Options (Issue 677)

In which we are reminded that broad perspective and many options accelerate successful negotiating conclusions.

“What are we going to do today?”

Perhaps the toughest question during a family vacation. Four people, four minds, four divergent sets of interests. While day to day family life includes multiple opportunities for negotiation, family vacations, in particular, can be a showcase for differences in negotiating styles and strategies.

There are four of us in our immediate family. One of us is a planner – reads all the guide books, the local news, and promotions – who comes to the breakfast table with a full day envisioned and an assumptive close in mind… “We’ll go here first… there’s something interesting there… and then we can do this…”   The other three of us, less relentless, are often caught flat footed, thus demonstrating the incredible power of preparation in negotiations. S/he whose knowledge is broadest creates significant advantage.

From that point, as forks hit fruit and toast crackles, our negotiating styles differ significantly. One pair of us tends to polarize immediately. Each member of that pair states a position – “Let’s do X” – and then advocates or argues in favor of that position. This discussion can go on for quite some time with no decision, members of the pair becoming progressively more invested in the beauty of their initial positions and the importance of winning over other family members to their positions  through persuasion, delay, diversion, withdrawal, snorting, whining, bribery, and other tactics.

Another pair of us take a very different approach. When discussing the same question, “What are we going to do today?”, this pair moves quickly to possibilities:  “We could do this, we could do this, we could do this, we could do this, we could do this.” While the first pair often find this approach frustrating (“Will you guys just please decide what you want to do?”), this second pair more frequently reaches a satisfactory conclusion quickly because they have been able to trade, back-and-forth, between their multiple “we could do this” alternatives to reach a plan for the day.

The same dynamic is true in business negotiations.

Best case, as we’re working with prospects or clients, our discussions lead to a purchase at a price and with terms satisfactory to both parties. No negotiation needed.

Negotiation happens when there are remaining gaps on price or specific terms on which the parties ‘positions’ are different.

Two of our most important responsibilities during our sales processes and negotiations are to PREPARE (that’s the ‘reads all the guide books’ approach which includes developing knowledge about the other person, their needs, their wants, their alternatives) and then to generate as many OPTIONS as we can for each of the unresolved issues so that each party to the negotiation has points to trade-off and points to share in reaching a resolution.

Negotiators who generate tradable options typically reach satisfactory outcomes – closed sales –  faster  than those who don’t.

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