In this column last Saturday, we discussed the necessary preparations people who desire to go into negotiations must make. We said that though everyone can negotiate, only the initiate can negotiate professionally to achieve results. By initiation, we do not imply membership of any cult. Rather we mean some formal learning in the art of negotiation. Our discussion began with the imperative of activities that need being undertaken in what we referred to as ‘’Negotiation Back Office’’. In these behind the scene activities, the negotiator must undertake adequate planning, research and analysis in order to negotiate from a position of strength; it is akin to reconnaissance. So the better prepared you are before a negotiation begins, the more flexible, and responsive you can be once all actions start.
It is definitely not enough to research into the opposing party in the negotiation without an introspection of own circumstances. We need to also research ourselves – how we stand, or better still where we are coming from. Some professionals will tell you out rightly that negotiation is power; power in the sense of your aces. You may therefore get to hear that your current situation largely determines what you are likely to get out of the deal. This may not always be so. There are other variables that may alter the likelihood. Take for instance the case of a negotiator who does not even understand where his or her power in the negotiation lies. Take the instance of a cowardly or self-centered negotiator in an employment bargaining. He might not realize that the negotiation is not about him but about the one thousand memberships strong of the employees he represents. Where he gets jittery of likely repercussions against his person in the deal, he might fritter away the power of numbers at the negotiation table.
Another strong point to consider in the preparations for negotiation should include what are known as objective standards or precedents. These are decisions or standards that have previously been applied and recognized as acceptable standards within an industry or similar circumstances. For legal practitioners, precedents are invaluable yardsticks for the determination of law suits. Though ‘precedent’ may be regarded as a term of art in legal practice, other terms such as ‘custom of the trade’ and ‘objective standards’ are common usages that convey same objectives . Let us take for instance, the negotiation for the custody of underage children of estranged couples, irrespective of arguments and logic to the contrary, it is a widely known fact that custody would usually go to mothers. It is an objective standard that has judicial imprimatur. And so when before a negotiation, you are able to establish an objective standard in your favour, you stand a better chance to creatively negotiate more favourable terms in the knowledge that in the worst case scenario you shall be able to gain reliance on the objective standard
The need to plan your negotiation need not be overemphasized. You want to think ahead the kinds of concessions you shall be willing to give to the other side when the need arises. In thinking through these, you must be careful to note what adverse effects, if any, may fall out of such concessions. In life we all possess certain things of value which would not hurt us if we let go. These values may be in terms of material possessions such as cash, houses, cars or certain levels of political or corporate powers which others desperately yearn for. When these become issues in a negotiation how prepared will you be to let go in return for other desires that are of more relevance to you? Take the instance of a local government council whose legitimate power to collect market dues are being challenged by opinion leaders in a particular community. The native leaders demand a share of the levies which according to them, they require to fund communal peace among segments of their community. If the traders will not pay the imposed levy unless they get the nod of their community leaders, an issue for negotiation is thrown up. Issues for research and consideration may therefore, include the truth or otherwise of any security concerns should the native leaders be ignored. What will be the cost of curtailing and or quelling such community uprising should one be likely. Are there options of reaching out to the traders, aside these stonewalling native leaders? Are there precedents of governments giving in to such local demands at any level of governance in the country to ensure community compliance to a government directive?
In rounding off this discuss, the point has been made that negotiation may not be as simple as a popular usage makes it appear. So much work needs to be done behind the scenes in what has been identified as the negotiation back office. Always remember that negotiation is a dynamic exercise for which you have to be able to think on your feet. And if you want to achieve great success of it, you must engage in intellectual activities such as research, planning and personal emotional balancing.