Six Principles Every International Negotiator Must Know: Negotiation is a Continuous Process

This is the eighth post in a series entitled: The Principles of International Negotiation: Finding Universal Value in a Complex World

If you are skillful in building a good negotiation process, your negotiations with your client should never end because you’ll be doing repeat business.

If negotiations are a building block for successful relationships, then they must be seen as a form of interval training, not a single sprint. Since negotiation work can result in a long-term future (or no future), success in that work will create business relationships that make doing business easier and more rewarding for all parties.

Negotiations do not end with the contract signing. In fact, some of the most difficult negotiations may begin after the initial contract is signed. This is particularly true in the technology industry, where many contracts are drawn up before implementation takes place, before any service has been performed, and even before all requirements are known. These types of contracts guarantee that there will be yet more negotiation.

Some of the most difficult negotiations occur in this execution and revision period. Most contracts have an amendment process, evolving statements of work, change control procedures, engineering change mechanisms, or provisions for out-of-scope requests.

Cultural differences toward contracts will further underline the continuous nature of negotiations. The Chinese, for instance, are not as legalistic about contracts as Westerners tend to be. They often consider vagueness in contracts to be acceptable and the terms open to continuous negotiation. This highlights the nature of international negotiations as a continual effort in relationship building that can be as important as any deal terms or value arguments. Certainly in the view of the Chinese, the building of the relationship can be as important, if not more, than the building of the deal. Investigating these differences and taking them into account will give you more success in international negotiations.

Another version of the continuous nature of negotiations is that in each negotiation cycle, the parties will call upon what happened before as a model – sometimes of what they want, and sometimes of what they don’t want. But memory and impressions from earlier concluded negotiations will always be a factor in the next round. Of course, if any sequence of negotiation is a complete failure, there may not be a next round. We often hear, in sessions around the world, a vendor say, “I’m in the penalty box with my client.” What they really mean is that because of a delivery problem, or a bad negotiation, they are paying the price in their current negotiations. It’s continuous.

Discussions between customers and suppliers should never end, especially if the relationship is good. An end usually means the relationship is over and only the “survival” terms of the agreement are being implemented.

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