The agenda is the bridge that helps you cross over from the Exchange Stage to the Bargaining Stage.
You will have a prepared agenda draft but, more importantly, get the other party's agenda items. You might say, "These are the things we would like to discuss. Are there any items you want included on the agenda?" The agenda can serve as a compass for when the conversations may get too far off course.
Having a complete agenda also prevents a "surprise attack." It prevents the other side from bringing up issues that are not on the agenda. If they do bring up other issues, you can easily refer them to the agreed upon agenda and recommend you discuss those items at the next meeting.
Four benefits to developing a Joint Agenda:
- Allows you to complete your homework
- Avoid single issue negotiations
- More likely they come prepared and with authority
- Prevents the "surprise attack"
Agenda-setting: Start with the Easier Issues
Starting with the easier issues allows you to continue to build rapport and get the other side more invested. Starting with the difficult issues can end negotiations quickly because it raises sore spots, past problems, and areas that require more creativity, before the energy for creativity flows.
Easy ≠ Small
Many times bigger, more substantive issues are easier to discuss.
Imagine two people in line to buy concert or soccer tickets. One has been in line for an hour and the other has just arrived. The ticket dealer announces that the total wait time is two hours. Given the same level of desire for the tickets, the person who has just arrived is less likely to spend two hours of time to get the tickets. The person who arrived earlier is more likely to spend two hours of time to get the tickets because that person is already invested in the process. Get the other side invested in the process and in you.
Don't end with the difficult issues
Starting with the easier issues also does not mean that you end with the difficult issues. To the extent possible you want to end negotiations on a positive note. One strategy is to "sandwich" the difficult issues: easy issue, difficult issue, easy issue, etc.
It's difficult enough to discuss the difficult issues, so you don't want to also be tired, as you might be at the end of a negotiation. Last, what if the difficult issue is a deal killer? You would be wasting a lot of effort only to find out you have to execute your BATNA, or alternate plan.
- You are starting with the issues that are "easier" to discuss from the other person's perspective, not yours.