June 11, 2013 10:28 am

In the heat of a negotiation, it’s easy to run into the same old bear-traps.  But the more we’re aware of what’s around the corner, the more we’re likely to be able to avoid it.

From our many years of negotiating in the corporate world and running negotiation skills training courses, we’re bringing you an insight into the five most common traps to watch out for:Bear in trap

Failing to Listen and Observe

We observe this happening in almost every negotiation we watch or facilitate. You’ve got so much going on in your head that you stop listening. So, slow down and note down what’s said, particularly if it’s a complex offer that’s being put to you. Show the other party that you’re listening and they won’t try to slip things past you. Don’t be frightened of clarifying things. We witnessed a negotiation where one party was saying ‘we will ensure this’ and the other side was hearing ‘we will insure this’ – two very different things!

But it’s not just about what people say, it’s how they say it. Listen for the emotion behind the words, how fast they talk and if they hesitate. Also watch the body language. There are certain things people do according to how they feel (for example, leaning forward if they want what you are offering even if they say they aren’t).

Forgetting things

Huge amounts of time are wasted because people don’t have a clear idea about what’s been said to date. As a result misunderstandings occur and valuable time and energy is spent going over old ground.

Don’t be afraid to write things down or appoint someone to do this. The more informally you do this the better, so use ‘old’ technology, a pen and paper, versus typing it into a laptop or tablet. As well as the sound the typing being a distraction, the latter looks too official and makes people feel you are pinning them down.

Don’t be frightened about spelling out complex deals on a whiteboard or flip chart. There’s a limit to what people can hold in their heads.

Telling a Lie

Lying, bluffing or telling ‘white lies’ is a great way of shooting yourself in the foot.

What liars don’t realise is that lying increases the complexity of the negotiation, because they have to remember not only the truth, but also the lie and the how the lie plays out. Invariably, as this happens, smart negotiators spot the inconsistencies. Then trust evaporates and the negotiation can stall or take twice as long.

Bluffing. I was once buying a car and was told that the dealership didn’t do discounts. I left the car showroom. As I was driving out of the car park the salesman and his assistant came running after me to tell me that they actually did do discounts. Not only did this undermine their negotiation, it hardened my attitude towards them and shifted my position to a much harder stance.

Being Greedy

People are often greedy, especially when they are making their opening offers. When both sides do this they end up so far apart that desperation sets in as everyone thinks they’ll never get a deal.

There’s nothing wrong in being ambitious and going for a ‘stretch’ position as long as you can justify it. If you justify what you’re asking for, they may still say no, but at least they’ll think ‘I can see why they’re asking for that’ and remain willing to negotiate.

If you feel you’re doing well, it’s also possible to get greedy at the close of a negotiation. As both parties start to tie things down there’s always someone who suddenly thinks ‘Hey, this is going too well. Maybe we should have pushed for a better deal’ and they start to try and claw back lost ground. At best, it will significantly lengthen the negotiation and harden attitudes.  At worst, it will sour the negotiation or make it implode.

Going to War

We find that there’s a general tendency to treat a negotiation as a battle. We see very reasonable people adopt this behaviour. Please read here for more information. Why? Maybe it’s the pressure of the situation triggering our fight/flight behaviour?

Negotiations can be competitive, but it’s healthier to see yourself more as a hunter than a predator.  You’re hunting for what is really driving the other side. You’re hunting for the deal that’s going to be best for both parties. You’re hunting for the best way round a seemingly intractable problem.  Getting to a great deal is about experiencing the thrill of the chase, not the slaying of the opponent.

It’s very likely that you’re falling into one or more of those bear-traps.  By eliminating even one from your negotiation style, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to get yourself a better deal not just for yourself, but for the other party too.