Monday, September 6, 2010

What Will You Do After You Get Punched in the Mouth?

"Everybody has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." Mike Tyson

Hard to believe a Mike Tyson quote would have relevance to a discussion of negotiation. Yet we often have moments in negotiations when we get "punched" or hit by a sudden act of the other party and we don't know what to do. All the planning and strategy goes out of our heads and we reel about, trying to figure out how to respond.

When we look back on the events that occurred, though, we discover that they should not have come as a shock; we just weren’t ready for it when it happened. Think of it in Mike Tyson’s context: shouldn’t a boxer have a plan that includes getting hit in the mouth? It is likely to happen! So when you prepare for your own meetings and negotiations, make a plan that includes what you will do after you get punched in the mouth.

A Deal Whisperer thinks of this as planning for surprises. Sounds counter-intuitive because a surprise, by its nature, is something we can’t plan for. With a few exceptions, however, there are not a lot of things that happen in negotiations that are real “surprises.” Walking into your house and having 50 people yell “Happy Birthday” is a surprise. You don’t usually expect to find 50 people in your house when you come home. You should expect in the course of trying to close a deal that the other party might say, “I’m withdrawing”; “Your price is too high”; “Your offer is too low”; or “I chose another supplier”.

So how do you plan for surprises? Walk through the “what if”s. After a milestone in your negotiation, take time to consider all the possible ways the other party might respond and what you will do next. If you just submitted a bid, the customer could 1. Reject the bid, 2. Offer a counter-proposal, 3. Not respond, 4. Accept the bid. There are variations on those possibilities but those are, in essence, the broad categories of outcomes to consider.

Make a plan for each. Write the plan down. And then discuss that plan with your team so everyone knows what the next steps will be. To become a Deal Whisperer, you always have to be so well prepared that a punch in the mouth is part of your plan.

1 comment:

  1. During the 1980s, I worked with lawyers from a Washington law firm on behalf of municipal and county governments in negotiating solid waste-to-energy projects whose value typically ranged from 100 to 500 million dollars. When our team's lead negotiator was surprised or just plain out-maneuvered, he sometimes employed a technique he called the "White Rabbit". Simply stated, he would insert a somewhat related-but-questionable statement (the "white rabbit") on the table. While others chased the "white rabbit" wherever it led, he would stay out of the chase and, instead, use the time to re-think and recalibrate his arguments.

    On one particularly memorable occasion, he got up from the negotiating table to go to the rest room - we thought. In reality, he simply left the building and took a two-hour walk to re-gather his thoughts. While he was gone, the discussion gradually moved from the point being argued to concern over "where's Larry?" and what might have happened to him. By the time our leader finally returned to the table, giving a fairly acceptable apology for his absence, our opponent's counter-argument had gotten somewhat lost in the turmoil of the previous two hours. We were then able to move the discussion in a direction which was more acceptable to our mutual client.

    Thomas J. Hickey, Esq., P.E.