Classic mistakes in the negotiating process

Von Stefan Kühn

Following negotiations, trained negotiating teams are used to reviewing the process applied in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Whether good or bad, what has happened can no longer be changed. The more are lessons learned from completed negotiations of enormous value for future deals. Where do the classic mistakes now lie?

For most people who regularly negotiate the classic and most used negotiating process in everyday business is the one best known. Firstly prepare in advance, secondly try to increase the value of the object of negotiation, and thirdly guarantee when slicing up the cake that own targets are reached. Lastly make sure that the agreement is realised and implemented.

This may sound so clear and simple, but quite fundamental mistakes arise time and again in all four process steps. I would lke to briefly present the most fundamental here:

Even if it is a matter of strategic or financially significant negotiations, many teams simply do not prepare themselves enough. The most quoted argument as to why preparation is not given more importance, is lack of time. Over and again there are a few individual service providers, who see the importance of good preparation, but who are not supported by their professional environment. The classic case is that somebody has been to negotiating training and fully motivated wants to optimally prepare for the next round of negotiating. The curse in this: others have not attended the course and likely do not see the benefit of professional preparation for negotiations. People who are not supported by their superiors and their environment when preparing are dealt bad cards from the outset. It is amazing that even with very expensive negotiations, preparation is not undertaken in an adequate manner. This is often seen when preparation is reduced to bringing together arguments and drafting presentation documentation.

In the second process step many negotiating teams tackle their negotiating partner with a club. They believe that only by playing hard ball, and showing dominant and demanding tactics, will they be taken seriously and have success. With such a start if it happens like this, any type of cooperative and creative readiness to negotiate that may exist in the counterparty is stifled before it can grow. Successful management personnel can create and develop business ideas and opportunities, less skilled or greedy management personnel just divide them up. It is important to know that you can change at any time from a cooperative negotiating style (integrative negotiating) to a tough, commanding style (distributive negotiating), but the reverse is not possible. Who also goes into the meeting room wielding an axe, will not lose it without losing face. It is far more sensible to enter with the hammer in the case, should it be useful bring out later on.

In the third process step, where it is a question of securing the largest piece possible for one’s self, greed sometimes becomes so great, that sense and sustained interest falls by the wayside. People then behave awkwardly, and a battlefield arises instead of a commanding and tough, but correct negotiation process. Some like to return back proudly from the negotiating table, but forget that in the meantime they have gambled away credit, regard and respect. That can often cost dearly later on.

In the realisation and implementation phase, one of the most criminal mistakes is to give this too little attention. Sellers want a conclusion, however they ignore that the supposedly perfect deal cannot be implemented internally. Others leave it with a toothless agreement, which proves to be worthless in its non-fulfillment, and others in turn refrain from agreeing mutual control mechanisms so that the level of satisfaction can be monitored.

The fundamental mistakes in short are:

  • No time or interest in preparation
  • Neanderthal tactics at a time when value generating negotiations would have been more wise
  • „I’ll jump ship first“ attitude: all for me, none for you
  • Let’s party!: others are responsible for realization

About the author

Stefan Kühn
Negotiation expert

Stefan Kühn is a senior international negotiator, mediator and facilitator and experienced in high-risk and high-stakes negotiations in sensitive markets. He successfully conducts national and international multi-party negotiations and consults businesses, organizations and governmental bodies in demanding and conflicting situations. Stefan Kühn graduated from Harvard University and Oxford Saïd Business School and holds a Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and an MBA.