There is a general principle that structure dictates outcomes. This is seemingly a very simple idea. While clichés like this one can be very helpful, they are also very uninformative. The right structure dictates the outcomes you want. But what is the right structure?
I have found that for me working backwards helps me find the right angle of initial approach. Very similar to solving a maze on paper as a kid, if you work from the goal out you are not only going to find the right path but you will do it much more quickly. But in negotiation, like many of our skills that we teach at Black Swan, the right structure can be counterintuitive. For example, if you know you want a certain term in a deal or a certain price, then if I work backwards it would obviously lead me to construct the right proof or logic as to why I should have it. Unfortunately this can be detrimental to achieving success or gaining wins because it displays no collaboration or listening of any kind. It is simply finding a way to prove your point.
Last I checked negotiation was about coming to an agreement that makes everyone involved better off. Not bringing everyone together for a debate. Now there is a fine line between making decisions and influencing decisions. Decisions have been made before you ever get the chance to talk to the other side. They have a team and they have their own wants and preconceived notions. So your job is to influence the decisions they have already made. The worst way to approach that is by proving that you’re right. They have already decided that you are wrong and trying to prove your merit is just an uphill battle. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were at the bottom of the hill and the objective was to roll the solution down to you and all you had to do was catch it?
The way you do this is by addressing the inherently obvious fears that the other side is harboring to start the communication process. Now at first this is difficult because your mindset probably starts with “how do I convince them of what I want?” Well you can’t convince them if they don’t want to listen. You have to open their ears and that starts with a display of understanding. The best place to start is the obvious. If they are not going to like something, you don’t start by telling them how good of an idea it is, you start by saying “you are going to think this is a bad idea”. I realize a lot of people are afraid of an approach like this because we are worried about planting ideas, especially negative ones in the minds of our counterpart. To help put this to rest I will say that you can’t plant an idea in the mind of an adult because if you could there would be no need to feel like we need to convince them or get them on our side. If we could plant an idea we would just plant what we want and they would just agree, we all know negotiation is not that simple. But addressing the values or preconceived notions of your counterpart is possible.
So when it comes to negotiation structure while it may be counterintuitive to address their concerns first, it will open their ears. If you can tell them what they are thinking without them having to explain it, they are going to have a need to hear what else you have to say. Structure your communication to display understanding and they will respond with an effort to understand you. If you structure your approach to argue then that will be the outcome you get.