Negotiation Tip #1: Let the Dogs Fight Over the Bones

Fatimah Gilliam Founder, and CEO The Azara Group

April 13, 2017

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This is the first article in a three-part series providing negotiation tips and advice - encouraging your professional and business success. The guidance in this series promotes your ability to skillfully get what you want, negotiate and influence, and navigate difficult conversations.

When negotiating, it is easy to get distracted by things that do not matter relative to the big picture. Often, we go into a negotiation knowing what price we want, how low we are willing to go, and where we are willing to compromise. We may have strategized, analyzed the metrics, and come up with a list of our core priorities. We may have even rehearsed our talking points, come up with different scenarios and options, and tried to anticipate the other side's wants and needs.

By the time we walk into the negotiation room, we should have a good sense of why we are negotiating in the first place and for what. At the end of the day, the reason why we negotiate, try to influence others, and tough it out in difficult conversations is to try to get what we want. It is that simple. Along the way, the challenge is remembering this - what you want and focusing on getting it.

Avoid Carnival Barkers - Don't Get Sidetracked by Distractions
After discussions kick off and a negotiation is underway, sometimes this happens - we get distracted. People bring up issues that we had not considered beforehand that can throw us off of our game. We allow ourselves to get seduced by random topics that do not matter. It is impossible to plan for every scenario before a negotiation since we can only control what we do and the issues we raise. Consequently, there is always an element of suspense and surprise in all negotiations.

What does this do? How do these new topics and curve balls change things? It might make us question whether we properly set our priorities before starting discussions. We may begin shifting our priorities away from what we really want and our bottom line. Our focus on things like our desired price point, developing long-term partnerships, or locking in the timing that works best for us starts to slip away as we get deeper and deeper into the weeds on issues that really do not matter given what we are truly trying to accomplish.

Remember Your Goals & Why You're Negotiating
One of the ways to counter getting sucked into distractions is to constantly remind yourself why you are negotiating in the first place. Have a list written out of what your bottom line is and deal breakers are. You can refer to it during the discussion. Know your walkaway point, and what your "must haves" are to enter into a deal. If need be, place an object on the table to remind yourself of your core goals - which may be necessary if having your actual list out is unfeasible and makes it visible to others.

Here is what we mean about distractions. For example, if you are negotiating a deal to jointly manufacture a new product with a new potential business partner and need to hammer out fee schedules and revenue sharing models, then you should focus on the numbers if that is what is most important at that stage. Why allow the discussion to meander to the color of the product, material selection, and location and sourcing choices when that is currently irrelevant and just a distraction? If these are things that should be addressed later or unnecessarily redirects the discussion towards the minutia, then you must refocus the conversation on the key issues that should be on the table.

While you need to adjust to new information in a negotiation and be flexible, you have to walk a fine line. You need to balance being responsive to changing circumstances, additional information, and key concerns with what your needs and goals are in light of the big picture. You have to make sure you do not pivot towards concentrating on things and burning up negotiation and conversation calories on topics that just do not matter. Knowing where you want the conversation to go helps limit this from happening so you can steer the discussion.

Let the Dogs Fight Over the Bones
When negotiations and discussions get too bogged down in the weeds, you have made sure that you have gotten your core asks and made some fair compromises, and your key needs are met, then just let all the small stuff go. Stop sweating the small stuff! At very least, let these go for now and revisit them later, or fully release them since they could be irrelevant. Let others feel like they are getting something beyond the core gives and gets if they seem to want them - especially if you do not care about these things.

As the saying goes, "let the dogs fight over the bones." If you focus on low-level priorities or people are beginning to nitpick over the scraps, then let them have those things. You got what you came to get and made fair concessions to get them, so why stand in their way and possibly jeopardize what you came to get? Do not waste your time or political capital on petty matters. It is not worth the energy nor the effort. Let others feel like they are getting some of what they want while you "yield" on what are trivial matters for you.

Final Thoughts
The key to any successful negotiation and navigating difficult conversations is to know what is important to you and keeping that in your mind at all times. Remembering the purpose of the negotiation empowers you to know if you should even enter into a deal, or whether you should walk away.

It is always critical to focus on getting what really matters and is important. Anything else is either icing on the cake (i.e., a bonus), or an unnecessary distraction (i.e., time wasters and pitfalls). You just have to figure out which one it is - icing on the cake or carnival barker distraction - and proceed accordingly. When you surmise you are beginning to fight over scraps, then it is time to wrap things up and exit stage left. Let others gnaw on the picked over bones as you walk away with your prime cut steak.

The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace - providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.

The Azara Group welcomes your direct comments and feedback. We do not post comments to our site at this time, but we value hearing from our readers. We invite you to share your thoughts with us. You can contact us directly at [email protected].

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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