Negotiating Tips

Six Must-Follow Rules for Gathering Information When Negotiating

Why do most people fail to – or fear gathering and analyzing information when they are negotiating?  It can be potentially disastrous for people to go into any personal or business negotiation without the relevant information needed to optimize their negotiated outcome.  During our negotiating skills training presentations, seminars, and learning workshops, we provide a proven process and methodology for gathering and analyzing information, and we teach participants key gambits and the corresponding countergambits to manage information gathering to their advantage.  In this blog post, I am going to provide you the six, basic must-follow rules to follow when gathering information for a negotiation.

It is critically important for people to invest the necessary time to learn more about the negotiating situation and the people they will be negotiating with – before as well as during the negotiation!  A simple rule of thumb is that the side that has the more relevant information before and during a negotiation has the advantage.  Why do all professional sports teams study replays, game film, and still photo images of their opponents before, during, and after games?  Because knowledge is power – and the more knowledge one side is able to gather and analyze about the other side – the better the outcome is for that side.

Whether you are involved is a personal negotiation to purchase a home or a vehicle, rent an apartment, or procure goods and services from contractors, you need information to be successful.  Regardless of your experience level in business – and whether you are an entrepreneur or work for a corporation in senior management, purchasing, sales, marketing, human resources, IT, or finance – you need information to optimize your outcome at the negotiating table.

THE FOLLOWING ARE MY SIX RULES/TIPS FOR GATHERING AND ANALYZING INFORMATION:

RULE ONE: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ADMIT THAT YOU DON’T KNOW

Why are people reluctant to gather information? Because to find things out, people need to be much more curious and investigative, and most people are extraordinarily reluctant to admit when they may – or do not know something. So this first rule concerning gathering information focuses on not being overconfident, lazy, and/or complacent – realize that time and effort are required to gather information. There is no excuse for making half-hearted attempts at this important task. Admit to yourself that you don’t know and that anything you think you may know might be incorrect, inaccurate, or outdated. Also, don’t make assumptions, use conjecture, or hypothesize to arrive at half-baked conclusions – do your research prior to all negotiations – no matter how formal or informal the negotiation is.

RULE TWO: WHERE TO GATHER INFORMATION

Despite the obvious importance of gathering, analyzing, and exchanging information prior to and during a negotiation, it has been my experience with clients and participants in our training programs and coaching sessions that too many people just can’t be bothered investing time in their personal or business negotiations to properly gather and analyze information. There is no excuse in today’s technology-driven world that people cannot easily gather information. Consider all the benefits of using easily accessible technology to gather good information: Google Search, Google Alerts, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter – just to name a few of the social media platforms available for research. There are also fee-based service options such as D&B Hoovers that can be used to gather information for higher-value business negotiations. A businessperson can effectively gather information, business and competitive intelligence at conferences, trade shows, conventions, and industry events.

RULE THREE: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK CHALLENGING BLUEPRINTING QUESTIONS

Early in my business career, I worked with many people who were afraid to ask powerful and effective blueprinting questions out of fear that asking the right question would potentially upset the other person involved in a negotiation. People are often intimidated and/or fearful when it comes to asking questions. Therefore, the reaction to this intimidation and fear is to resort to asking really “soft” questions such as “Would you mind if I asked you?” or “Would it embarrass you to tell me?”

No matter what a person’s negotiating personality type and corresponding negotiating style is, I encourage everyone to understand the need to practice in order to become more comfortable with asking the right questions. We never know how the other side involved in a negotiation is going to respond to your questioning technique, tone, and style. Often, the real fear of questioning people exists in the person’s mind who is asking the question and not necessarily with the person who is answering the question. Also, when a person refuses or avoids answering a question or provides vague information to you, that can be as revealing to you as getting a full answer.

If you want to learn more about a particular negotiating situation or the other person involved in the negotiation, then nothing works better than preparing and asking a direct question. Based on my own experience over 30 years, I have never met that many people who ever refused to answer one of my questions. If people resist answering, I teach and also use the proven gambits to help overcome a person’s concern with answering the question.

Two of my favourite questions I provide my clients with are used to separate content from emotion when the other party in a negotiation makes a comment or statement. These questions work almost all the time when asked properly: “Obviously you have a reason for saying that – may I ask why?” or “Obviously you have a reason for feeling so strongly about that – may I ask why?” These two questions can help you understand the real issue impacting the negotiation.

It’s a fact of human nature that people are often willing to talk about themselves, yet some people are reticent when it comes to asking other people about themselves. We fear the potential nasty look we might get or the rebuff to a question. We refrain from asking good questions because we expect the following responses: “That’s none of your business!” or “I’m not in a position to disclose that kind of information to you!”

When people start to overcome their fears and inhibitions about asking people questions, the number of people who are willing to help might actually surprise you. It seems even more incredible that “subject matter experts” are rarely asked to share their expertise. Most people find “experts” intimidating, so their experiences, insights, and knowledge are never fully explored. What a senseless waste of a valuable potential resource – all because of an irrational fear that some people have about asking questions!

RULE FOUR: ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

Power Negotiators understand the importance of asking in-depth and intimate questions and of properly preparing questions in advance, as well as investing the necessary time to practice and role-play. What’s the best way to develop questions? Rudyard Kipling, the British journalist, short story writer, poet, and novelist (The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King), often talked about his six honest serving-men. He said: “I keep six honest serving-men – they taught me all I know.” Their names are What, Why, When, How, Where and Who.

Of Kipling’s six honest serving-men, I like “Why” questions the most. However, to some people, the word why may be interpreted as accusatory. “Why did you do that?” implies criticism. “What did you do next?” doesn’t imply any criticism. If you really need to know why, soften and rephrase the question by using the word what instead: “You probably had a good reason for doing that. What was it?” Learn to use Kipling’s six honest serving-men to find out what you need to know.

You’ll get even more information if you learn how to ask open-ended questions. Close-ended questions can be answered with a yes or a no or a specific answer. For example, “How old are you?” is a closed-end question – you’ll get a number and that’s it. “How do you feel about being your age?” is an open-ended question – it invites a response to the question that may contain a wealth of information.

“When must the work be completed?” is a closed-ended question. “Can you elaborate about the time limitations on the project?” is an open-ended request that can be used to gather additional or more detailed information.

Need Help? By this point in this article, you may be realizing that you don’t have a resource library of great questions and/or know how to properly ask them. Contact me now to get the proven solutions for your organization.

RULE FIVE: WHERE YOU ASK THE QUESTIONS MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE

Power Negotiators also know that the location and environment where people ask questions can make a big difference in the outcome. If you meet with people at their corporate headquarters, surrounded by their trappings of power and authority and their formality of doing business, it’s the least likely place for you to get good information. In a work environment, people are usually surrounded by “invisible chains of protocol,” which can influence how people feel about having open and honest conversations.

When people are in their work environments, they’re cautious about sharing information. Try to get people away from their work environments and information will usually flow much more freely. Sometimes all it takes is a discussion over a cup of coffee at a local Starbucks – or if you meet for lunch at your country club, surrounded by your trappings of power and authority, where the person with you is psychologically obligated to you because you’re buying the lunch, then getting information is easier.

RULE SIX: ASK QUESTIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT NECESSARILY NEGOTIATING DIRECTLY WITH YOU

If you go into a negotiation knowing only what the other side has chosen to tell you, you are very vulnerable. Other people may tell you things that the other side directly involved in the negotiation won’t, and they may also be able to confirm what the other side has already told you.

Start by asking people who’ve done business with the other side already. I think it will amaze you – even if you thought of them as competition – how much they’re willing to share with you. Be prepared to do a little negotiating to get information. Don’t reveal anything that you don’t want them to know, but the easiest way to get people to open up is to offer some useful information in return. People who have done business with the other side can be especially helpful in revealing the character of the people with whom you’ll be negotiating. Can you trust the other party? Do they bluff a great deal in negotiations, or are they straightforward in their dealings? Will they stand behind their verbal agreements, or do you need your legal counsel to read the fine print in any contract or agreement?

Next, ask questions of people who are further down the corporate ladder than the person with whom you plan to deal. Let’s say you’re going to be negotiating with someone at the head office of a national retail chain. You might call up one of the branch offices and get an appointment to stop by and see the local manager. Do some preliminary negotiating with the manager because that person may provide you with valuable information (even though he or she can’t negotiate the final deal) about how the company makes its buying decisions, why one supplier is favoured over another, the specifications being considered, the gross profit margins expected, etc. Be sure that you’re “reading between the lines” in this kind of conversation. Without your knowing it, the negotiations may have already begun. For example, the branch manager may tell you, “The company never works with anything less than a 40 percent markup,” when that may not be the case at all. And never tell the branch manager anything you wouldn’t say to the people at head office. Take the precaution of always assuming that anything you say will be forwarded to head office.

Next, take advantage of peer group sharing. This refers to the fact that people have a natural tendency to share information with their peers. Power Negotiators know how to use this phenomenon because it applies to all occupations – not just in the professions. Engineers, controllers, managers, and truck drivers all have allegiances to their occupations – as well as to their employers. Put people together with each other and information may flow more easily.

If you’re thinking of buying a used piece of equipment, have your company’s equipment operator meet with his or her counterpart at the seller’s company. You can take an engineer from your company with you to visit another company and let your engineer mix with their engineers. You’ll find out that unlike top management – the level at which you may be negotiating – engineers have a common bond that spreads throughout their profession, rather than just a vertical loyalty to the company for which they currently work.

Naturally, you have to watch out that your person doesn’t give away information that could be damaging to you. So be sure you pick the right person. Caution that person carefully about what you’re willing to tell the other side and what you’re not willing to tell – the difference between the open agenda and your hidden agenda. Then, let the engineer get involved, challenging him or her to see how much can be found out. Peer group information gathering can very effective in negotiations.

Power Negotiators always accept complete responsibility for what happens in the negotiations. Poor negotiators blame the other side for less than ideal outcomes. As a professional negotiator, I accept that there’s no such thing as a “bad” negotiation. There are only negotiations in which one or both sides may not have known enough information about the other side. Never underestimate the importance of gathering, analyzing, and exchanging information in all your negotiations – a successful outcome will depend on it.

Contact me before your competitors do! I can provide your company with a proven formula for developing great questions, as well as with the best questions to ask before, during, and after negotiations – all organized into six easy-to-follow blueprinting question categories. By hiring me to help members of your organization develop and learn to ask the right blueprinting questions during all their negotiations, I can save you and your company time and enhance your profitability.

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