Negotiation Blog

Why don’t we start high enough in negotiations with our opening offers?

By Thomas Wood

All good negotiators know that their opening offer should be

  • Assertive (but not so aggressive as to be thought ridiculous)
  • Achievable (even if rarely achieved)
  • Reflective of your ideal outcome

Yet, more often than not, we don’t open high enough (or low enough depending on your perspective). Knowing why this happens helps us avoid making this mistake.

A group we worked with recently identified five factors at play:

  1. No patience: Several team members felt the result of the negotiation was inevitable, and didn’t want to waste time starting high only to arrive at some expected middle ground. But those in the group who started at the middle ground ended up at their walk-away position.
  2. Untested Assumptions: Some folks started as high as was reasonable under assumed circumstances, only to realize later that if they had discovered some interesting facts earlier, they would have felt comfortable asking for more from the start.
  3. Anchoring: Others reacted to their counterpart’s opening offer. They adjusted their own first offer based on their counterpart, rather than based on the facts and circumstances known to them. This is what we call being “anchored down” by the other side.
  4. Competing needs: Some in the group struggled with competing interests: They didn’t want to risk harming an otherwise good relationship by an assertive offer when in truth they would be satisfied with less. This need to be liked, or be seen as cooperative, competed with the best practice of opening at a more desirable outcome.
  5. Negotiating with yourself: Two people planned to open with better but still reasonable terms, but at the last second they predicted the other side’s reaction and lowered their offer. They literally negotiated against themselves.

All of these factors are common mistakes. Remembering that a negotiation is a dialogue with an outcome in mind is the first step. Racing to the end eliminates the potential for either side to develop mutually beneficial solutions. Test assumptions with your counterpart, and not in your own head. And stick to your plan until you learn information that justifies a new strategy.

Negotiating Tip

The number one goal in collaborative negotiations and in avoiding/resolving a conflict is to make sure all parties maintain self-esteem.


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Negotiation Blog

3 Common Mistakes in Negotiations with Neighbors

By Thomas Wood

Are you “on the fence” about your neighbors? I train seasoned business professionals to negotiate in a wide range of industries and professions, and it never fails that I get asked to help with someone’s latest negotiation problem --  not with a key customer or difficult supplier -- but with a neighbor. Everyone has a story to tell! Learn from the mistakes even I succumbed to in neighbor negotiations.


You don’t get to choose your neighbors, and you don’t have to like your neighbors. But unless you are a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg and can purchase your neighbors' properties in order to protect your own privacy and view, you will have to deal with your neighbors. Here's my tale of hard lessons learned.

My wife and I bought a house next door to a sophisticated widow of considerable wealth - we called her "Lady H." Lady H had previously owned our adjoining lot, with her house being grand and ours being, well, quaint - a more modest guest-house. Lady H lived alone in her old age and wealth, and barely recognized the existence of my family despite our attempts to win her over with fresh picked blue berries and smiles across the lawn.

Years earlier when Lady H owned both parcels, she had a fence placed near our joint property lines but located squarely on my parcel – a chain link fence that was now in disrepair and unsightly. My wife and I were ready to upgrade our property, and assumed that Lady H would appreciate the investment, as it would add to the value of her property as well. We decided to tackle the thing most unbefitting to our properties – the rusted chain link fence on our parcel.

As an expert negotiator who coaches others, I knew exactly what to do – prepare my options and strategies before negotiating a deal with Lady H. We did our research and formed our strategy, and then dropped by to see Lady H. I told her we were taking the old chain link fence down, and handed her a brochure that showed fences with the same open air view as her chain link fence, but added sophistication befitting her estate. While my wife and I were ok with all the options, I didn’t share that with her, as I wanted to see what Lady H wanted first. I had planned to then reluctantly accept her fence preference in exchange for several other things we wanted, like for her to have a dead tree on her property taken down that posed a threat to our safety.

I was ready to discuss options and begin some give and take, but she cut the conversation short. Pointing to the most expensive option, a decorative iron fence, Lady H nicely said, “I like this one. Do what you need to do,” and thanked me for coming by. I was surprised, but pleased at least with the efficiency of our “negotiation."

When our new and very expensive iron fence was installed, I was thrilled. We could see each other’s lovely gardens but without having to look through the eye sore of that rusted chain link fence. My satisfaction was short lived.

A week later, Lady H installed a taller, builder-grade, wood privacy fence on her property, abutting and completely overshadowing the new iron fence. What had I done wrong? Everything, pretty much!

First, know your neighbor's true interests.
I didn't bother to learn Lady H's interests - why she wants what she wants. It turned out that Lady H regretted having sold the adjoining property because she now had a young noisy family that liked to spend time laughing and playing outside - ours. Lady H had grown older since the days when she had installed that chain link fence, and her interests had changed; she now wanted quiet and privacy.

Second, understand who you are dealing with.
Lady H could have simply proposed a privacy fence, and not had to spend her own money to get the privacy she wanted. Why didn’t she? Easy to see why in retrospect:

  • Lady H didn’t share her interest with us because we had no relationship (see the 2nd article in this series coming soon), and I didn’t bother to ask her what mattered to her. My assumptions about what mattered to Lady H proved entirely wrong.
     
  • I underestimated Lady H’s ego need to control her surroundings. I opened with our decision to take the chain link fence down, when I could have just as easily met her outside and, while not invading her side of the fence, showed her that time had taken its toll on that fence and simply asked if she'd like to see it in better shape again. I could have begun a conversation rather than take control. My ego bruising led Lady H to take revenge rather than discuss a solution.
     
  • And last, Lady H’s plan B (BATNA) was very strong (and I didn't bother to think she had one since the fence was on our property); she had resources to out maneuver us. From her side Lady H would now see the nice side of her privacy fence. And she didn't really care that from our side we saw our investment erode, with the ugly side of her privacy fence pressed against our new iron fence.

Third, to negotiate a solution requires collaboration.
I did not trade value to reach a mutually beneficial solution, which is how you capture value in collaborative negotiations. When the other party says “Yes” right away, you can be sure that either you did a great job of convincing them, or like in my situation, you are being outmaneuvered. Maybe you unwittingly offered them more than they ever thought they could get, so they jump at your offer, or maybe like Lady H, they have a strong plan B that they are ready and willing to implement. A quick and easy win in negotiations usually turns out not to be a win at all.

With neighbors and in business, knowing the other party's ego needs, interests and BATNAs, engaging in a collaborative conversation to solve your interests and theirs by trading for value – determines whether you actually get what you want. Robert Frost's famous line - Good Fences Make Good Neighbors -- perhaps should have been Good Negotiators Make Good Neighbors.

Negotiating Tip

Path to enduring agreements: build trusting relationships; share interests; create value as you address interests; distribute that value.


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Negotiation Blog

MLB Negotiations – Who has more to lose?

By Leslie Mulligan

All of us want to see professional sports up and running again, and MLB could be the first post-Covid-lockdown. But only if the Major League Baseball (MLB) with its powerful, moneyed owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), a seemingly united players union, can bridge their financial divide on players’ salaries. But deadlines force concessions: if Opening Day does not come by early July, there is no hope for a season this year. Which means we MUST be in the final stages of a 2020 baseball negotiation!

On March 16, the baseball season was formally postponed by MLB due to Covid-19, till at least mid-May, but with hopes of still playing a full schedule, as documented in this CBS Sports timeline.

Both sides were eager to plot a path forward and so convened at the negotiation table on March 26 to define what opening up again would look like. At that moment, the owners and the players were willing to tackle the health and safety challenges ahead, and also agreed to pro-rated player salaries on whatever might remain of the season. After all, no one wanted a repeat of the 1994-1995 season where the US national pastime stopped abruptly on August 11, when Collective Bargaining Agreement talks broke down. Public sentiment for baseball took a hit that year with no World Series;  both sides want to avoid reliving that history as a result of Covid-19.

Owners and players were “on the same page” on March 26, trusting each other to forge ahead together. Normally, major leaguers trust MLB owners to ensure their livelihoods with generous salaries, but with Covid-19 looming, players now were trusting MLB with their lives as well. Trust is crucial to any successful business partnership, but most certainly to the negotiations that serve as the foundation of an alliance.

Since late March, MLB and the players union seem to be successfully negotiating health and safety issues for the athletes as they take the field again, both in spring training as well as on the field, although some open issues remain. But one financial element became a significant obstacle -- player compensation. MLB expected that when the season started, they could play in front of their fans, and their initial proposal was based in part on the expectation of stadium revenue.

Without fans, the owners realized they could lose more than $640,000 per game, with no gate receipts or merchandise/food & beverage sales. That March 26 agreement was swept off the table with this new premise, as it was clear that baseball stadiums would not soon be filled with cheering fans. It’s not unusual that mid-negotiation, assumptions about the future change -- raw material prices rise, mergers occur, markets collapse, and in this case, a pandemic shuts down the gathering of fans – the crucial element to profit. Both sides went back to their camps to reconsider. The players expected to ensure that their salaries remained “whole,” but were willing to pro-rate their overall income, depending on the number of games played. And of course they want a longer season as a result. The owners insisted that with their revenue cut due to empty ball fields, they expect the players to share that loss by only earning some percentage of their pro-rated salary – the % to be negotiated.

The next MLB Proposal came in early May:  “MLB and the owners will seek additional pay reductions from the MLBPA to account for the revenue lost by not having fans in the stands. MLB will propose a 50/50 revenue split in 2020.” The players were NOT having it – a 50% cut when they had anticipated 100% of their per game salary. Any trust that existed in late March eroded quickly – as Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote on May 26:  “Trust, on the other hand, is hard to come by, and if this thing falls apart -- if the absence of a good-faith negotiation dooms the 2020 baseball season -- it won't be directly because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be because of the erosion of trust in recent years among the leaders on both sides poisoned and polluted the landscape to an extent that a deal never was going to happen in the first place.”

The MLBPA challenged the owners to produce the data showing the financial losses that the owners claimed. In any negotiation, each side more easily comes to an agreement when they feel the offers are fair. Challenging data is often key to one side accepting an offer. Already the players felt disadvantaged, stressing that the health risk falls predominantly on the players taking the field, so the data needed to be reviewed and assessed to show more games produce greater losses.

But neither players nor owners want to be painted as the villains in this play, so discussions have continued, with the clock ticking loudly. 

A number of proposals have gone back and forth since that first MLB offer; fortunately, the health and safety challenges are being collectively and successfully tackled by both parties. However, financial hurdles persist. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight.com provides a deep dive into the MLB financials yet concludes “it still seems like all parties involved have too much to lose not to come to a compromise.” Some creative solutions have been introduced, with the potential deferral of salaries in the event the post-season is canceled, but owners pushed back on that. Even wealthy team owners are nervous about an uncertain future, and some have voiced concerns about already being maxed out on credit lines.

So for a 2020 season, what alternatives does either side really have, if any? In the lexicon of negotiation, what are their Best Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNAs)? MLB and the owners believe they can unilaterally implement a shorter schedule season, but they risk the wrath of the players if they do. How the players react to that will be telling. Will they walk away and forego all 2020 salaries, citing health risks? Or will they file grievances that would take months to work through in arbitration and still may not conclude satisfactorily for either party? BATNA’s are never ideal!

So where does that leave the baseball fan now? The reality is that in negotiations deadlines force concessions! And MLB wants to get a 3-week spring training underway as soon as possible so that they can target a July 4th Opening Day. Why is that? Oddly enough, it is with the end in mind!  The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin writes “MLB believes it needs to complete its postseason, its primary driver of industry revenue, by the end of October to guard against a potential second wave of the coronavirus.”

As of June 8, the latest MLB proposal was for a 76-game season, with 75% of pro-rated salaries, but not all of it guaranteed. Only 50% assured, based on the regular season; if the post-season is canceled, the remaining 25% disappears. Once again, the players have pushed back. But the MLBPA response is due June 10, ironically the day they had hoped spring training might begin. Who has more to lose? Owners or players? I think it’s the stakeholders – baseball fans. Let’s see if some trust can be regained in these final weeks, as July 4th is not that far off –  that looming deadline should push both parties back to the negotiation table in earnest.  Let’s hope we all hear “batter up” soon!

Negotiating Tip

Decide early as you prepare for an important negotiation, does the situation call for you to compete, collaborate, compromise, avoid or accommodate. All strategies have a time & place.


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