The 5 W’s of highly effective negotiation: Part 3. Know the Where

The 5 W’s of Highly Effective Negotiation: Part 3

[Part 3 of a series]
Know the Where

Ready for your next instalment of our 5 W’s of highly effective negotiation series? So far, we’ve explored (i) the importance of knowing your why and (ii) the advantage of considering your when with intention. Today, let’s dive into the where – the middle child of those 5 powerful monosyllabic words.

Interestingly, people are more likely to consider the where in ‘formal’ business negotiations than in their personal lives. As a longtime labour lawyer, collective bargaining negotiations immediately come to mind. Parties sometimes bargain about where to bargain! It’s a conscious decision about whether bargaining ought to play out on Employer’s premises, Union offices or neutral territory. And so, hotels make lots of money from labour negotiations, with neither side wanting to cede power. Likewise, for corporate or legal deals, typically there’s jostling for perceived advantage over whose impressive digs get showcased for bargaining. You almost expect some players to start pissing in corners to mark their territory. Sports is no exception with the real or perceived touted advantages of home turf.

Be careful not to get so caught up in the power struggle of bartering on home field that you don’t consider actual strategic implications. There are pros and cons to conducting negotiations in your own space – from the business world to home insurance. Smart negotiators weigh odds to tip the balance in their favour – not based on power plays but instead grounded in practical, meaningful factors. Being in your own space means you’ll be more likely to have immediate access to information you may need, for example. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the type and stage of negotiation. Sometimes there’s a strategic advantage to not having resources available. It can allow you to defer or buy time. “I’m happy to consider that, but I’ll have to check xyz and don’t have access to it here.” Similarly, there may be distractions to deal with in your own sandbox which wouldn’t be an issue off-site. Or consider the simple proposition that allowing someone into your space shows them a part of you that may or may not serve you. If you’re trying to project an image of power and infinite resources but live or work out of a shoebox, negotiating there wouldn’t be your strongest strategic move. Alternatively, if you need sympathy to drive the price down, you don’t want to haggle from your multi-million dollar penthouse suite. You get the idea.

Aside from the ‘yours or mine’ factor, consider the mood that would best further your cause. Are you trying to exert and exude power, or to make them comfortable? Is it a private conversation or public? Do you need quiet and intimacy or noisy distraction? Is this the kind of discussion that should take place over a meal or boardroom table? If the former, is it a lunch or dinner issue? Casual or high end? Could the conversation best be tackled at a social event where the guard may be lower, or do you need the intensity of a law office? If the former, would a cultured event work best or something low brow?

These considerations, in part, depend on the nature of the negotiation at hand. Where you contemplate complicated stock options or mergers and acquisitions will no doubt not be the same place you’d want to haggle your kids’ curfew or even custody issues. Even within negotiation categories, however, determining your where, with intention, will make you a more effective negotiator. If you’re negotiating for a salary increase, for example, consider whether you’ll increase your odds by raising the conversation casually at the water cooler versus the boss’s office versus on a firm spa retreat. If you’re bartering over the purchase of a used car should you do it on the lot or in the office? Again, you get the idea.

Considering these factors in a meaningful way also requires knowing yourself and the other party. In what setting are you most effective? Are you easily distracted and have difficulty focusing? If so, ensure your negotiations take place where you can concentrate all your attention on the issue at hand. On the other hand, if the other party is distractible, consider whether that will work to your advantage or detract from your ability to persuade effectively. Are you most comfortable and at ease in a casual setting with a drink in your hand, or are you likely to concede more than you should in that environment? By the same token, what setting will make your counterpart most comfortable? Do you want them comfortable or will it better suit your needs if they’re a little on edge?

The where also entails deciding whether the conversation needs to take place in person at all, or whether a phone call will suffice. And whether you determine that live or remote is most effective, always consider the possibility of recording capabilities. Today, people routinely record conversations (sometimes legally, sometimes not). Guard yourself against the possibility of surreptitious recordings in your negotiations by controlling your environment to the extent possible.

As noted earlier, people tend to be less likely to ponder the where as a factor in personal negotiations. So heed this advice: prepare for your personal negotiations like you would for any high stakes professional bargaining session. I invite you to consider your why. I encourage you to consider your when before you embark on a personal barter. And I caution you not to forget the where next time you’re about to haggle with your partner or kids or other personal contact in your life. With your partner, for example, there are some conversations that can be done in the bedroom (with or without clothing), but some that need to be done at the breakfast table (especially if you’re trying to ‘sell’ or cast a vision for the future).

Whether in your personal or professional life or somewhere in between, these considerations can elevate the level of your effectiveness as a negotiator. Setting is important. That’s why renowned authors spend so much time on setting in their books. Setting can ground or unsettle us, envelop or push us away, warm or cool us. Use it as another tool in your arsenal. You may not always be able to control where your negotiations take place. But if you start actively contemplating the where, as one of the factors to consciously address in planning your negotiations where possible, you will increase your influence and get better results. Most people don’t apply these factors with intention. When you do, you already set yourself apart from the pack and elevate your status as a successful negotiator.

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