Sharpening the Ax: Preparing for Negotiations

August 31, 2010 · by Steven J. Isaacs and Karen L. Newcombe

It seems counterintuitive, but negotiation preparation can bring a substantially higher return on investment than actual project work does. So it pays — literally — to give the process its due.

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Case Study: The Value of Good Connections

An architecture and engineering firm was selected to do five government labs across the country. The project leader had never negotiated with this client before, so he called a colleague who had done work on previous laboratories and asked how his last negotiation had proceeded. The colleague began laughing hysterically.

“You are going to love it! It will be fun! You’ll walk in the first day and they’ll put you in a room. A woman is going to walk in; she’s a head taller than you and has earrings in the shape of daggers and a necklace shaped like a noose. It’s all about intimidation. She’ll proceed to beat you up for two days.”

Armed with this information, the project leader went to the negotiation, was put in the room, and in came the woman who was actually two heads taller than him, with the famous dagger earrings and noose necklace. He walked straight up to her, shook her hand, and said, “I really admire your jewelry.” Her face fell in surprise.

As negotiations concluded the second day, she asked the project leader to walk outside, gave him a hug, and said, “That was so much fun, I really enjoyed our negotiation. Thank you.” He was convinced that because he had reached out to a colleague, learned what to expect in advance, and decided he was not going to be intimidated, he saved his firm money and made the negotiation process smoother.

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