keep cool tense negotiations

How to Keep Your Cool – Even in Tense Negotiations

I have written quite a bit about how to sharpen you and your team’s professional negotiation skills to close larger deals, faster. However, there are many times professionals lose otherwise quality deals because the seller, the buyer or both, can’t keep their calm when the discussion becomes tense.  We have recently seen a client get so emotional in a discussion that the other side would have walked away had cooler heads not prevailed.

Rudyard Kipling talked about this as a virtue in his famous poem If: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” Great aspiration, but how to accomplish this with rude, inflexible and humorless negotiators?  What if they are even downright nasty? Consider this scene:

The chief negotiator for Dewey, Cheatum and Howe is sarcastic and condescending. In the middle of a tense negotiation, he says: “Gee. Harvey, I’d make this offer if I thought you and your team could understand it.” He is a nasty piece of work. “Arrogant” and “obnoxious” come to mind. Plus, he fails at personal grooming. Add “offensive” to the mix.

Perhaps I’m exaggerting to make the point but what should you do if confronted by such a scenario? The natural inclination is to tell the person off. But being the smart negotiator that you are, you say to your team, “SO WHAT?” Yes, you would rather do business with people who are pleasant. Yes, you would rather do business with people who are not rude and arrogant. Who wouldn’t? But if you’re doing business with someone who is annoying or mean-spirited, stay cool and focus on the merits of the transaction.

Keep Your Focus

I am not advocating for avoiding minor conflict, as heathy disagreement is a necessary part of the negotiation process. Perhaps the individual in question is truly unreasonable or mean-spirited – such people exist. However, any worthy negotiator on the other side—although we like to refer to them as “business partners” or “customers”—will attempt to recognize and understand your strengths and weaknesses early in a negotiation. From that point on, they will try to take advantage of your weaknesses and get around your strengths.

The key point here is to always keep your emotions in check and strictly focus on the merits of the transaction. Ask yourself: “Does this deal make sense for both parties?” If the answer is “yes,” then go about your business and make the best deal for yourself and your company.  Remember, as long as the deal makes business sense for them also, they would look very bad to their peers and superiors if they didn’t get it done. Or, to put this a different way, concentrate on the merits of the deal, not on the behavior of the person on the other side. (Footnote:  Of course, there are limitation when the other side “crosses the line” by going beyond merely rude to clearly offensive, in which case you need to judge how and when to bring it to their and their management’s attention.)

It’s Both What You Say and How You Say It!

Often—in negotiations as in our personal lives—it is not what you say, but how you say it. Our interpretation of words in a specific situation and the way we respond to them depends on our experiences, values, and emotions. Sometimes people use different words to mean the same thing. However, many words carry loaded overtones, connotations that are different from their dictionary meanings.

For example, the words “cheap” and “thrifty” have the same denotation (dictionary meaning): frugal. But wouldn’t you rather be called thrifty than cheap during a negotiation? (Or at any time, for that matter!) Cheap has a negative connotation of “tight-fisted”, while thrifty has the positive connotation of “wisely economical”. Similarly, the words “stubborn” and “resolute” both mean persistent, but stubborn carries a negative connotation of “obstinate” and “pigheaded,” while resolute carries a positive connotation of “purposeful” or “resolved.”

As a negotiator, it’s important to be sensitive to the use of words, otherwise you run the risk of offending someone. More importantly, their behavior toward you may conform to the negative tone you’ve set and you won’t have a clue why! One of the best ways to not lose your cool is to never give the other person a reason to be upset in the first place.

Sometimes, personalities simply don’t mesh for a myriad of reasons.  Following the principles outlined in my book Negotiate Wisely in Business & Technology, you can reconfigure the negotiating team with compatible personalities. This alone can improve your odds of eventual success.

One final thought

When all else fails, it may be worthwhile to find a way to relieve the pressure during a tense negotiation. This can come in two forms: planning events during the negotiation and specfically, within a tough meeting to change the tone. Ways to relieve the pressure include social activities, informal meetings, off-hour activities, and humor. Changing the environment and getting away from the business conference room can be a very effective way to improve a situation that’s gotten testy under the pressure of getting the deal done.

Within a meeting, relieving the pressure may involve taking a break or the use of humor. Assuming you are one of those people who can deliver an amusing (non-offensive) line, this can be a great way to get everyone back to a more positive mindset. I agree with actor Ted Danson’s comment, “Humor can bring people under the tent. And a good joke can deflect some of the intensity surrounding a serious subject.”

I wish you great success in keeping your cool and succeeding in all your negotiation environments.

Properly Manage Internal Expectations

Almost every sales organization and every seller operates under some pressure associated with quantifying and then making their sales numbers. The instincts that cause this are positive – the desire to succeed by meeting or exceeding quota, or perhaps to be seen as a top performer within the sales organization.

There are three related manifestations of this pressure that negatively impact the seller’s ability to deal with complex buy cycles.

  • We may raise expectations of success with internal management on deals where some of the fundamentals are missing or will take more time to develop. Such expectations can be made through forecasting in the CRM system or by what sales reps promise to their managers. Regardless of how this occurs, not taking reality into account affects the seller’s credibility and results.
  • We rush, trying to speed up the process. If the deal is not moving at the pace we desire (or which is imposed from above), this leads to mistakes and a loss of credibility internally or externally. In either event, that loss of credibility will further prolong the sales cycle or result in a lost opportunity.
  • We make unprincipled concessions in an attempt to get the prospect to act faster. As I explain in an earlier article, unprincipled concessions are “giveaways” not tied to a credible business rationale. Our research shows that this simple negotiation mistake costs businesses between 9 and 18% of gross revenue and significant profit. This is a much too high a price to pay in any sales scenario, especially when it doesn’t contribute to revenue.

To overcome the negative impact of these manifestations, I suggest you deal with each in a conscious way, in order to eliminate or reduce the mistakes and frustration caused by internal pressure. Very few individuals operate more effectively while under pressure. Prospects can sense it, and managers can sense it, and neither responds well to the type of selling environment caused by pressure.

One of the often unspoken issues is that the buying cycle can be vastly different from the sales cycle. Sales management can choose to dictate a certain sales cycle; say four months. However, while this sounds ok, the buyer may have a far different perspective on the timing of the deal. This is a good example of the quote, often attributed to John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”

A few years ago, a friend was under some pressure to get a strategic contract done for his company. His executive called for status updates daily (sometime more often). He had a contract draft ready for the customer that at least one person other than him would normally review (two sets of eyes before something important goes to a customer is a good policy).

However, he felt he could not afford the couple of hours that the review would take. The contract had a critical typo in it that caused an internal escalation within the customer. While the deal was done, it took a week longer as a result. As mentioned above, the motivation for going against standard operating procedure was sound: the desire to make the sale happen on schedule.  However, in hindsight, the cost of the extra week was not worth the potential few hours saved.

Setting honest expectations and describing key dependencies and timing is always good practice, though it may not be what the boss wants to hear. This does not mean making excuses – rather it means being factual and explaining what needs to happen and what you are doing to facilitate an optimal outcome. This may be a bit painful in the short-term, where pressure to meet this quarter’s number is strongest – but it will definitely pay off over time, in terms of streamlined, less-painful and more profitable sales.

Negotiation Mistakes: Own Them, Move on and Prosper

Have you found yourself exasperated by a colleague or partner who won’t own his or her mistakes? The minute an error is discovered, they offer excuses and deflections instead of responsibility and solutions. This is not only a time-waster because you have to take extra steps getting to the heart of the problem, but your whole team loses credibility and the value of your business relationship is undermined.

At K&R, we use the term Negotiation Capital™ to illustrate the goodwill that is created through credibility, good relationships and successful delivery. Negotiation Capital is like “currency.” It translates into the other side’s willingness to move closer to your way of thinking. If you lose credibility or have to backtrack due to mistakes, then you use Negotiation Capital as if you were “burning” currency. The other side’s willingness to deal with you and to compromise is reduced. Read more

Do You Want to Be Successful? A Better Negotiator? Break These Three Bad Listening Habits

Forging a winning deal depends largely on your ability to gather as much information as possible about the other side’s market position, motivations and goals. This holds equally true at the organizational, departmental and personal levels. Better information means a more finely tuned value argument and increased credibility, both of which mean more positive leverage that will help you close.

Behind-the-scenes research with your team as you prepare to negotiate is a vital aspect of information gathering; the rest is gleaned from how you engage the other side in conversation. This may seem almost too basic to mention, but we are still surprised to see how many seasoned professionals fail to listen and thus don’t gather valuable information from conversations with potential partners, vendors or customers. Read more

Negotiation Mistakes: Misguided Integrity

negotiation integrityNegotiating with integrity is central to the Win Wisely™ approach; after all, if we are in search of positive leverage to artfully move the other side closer to our way of thinking, we must have integrity. Integrity gives us the foundation to make value arguments that are believable. When we are perceived as people who constantly play games with the truth and are slippery during discussion of the challenges, our leverage predictably erodes.

However, there are situations in which being too forthright needlessly damages your position and erodes your leverage as surely as being untruthful would. Imagine that you are negotiating with a manufacturer whose specialty component is critical to your upcoming product. The week before, you dismissed an alternative provider after lengthy negotiations, leaving this manufacturer in the “sole provider” position. Read more