return? Don’t expect that your actions will speak for themselves and be appreciated on their own merits. Human nature often has people resist acknowledging the good deeds of others as a way to resist the reciprocity obligation. For some this is unconscious, for others intentional oblivion. Don’t be shy to name your concession. Depending on the relationship, you may want to make sure you identify your concession when you offer it up – both its cost to you and the benefit to the other party.

Tied to that, always be mindful to make sure there is reciprocity. In other words, make sure the other side is giving concessions to match your offers. Don’t fall into the trap of bargaining against yourself. Unless you have a good tactical reason to do so, avoid giving back to back concessions without anything in return. It’s okay to ask for reciprocity. In fact, I encourage it if the other side isn’t volunteering. Don’t make the mistake we often make as women, where we expect that our partners, kids or otherwise will know what we want and need. Ask for what you want. Identify your concession and suggest, specifically, what you think might be an appropriate reciprocal concession. This makes sure they don’t wiggle off the hook and try to take advantage, and it also increases the likelihood that you’ll get what you actually want rather than wasting a concession that’s of little value to you.

Know that it’s okay to offer contingent concessions. In other words, if you’re uncertain about the likelihood of reciprocity from your bargaining partner, then signal that you’re prepared to give x if they’re prepared to give or do y. While you don’t want every concession to come with strings tied to pre-conditions, it can be an effective way to move forward when reciprocity is not forthcoming. Ultimately, it’s about building trust and credibility.

Some people see concessions as the lifeblood of negotiations. Think about an upcoming negotiation (whether personal or professional) and brainstorm about your ‘asks’ and what possible concessions you could plan for (and how). Hopefully these few tips will give you the foundation to start practicing how to use concessions to your advantage to get what you want from the boardroom to the bedroom!

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