In the third of his blog series, Mike Harvey, Director at Candour Collaborations, talks about the discussion stage of negotiations.
It’s fairly standard now that in major commissioning rounds the main interaction between Tier 1s and Tier 2/3s will be through email and other electronic communications. More often than not this is simply because the Tier 1s will be swamped with providers trying to sell their products and services. Consequently they use Expressions of Interest (EoI) and other documents as filters to save time and avoid meetings.
If you have submitted an EoI and the Tier 1 is interested in offering you work, then whenever possible I would try and secure a face to face meeting to discuss their offer, and explain your proposal in more detail.
The main reason for getting a face to face meeting is that it gives you a chance to build relationships and establish rapport, and you can use it to get a better sense of who you’re potentially working with. You want your organisation to be valued but perhaps more importantly, you want to be liked! Ultimately people buy from people, and you are more likely to get concessions if they like you. Try and view it as a partnership – your perspective will drive your behaviours and approach to negotiation. Yes, there are occasions that you reluctantly end up working with some organisations, and these relationships are often viewed as necessary rather than a valued partnership – I view my bank in much the same way – but the best partnerships are built on mutual respect and trust. More often than not, even at an organisational level, these partnerships are sustained through strong personal relationships between key individuals.
Managed properly, and with the right people leading them, face to face negotiations will nearly always be more fruitful than those concluded through an email exchange.
So assuming you do arrange a meeting, try to ensure you agree an agenda beforehand. Setting a clear structure will make discussions more effective, ensure you cover the topics that are important to you, and reduce the likelihood of time being used up on “fluff” as an excuse to deliberately ignore the meaty bits – wasting time is a well-used tactic in negotiation, I’ve done it myself. I knew the other party had another meeting immediately after me, so I waited until the last minute before pushing the request I thought they were least likely to agree to. In a rush, anxious to get away, and put on the spot, they agreed something they probably wouldn’t have if they had had more time.
Also, think carefully about who attends the meetings. Different people will have different roles based on their personality type and negotiation style. Some people are just naturally fair-minded and interested in maintaining relationships (Compromisers), while others focus on the other side’s problems (Accommodators). A few of us are naturally Competitors, and if we lack self-awareness, or aren’t moderated, then winning becomes the only thing and the meeting room can rapidly turn into a battle ground. Worst of all are the Avoiders. These people dislike conflict, find negotiating very uncomfortable and will generally make as many concessions as necessary just to get out of the room. Great if they’re on the other side – keep them well away from the meeting if they happen to be on yours.
Think about what type of negotiator you are, learn to recognise the types and how they interact. Doing so will help you focus attention on the right people on their side, and also identify who else should be on your negotiating team – if you’re a natural Avoider, should you even be in the negotiations?
Agree beforehand who is leading on what elements, what your organisation will and won’t sign up to, and the limits of authority. Nothing is worse than having people disagree during a meeting, or worse, agree to something which you then have to backtrack on because they don’t have the authority to make those decisions.
Keep in mind, at this stage of the negotiation, you’re not necessarily agreeing anything; use the early stages of the meeting to check their position. In preparing your list of priorities (see preparation blog) you’ve made a series of assumptions about what matters to you, and what you think matters to them. Now you can check them before you discuss your proposal. They may surprise you! In a recent training event one delegate told the group of how they were really nervous about asking a Tier 1 for additional support with ICT, but when they asked for help the Tier 1 said yes immediately. It would have taken months for the Tier 2 to implement their own solution, but it took the Tier 1 less than a day because they already had the knowledge, expertise and infrastructure in place – so what seemed like a big deal for one, was nothing for another.
Finally, remember the key purpose of the meeting is to build rapport, and validate your assumptions, so use active listening and every other interpersonal skill at your disposal.