It's impossible to know too much about a company you're on the verge of acquiring, but lots of CEOs miss a chance to discover more: final negotiations. With all the stress that accumulates, it's a good time to examine the staff you're about to take on. How do they handle pressure? Are they hiding anything?

If you want to find out, Lawrence M. Powers says, push aside the lawyers and handle the final negotiations yourself.

Powers is chairman and CEO of Spartech Corp., a Clayton, Mo., plastics manufacturer he has built into a $210-million company with a string of acquisitions -- the negotiations for which, he says, have been "very instructive." When the smiling facade across the table breaks down, you learn how people handle conflict. Equally important, you'll be alerted to potential problems within the company if its managers won't yield anything in negotiations.