Writing separately in three articles at Harvard Business Review, Deepak Malhotra, Andy Molinksy, and Carolyn O'Hara offered advice that culminates in nine key moments (my phrasing) in negotiations. Here's what they came up with--plus free bonus content, 9 Things Great Leaders Say Every Day.
1. The "nice to meet you" moment.
People who've worked together on a small project are more likely to find success when they work together on a big project. So, it makes sense that negotiators who have at least had previous experiences with each other--even just small talk--might have a better shot at reaching a deal.
"In a Stanford University study," writes O'Hara, "students who were required to make small talk before a negotiation were significantly more likely to come to agreement than those students who weren't. The conversation needn't be personal, either. It could be about process -- like how long the talks should take, and how the other side tries to involve stakeholders."
2. The "why are we doing this?" moment.
One of the most common ways to reach agreement in a complex negotiation is to dig into each party's demands--and determine what the sides are actually trying to accomplish by those demands. In other words, both sides should ask themselves and each other--what are the assumptions underlying our positions?
Molinsky, a professor at Brandeis University and author of Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process, puts extra emphasis on remembering to question your own assumptions, as well as the other side's.
3. The "stay calm" moment.
People sometimes like to justify decisions by saying that they're "just business, nothing personal." However the truth is that almost all negotiations involve personal factors. So, it's really important to keep your cool and maintain control of your emotions in negotiations.
Molinsky writes that this advice "works internally as well. If you don't regulate your emotions internally, it will be very hard externally to achieve a solution that meets your interests."
4. The "we won't negotiate" moment.
Ultimatums can derail any negotiation. Malhotra, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Negotiating the Impossible: How to Break Deadlocks and Resolve Ugly Conflicts (Without Money or Muscle), offers this advice:
I completely ignore it. I don't ask people to repeat or clarify ultimatums. ... There may come a day -- a week from now, a month from now, or years from now -- when the other side realizes that what they said they could never do, they must do, or is actually in their best interest to do. When that day comes, the last thing I need is for them to remember me having heard them say they will never do so -- because then they will not be able to say "yes" without losing face.
5. The "win-win outcome" moment.
Agreements last longer when both sides get something out of the negotiation, Molinsky writes. So go into the conversation looking for opportunities to create that kind of outcome.
"This same idea of win-win can also apply to negotiations you have with yourself. Is there a way for you to step outside your comfort zone, act in a way that you know is necessary but feels uncomfortable for you -- and (this is the key) do it on your own terms?"Molinsky writes.
6. The "lose-lose" moment.
O'Hara writes about the other side of this equation--when you go into a negotiation expecting that one side or the other will have to make concessions, which means you're likely to view the entire processes as a confrontation.
"Instead," O'Hara writes, "approach it as an act of joint problem-solving: What are the critical issues at hand, what are my interests and their interests, and what are some different possible options for satisfying those various interests?"
7. The "royal we" moment.
Don't just articulate what your side of the table wants; discuss what you and the other side can accomplish together--and that includes the language that you choose to use, even the pronouns.
"Highlight what you have in common. Using "we" rather than "I" signals to the other side that there are areas of agreement and that you envision a future working together," O'Hara writes.
8. The "just one more thing" moment.
We've all had this happen in negotiations big and small--you thing you've reached an agreement only to have the other side raise "just one more thing" at the very end. Malhotra advises: Don't give in.
"I explain that if something is truly important to them," he writes, "I want to understand why and work with them to accommodate their legitimate concerns. But I am not willing to negotiate an individual issue in isolation -- especially at this late stage in the negotiation. If they need adjustments, we will also have to discuss what kinds of concessions they are willing to make in exchange."
9. The "I just have to check with my boss" moment.
This is a frustrating one for sure--you negotiate an entire deal with someone, and they seem on board, only to tell you that they need their boss or other stakeholders to approve before they can formally agree.
Unfortunately, that needs to be dealt with ahead of time by, as Malhotra puts it, "negotiate[ing] process before substance."
In other words, it's the kind of thing you probably should have brought up at the very start of the process--and it's another reason not to skip the stuff that looks like small talk.
What do you think? Are there other key moments in negotiations that often predict the outcome? Let us know in the comments below, and don't forget to check out the free bonus content, 9 Things Great Leaders Say Every Day (free infographic).