Monday, October 18, 2010

Do You Have a Commitment Problem?

Did you ever have a negotiation that couldn’t seem to find its legs?

You meet with the other party several times and their requests always seem to be a variation of the ones from the last meeting. It’s as though their strategy is to keep asking for the same thing over and over in the hopes that you will grow weary and just say “yes”. Or they probe and prod, seeking more information and variations of your proposal without providing any sense if they will ever do a deal.

Sounds like you have a commitment problem.

Sometimes the other party with whom you are negotiating sends in a team with limited authority. That team is unable to commit to anything except your acceptance of their initial terms; or the individual with whom you are speaking does not actually have the ability to pursue a deal, just to talk about the possibility of a deal. You may offer multiple ways of trying to achieve their goals, but nothing will happen because they lack the power to commit to anything that’s beyond their authority. You are left with three basic options: shape it, raise it or leave it.

By “shape it” we mean to discuss with the other party what they can say “yes” to and collaborate on legitimate changes to your proposal to shape a “yes-able” solution. This is in contrast to what less experienced negotiators will do by openly challenging the other party’s authority and demanding a decision-maker be brought into the room. By trying to collaborate, even if it does not produce an agreement, you will have demonstrated respect for the other party’s authority and role in the process. Chances are the other side will, on its own, engage its more senior management, recognizing there is value to be had and a need for greater authority.

If you hit a dead end trying to shape it, then you will have to “raise it”. Map out the parties on the other side of the table and determine who in the organization has a vested interest in the outcome of this deal. Is there a way to raise the issue with them and make them aware of the value of the proposals you have made which keep getting rejected?

If you are negotiating with someone who cannot make a commitment, the solution is often as simple as going to the person who does have such authority and asking for help in trying to close the issues. Exercise caution here, though, as you risk stepping on the other party’s authority by going to the next level of management. One suggestion is to discuss this with the other party in advance as something your management is going to trigger. “Peter, we feel strongly that there is a great deal for both of us here and my management is going to ask me why we could not reach agreement. I know my boss is going to call your boss and ask for advice on how we can get something done.” The key is to frame it not as a threat, but as a logical statement of what the parties should expect will happen next.

“Leave it” means stop wasting your time on this engagement and find a company to work with that will appreciate what you are offering. While it is often hard to walk away from a deal, sometimes that is the best decision. Remember, a successful negotiation is not defined by whether you sign a deal. It’s determined by whether or not you make a good decision. At some point you have to decide whether your commitment to a potentially negative deal is better than no deal at all.

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