By Mike Hourigan
As a keynote speaker who talks to audiences about negotiation skills, one question I often get is “At what point in a meeting does the real negotiation stuff take place?” My answer is, “Yes.”
By the one-word answer, what I mean is negotiation skills can start even before the actual meeting, on the plane prior to the meeting, or in a taxi or Uber to the hotel. Let me give you a true, real-life example from my career.
Negotiation Tactics on an Airport Shuttle Bus
Several years ago, I was part of a complex set of negotiations between two companies. For confidentiality, I’ll refer to the companies as “Company A” and “Company B.” The companies chose a hotel in Los Angeles for the meeting site. The negotiations were scheduled to begin on Thursday morning, and with luck, we would get everything accomplished by Saturday afternoon. I had an afternoon speech in Chicago and arrived in LAX at about 9:30.
By the time I caught the hotel airport shuttle it was 10:00 p.m. Much to my surprise, a woman sat across from me who had a tag on her attaché case for Company B. She had flown in from Vermont, in fact, and she looked absolutely exhausted. I introduced myself and asked her why she was getting in so late? She explained that she went to see her daughter play in the regionals of a major soccer tournament in Vermont.
"How did she do?" I asked to be friendly. Her daughter’s team won, she smiled. Then she volunteered that the finals were going to take place on Saturday afternoon in Virginia, and unless a miracle occurred at our meeting, she wouldn’t be able to make it back on time due to all of the agenda items.
How important was that piece of information to me as the person leading the negotiations for Company A? It was critically important.
Before the Meeting Started
Now we come to Thursday morning. Before the meeting started and while we were informally talking and introducing ourselves, I asked the group if they might be open to a minor change.
I reviewed my friendly conversation with the woman from Company B. Not to embarrass her, but with a feeling of pride, I told everyone that the woman’s daughter’s team was playing for the national soccer championship on Saturday morning. I said that I wouldn’t mind at all if they wanted me to rearrange the schedule so that we could discuss all of the important items first. In that way, she could leave for the airport on Friday at noon and see her daughter play.
"Sure!" Was the response.
So, now they know that we, from Company A, are nice people, but more important from my perspective is that in a positive, friendly way, we gained control of the agenda. I gave them a gift by rearranging the schedule and allowing her to leave to see her daughter play. We gained the ability to negotiate and navigate the important meeting points upfront carefully.
In volunteering to change the schedule, the woman on the Company B negotiating team became loyal to me. I want to stress; it was not “manipulation.” There was nothing at all sinister about it, but it allowed us the luxury of being able to fully discuss the major issues to the benefit of both sides without rushing.
By the time she left for the airport, the major negotiation points of the meeting had been discussed, we could clean up the minor points on Saturday, and of course, we could send her off with our best wishes. I also made a new friend.
The central point is that in the give and take of negotiation, and in understanding how to improve your negotiation skills, remember that everything counts, and that includes having an awareness as to who is on the bus.
Oh yes, her daughter’s team won and so did everyone else at the negotiation.
About Mike Hourigan: Mike Hourigan is a refreshingly unique keynote speaker, change management expert and author who empowers the country’s top companies to navigate constant change with real-world wisdom. Decades of corporate experience have allowed Mike to develop a completely fresh approach to team building, sales management, and customer service training. Mike has spoken to over 1,300 audiences including McDonald’s, Harley-Davidson, Disney, GE, Marriott, Aetna, ExxonMobil and Kaiser Permanente. Watch Mike’s video preview on Negotiation, or contact Gina Davilla for more information on Mike’s fees and availability at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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