This semester, I will be co-teaching a course in negotiation. To prepare, I read the three assigned textbooks on the subject over the holidays. What struck me but not as a surprise, is that each author emphasized the importance of preparing for the mediation. None of them suggests simply walking into a mediation and “winging” it. Rather each author suggests sitting down and analyzing various aspects of the upcoming negotiation. Notably, their steps for preparing are quite similar.
For example, in Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People by G. Richard Shell (3d ed., Penguin Books, New York, 2018), the author provides a preparation checklist. First is to identify the problem you are trying to resolve. That is, what are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish in this negotiation? Equally important, what are the goals of the other party: what does he/she want to get out of the negotiation? You must also ask yourself who has the leverage and/or the power in this negotiation? Is it possible to brainstorm options or will the negotiation be purely a positional or distributive affair? Also important is what objective standards or criteria are going to be used by which to judge or justify each party’s proposals? Will those standards be the “law,” “rules” or “regulations,” or simply customs and norms? What type of negotiation strategy (distributive, integrative or both) should you use, given the above factors? And what is the best mode of communication – in person? By telephone? Video conferencing? E mail? text? smoke signals? And finally, what is the overall theme of your negotiation strategy that you want to convey throughout the negotiation? (Id. at 116.)
Similar steps for preparation are set out in Essentials of Negotiation by Roy J. Lewicki, David M. Saunders and Bruce Barry (7th ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, 2021) Like the above, these authors set out as the first item: define your goal. This means, listing the key issues for discussion that relate to that goal and prioritize them. Which are the most important? Which are the least important? Then define your interests or ask yourself “why” you want your goal? What are the needs, interests and concerns underlying your goal? At the same time, think about what is your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) or what will happen if the negotiation does not succeed, and you decide to walk away. What are your other options? (You should always be comparing what the other side is offering to your BATNA!) In this connection, decide what your reservation point (that is, if the buyer- the most amount you are willing to pay or if the seller- the least amount you are willing to accept.) At the same time, you should give some thought to the other party’s needs, interests and concerns: what is he/she trying to accomplish in this negotiation and why? (Always, always, keep asking “why?”). It will help if you understand what the other party is trying to accomplish and why.
The authors then suggest that you set your opening demand/offer and target (or the financial or non- financial goal you ideally hope to obtain.) And then think about the social context of the negotiation such as where should the negotiation be held, who should be present, what will be the “ground rules” and any other process issues. Finally, and like the previous authors, give thought to how you want to present the issues both at the opening stage of and during the negotiation. (Id. at 87-111, 93-94.)
Over the years, I have addressed the issue of preparing for mediation many times, pointing to the disastrous results I have witnessed when the parties decided to “wing it.” As evidenced by these two books (as well as many others), the importance of preparation cannot be overstated. Perhaps, a good New Year’s resolution for everyone would be to vow to prepare for negotiation, and not to wing it. With such preparation, any negotiation will go much more smoothly and hopefully lead to greater and more frequent success.
… Just something to think about.
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