Why Timing and Leverage are Key
There are a lot of strikes happening recently. We can’t turn on the news without hearing about another looming potential strike. As usual, the media are missing the point and mischaracterizing the issues in dispute. As I was stewing about the myths and misconceptions around unions and strikes, I also got thinking about the importance of timing and leverage in negotiations generally – and how under-appreciated these key factors are in getting best outcomes.
The leverage you have in any given negotiation depends in part on how much each party needs the deal in question vis-à-vis each other and the relative value of each party’s BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement).
Timing and circumstances can change your respective leverage. For instance, the leverage that mask producers held pre-COVID was dramatically less than it was at the height of the pandemic when masks were in short supply. And who would have believed that those with the ability to sell or provide toilet paper would have held such leverage as they did during the toilet paper shortages early in the pandemic?
Using strikes as an example to further illustrate the point of timing and leverage, it’s easy to appreciate that if workers commenced a strike during COVID, when their business was not operational, they would have no leverage whatsoever. The timing would be terrible. The Employer would have no incentive to meet the Union demands when the business was not operational in any event. Make sense?
The same holds true for any negotiation. Timing is important. The extent of your leverage will likely depend on timing. Heck, some people don’t even realize when a negotiation has already started. Most negotiations commence before the formal ‘sit-down’. If you’re not aware that the other party has already started negotiating (and laying the foundation for the negotiation) you may well be standing in the path of an invisible wrecking ball.
Part of the preparation for any negotiation is strategically considering the most advantageous timing to maximize best outcomes. Is there a time when the other party’s needs will be greater, thereby giving you more leverage? Again, using the strike scenario as an example, a Christmas dependent business would be more devastated by a strike occurring during that peak season.
The opposite is also true. In determining the most advantageous timing you need to consider if there is a time when the other party’s needs for what you offer will be lower, thereby giving you less leverage. For example, teachers would have less leverage if they threatened a strike during the summer months when the schools are closed and their absence would have little impact.
Time of year, month and even time of day can give more or less leverage depending on the circumstances. Be tactical and deliberate where possible. Maximize every possible advantage to getting better outcomes.
Another aspect of timing is urgency. Does one party have greater urgency for the item/issue which is the subject of the negotiation? The party with the greater ability to wait arguably has more leverage. I recall the COVID testing rules changing while I was away on business, and I needed a PCR test urgently and immediately to get back home. Needless to say, I had less leverage in bargaining price-point for the test.
Also consider how much time to allot for negotiations. Some negotiations shouldn’t be rushed, whereas sometimes urgency is your friend. Be sure you don’t allow the other party to use time against you with pressure tactics or artificial time limits, depriving you of the opportunity to fully consider your position.
Kids intuitively invoke timing in their negotiations. They know it’s better to wait to ask for what they want until you’re in a good mood. Or when you need to get out the door in 2 minutes to make your meeting and your child is lollygagging, they likely hold more leverage in the moment as you need them out the door more than they need to get out the door.
Consider your past negotiations. When has timing helped or hindered your leverage? We often see time as our enemy. I invite you to make time your friend in negotiations. You can do this by getting more intention about timing and the leverage it gives you.
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