Negotiating well is hard work. It requires preparation, experience, a disciplined approach and a healthy dose of self-confidence, especially in one’s judgement. Even the best negotiators cannot guarantee that every negotiation will turn out well or be a success.
One of the most salient characteristics of outstanding negotiators is their ability to gather information about their counterparties. This helps understand the other side’s aspirations and worries and is essential to understanding their alternatives and veto positions and (as described in High Impact Fee Negotiations and Management and other blogs here) in setting an optimum target. It is also essential for creative, value adding negotiations.
Asking the right questions in the right way at the right time and listening carefully to the other side is one of the most effective methods to gathering much of this essential information. However – good negotiators know that they need to exercise judgment and interpret information received. This requires carefull cross checking with information received from other sources. Those failing to do so risk being misled or even manipulated.
There are many reasons why information received should not be taken at face value. These can range from innocent mistakes or misunderstandings right to outright attempts of manipulation. I have come across many situations in which one side deliberately misinformed the other in order to obtain a better outcome (from their perspective).
Some of these may be legitimate, e.g. not letting the other side know that they are the only game in town and that you have no alternative. Some however are, what I would consider, unethical, such as informing the other side that all other competitors have submitted offers below x, when in fact none had.
Great negotiators know the difference between listening and believing It pays to listen carefully – but don’t believe everything you hear.