Negotiation Blog

Can you negotiate with someone who doesn’t seem to know how?

By Thomas Wood

What if someone you are dealing with seems unable or unwilling to negotiate? You sense that, for personal or cultural reasons, or because of inexperience, they don’t warm to, or recognize, your attempts to open negotiations. Do you give up?

This was the question that came over our Need Help Now web advice service, in which one of our workshop participants was was dealing with a new buyer at a key customer. Often we see a disinclination to negotiate from very smart technical people, such as scientists, technologists (techies, IT, programmers), and engineers. We also see it in the helping professions (researchers, nurses, doctors, laboratory technologists). It applies equally to someone who has resources you need, or authority to give you something you want (a promotion, a better assignment, an extension on a deadline). Your assessment of the “negotiation environment” tells you that despite your counterpart’s inexperience or unwillingness when it comes to negotiating, a collaborative negotiation would indeed yield a great outcome for both sides.

Let’s start with the absolute DON’Ts:
1. Don’t ask them to ‘negotiate’ with you. Such an approach runs the risk of raising red flags and making them nervous. If they feel intimidated, they will avoid further conversation. If they believe negotiating is akin to arguing or win/lose and they are conflict averse, they will either retreat or take a hardball stance.
2. Don’t make any offers (demands, proposals) until they do.

So what do you do?
When dealing with a novice or non-negotiator, try to transform the interaction into one where the other party feels like they are simply having a conversation. Remember, collaborative negotiation is at its heart a conversation, only with a goal of expanding value.

How to begin?
Model the characteristics of a collaborative negotiator:

  • Build in more time for developing rapport and trust. Find a mutual interest, pay a true compliment, find common ground.
  • Prepare more thoroughly. You may need to do some research to find out what your counterpart’s interests are so that you can ask questions that elicit them – he or she might not know the company's needs yet.
  • Probe with care. As always, ask open-ended questions. Show genuine interest and listen carefully to the answers. Ask follow-up questions that make it clear you were listening. Discover their interests, needs and goals.
  • Talk in term of WE. Focus on creating a cooperative discussion, using the word “we.” (“I think we agree the timetable is important; let’s talk about how we can make that happen.”)
  • Paint a picture of a possible collaboration, proposing options and possibilities without commitment. Say “what would it look like if we….”

The idea is to uncover their interests and fears, to gain their trust, and help them see how you can arrive at a “win-win” solution. If you do that, you may find yourself developing a joint agenda and moving into bargaining without your uneasy counterpart ever realizing they are negotiating.

Negotiating Tip

Never say No or Yes. Use the negotiated yes: "Yes, if…"


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Negotiation Blog

Empowering Technologists at the Negotiation Table

By Leslie Mulligan

Courtship….not necessarily a word that springs to mind when describing a mega-deal taking place in America’s bastion of high tech – Silicon Valley – but that is exactly how Forbes described Mark Zuckerberg’s pursuit of WhatsApp in an article detailing the Facebook acquisition.  This seismic, $19B deal closed in less than a week once the principals sat down at the negotiating table, but only after Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum built a true partnership during the previous 2 years.

Technologists typically don’t contemplate relationship building as a cornerstone of their negotiating strategy, but that profound relationship is precisely why the Facebook-WhatsApp acquisition closed so quickly, once $ were in play.  Beginning in the spring of 2012, after Zuckerberg reached out to Koum for a casual lunch, they got together almost monthly- sometimes for dinner, sometimes to hike trails around Palo Alto. Not only did they share philosophies on business strategy and innovation, they built a trust that enabled rapid closure on terms, once Google stirred the pot and made overtures toward WhatsApp.    

Inventors and technologists usually have an innate curiosity – they push the cutting edge of their domain, fostering innovating thinking and breakthroughs in technology. Turning this natural curiosity toward your potential counterpart at the negotiating table, you can gain significant leverage before talking terms. Find or create shared experiences and build rapport – and you are on your way to earning respect and ultimately trust. Cultivating this trust is essential to spur your counterpart to reveal their underlying motivations and deeper interests.    

Once you know what is really driving them, rely on another natural skill of most technologists – creativity. Creativity – and flexibility – allows you to think through a set of alternatives that will meet some, or many, of the interests you have uncovered. If they reject one proposal, you have others ready to propose that might win the day.  But this powerful give and take during bargaining is only possible if your partner trusts you. The $19B WhatsApp deal was done in a few short days because Koum fundamentally liked and trusted Mark Zuckerberg.  

The Forbes article claims that once the deal was “done” - Zuckerberg and Koum had shaken hands on the basic terms - that Mark Zuckerberg broke out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label to celebrate, as he knew this was Koum’s favorite Scotch. Now that is indisputable evidence that the Facebook CEO had done the work to uncover the real interests of the WhatsApp Founder!

To learn more about how to Empower Technologists at the Negotiating Table, listen to the August 17, 2014 IMI Tech Talk radio program, hosted on KFNX News-Talk-Radio 1100, when host Tom D’Auria speaks with Leslie Mulligan of Watershed Associates about this topic.

Negotiating Tip

A deal is successful when it's implemented successfully. That happens when all options were explored so everyone feels satisfied.


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