Best Negotiating Tip 1003

Sailors appreciate the value of local knowledge when entering foreign waters. Many submerged obstacles are not marked on charts and one is well advised to avoid them.

Negotiators also know that it makes sense to learn everything they can about who they are about to meet with and their role at the negotiating table. While it is wise to hear advice from many sources it is important to qualify the input and filter it. It is human nature to like to offer advice. It feels nice to be asked so many will expand and expound upon the knowledge they actually have. They may also embellish bad experiences with a tone of authority. They are feeding their own ego and may be doing you an injustice.

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Third party advice should typically be considered hearsay until you have either confirmed its accuracy or received like information from several sources. Even the advice of good friends and business affiliates should be suspect until validated for the same reason; people like to feel important or valuable.

Flawed information could mislead you for several reasons:

  • The information passed along has been filtered by the other person and may be biased based on their experience. Everyone sees things differently based on their experiences and expectations so adjust the input with that in mind.
  • Things may have changed since the referring party was involved. The passage of time does have a habit of changing things on the ground. Make sure the advice is based on current experience or knowledge.
  • The information may be part of the story. Do not expect them to tell you everything they know about an incident. No one likes to share their own flaws or mistakes!

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Getting the 'free advice' is step one. The next step, more important, is to qualify it. The best way to validate what the other person is saying is to:

  • Observe their body language while they are sharing their experiences with you. You can usually tell if they are bending reality if you notice a slight shaking of the head, avoidance of eye contact, looking off in the distance, or hesitation while speaking. These 'tells' can indicate someone who is either adding or omitting information as that requires their proactively changing their memory before speaking.
  • Ask follow-up questions soliciting greater detail to draw out conflicts or limitation of actual knowledge.
  • Did you just hear something juicy or important? Ask for the supporting data to validate the information. Something that seems incongruous needs special attention as it may materially change how you approach the situation or deal with the person.
  • If you are in a group setting watch the other people involved to see if they seem surprised or uncomfortable. You may want to follow up with these individuals separately to see what they were feeling at the time or if they have a differing opinion.

While you can never expect to have all the information before a meeting it is worth gathering what you can within reason. Obviously, the more important the issue the more time you will take to prepare. An example of how we do this casually is when we are visiting the doctor or another professional we rely on for a service. When checking in with his or her assistant, receptionist or associate ask 'What type of mood is she in today?' or 'How has his day been?' It is amazing how much information can be provided by such an innocent inquiry!