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October 28, 2008

Probing Pitfalls in Negotiations

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Jeff Cochran

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This is an excerpt from the book The Power of NICE by Ron Shapiro, Mark Jankowski and Jim Dale.

Here are three warnings – don’ts – to keep in mind when you are digging for information during a negotiation:

1. Don’t Mind-Read

Don’t assume you know what the other side is thinking and simply proceed on that premise. If you base your proposals on assumptions, you run a high risk of being wrong. You may assume your position is stronger than it is and make an aggressive but naive offer. You could also assume your position is weaker than it actually is and back yourself into a bad deal.

It is natural to make assumptions. It is even acceptable if you don’t act on those assumptions. Test them first – during the probing phase. Ask questions, explore, find out if your assumption is valid, close or off the mark.

2. Don’t Offend – Interview, Don’t Interrogate

Unless you are a prosecuting attorney – the other side is not compelled or obligated to cooperate and answer your questions. If you go after the other side with an aggressive attack, expect them to shut down. On the other hand, if you approach the probing process like an interview, there is almost no limit to what you can learn.

Show an interest in their side. Soften your inquiries with lead-ins such as “Tell me more about that…” and “Let me understand where you are coming from…” It is also important to let them answer when you ask a question – try hard not to interrupt. If they ask you a question, don’t evade it – embrace it and explore it by saying something along the lines of “I’m glad you asked that, because it makes me think about…”

3. Don’t Get Off Track

The other side may try to rush you through the (probing) process. They do not have the same agenda as you do. Make sure that you get the answers you need before moving into a proposal. Don’t hesitate to slow the process down by saying something like “Let’s hold off on that for a moment…” or “Can we go back to something you just said…”

Equally important is to stay disciplined and not let yourself rush through the process. Sometimes we can become impatient with the pace and try to take a short cut before we have all of the information we need. Impose the same “slow-down” techniques on yourself.

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