Negotiation Blog

Talking to your negotiation counterpart in a positive way

By Marianne Eby

At one of our negotiation workshops last week, the sales team we were working with was struggling in conversations with their customers. I asked them to re-enact a conversation that hadn’t gone well. It didn’t take long to detect the problem – the otherwise experienced negotiators were presenting questions and ideas with a negative tone. We talked about the art of “positive inquiry”.

Here is one example: The sales team wanted to discuss a consistent pattern of late payments. The buyer responded with a statement about the increase in transportation costs. The sales team negotiator was frustrated and replied: “That’s not important to this discussion.” They buyer became quiet and the meeting dissolved without solving the problem.

Why? I suggested that the buyer “lost face” or otherwise felt “put down.” Turning negative reactions into positive delivery is not easy, but it can make the difference between a conversation that leads to value creation, and one that does not.

We replayed the conversation again, but this time had Sales say: “Let’s get through the higher priorities on our list first, and then we can go over transportation costs.” The group tried this with every negative comment or question we had identified, and agreed to try it out in their next negotiation.

Try turning these negative statements into positive ones:

  1. Why hasn’t there been any progress on the quality certification?
  2. These late deliveries are costing all of us our profit!
  3. Without a stronger guarantee in place, we can’t trust that you’ll deliver what was promised.

For the answers, click here

Negotiating Tip

A weak partner is a dangerous partner. At minimum, find ways for all parties at the negotiating table to save face. 

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