Watch where you sit when Negotiating!


People often ask me how best to go about preparing for a Negotiation.  That in itself is good news, because they are in the minority of people who actually recognise the need to prepare, rather than relying on intuition and their ability to “wing it”.

So we talk about planning Positions, walk away options (my BANANA concept), what the history is, the arguments they will use to defend their positions, the Power Map (who is weak on what), Concessions, and much else besides.

One thing which is often at the bottom of the list (or more likely not even on it) is planning where we are going to meet, and indeed who is going to sit where.  This can often make a crucial difference to the outcome.

Think about it for a minute:  you are planning to ask your boss for a salary increase.  Are you likely to get the best deal with him sitting in his big black chair opposite you – the same space from which he barks his daily commands at you?  Might be better to break that pattern by changing location. Here’s the thing:

Physical movement creates mental movement.  Change the location and you’ll change the mindset.  Far better to get him on your turf, or at least on neutral turf:  around a table in the coffee area might be much more productive.

Next time you find yourself in a deadlock in a negotiation, try getting up on the pretext of stretching your legs.  Walk over to the window, talking as you go.  You may find they will change their position too, maybe come to the window with you.  Their perspective will have changed, literally.  So will their mental perspective.

I really like this true life story from Guhan Subramanian, Professor of Law and Business at the Harvard Law School.  Here he describes how he messed up from the start on a Board meeting he was mediating, simply through not controlling the seating arrangements.  Very candid, and I can completely see how this would have made for a Win/Lose negotiation from the off.

What do you think of his point about aiming to sit on the same side of the table as the other party?  Feasible?  Ridiculous?  I often say that if you can make an excuse to get on the same side of the table as the other person, you have probably cracked it, whether it is a sale or a negotiation.

Whenever I run negotiation training exercises I find that people typically spend 90% of the preparation time thinking about the content:  trying to anticipate what the other party is going to do, doing the maths,  preparing the arguments.  All important stuff, for sure, but actually not so important, I suggest, as thinking about the Process and the Relationship phases of the negotiation.  Thinking through critical questions is often overlooked.  These include:

  • How are we going to prove to them that they can Trust us?
  • What’s the best Process we can use to arrive at a Win/Win?
  • Who has the power and how can we get close to them?
  • What are their concerns likely to be?

And now a new one for the list:  Who is going to sit where, and how do we make that happen?

Give it a go.  Let me know what happens!

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About Michael Brown

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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