Negotiations: Focus on What You Don’t Know.

I remember one sentence from the many books I read while doing business in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia:

Your relative power in a negotiation is your capacity to use resources to influence another’s circumstances.

In 1962, Richard Emerson published Power-Dependence Relations.

I found that Richard’s focus on “In how many ways can I demonstrate my company’s value to this person based on their need(s)?” usually creates a stronger relationship than “Your next best option is X or Y, and that will cost you twice as much”.

I believe that relationships produce stronger outcomes even in situations of uncertainty. Unkown territory can be unsettling in a negotiation. Information asymmetry is driving deals in private equities such as venture capital — but not in the way you would expect.

Discover Potential in Areas of Unkown.

I had the pleasure to recently witness two negotiations with expert negotiators on my side. Suddenly I understand what ‘context’ means to them. In preparation, they mapped out areas where they had lots of ‘unkowns’: Within the company they represented; in the ecosystem; and within their counterpart. They then mapped out questions that would reveal what their counterpart thought — or knew — about these areas. Third, they developed several hunches how these areas could potentially mutually beneficial.
That discovery process did not hide information we had that we knew our counterpart didn’t have. The negotiators assumed that they were talking to the smartest and best people in the industry — who wants to be in business with dumb-asses anyways? The negotiators knew that their counterparts would find out eventually about their weak spots, about their blind sides, about areas of uncertainty. And they focused on the mutual potential rather than the threat.

Consider what context information your counterpart might want about you to unearth potential in their ‘unkowns’. Go into the negotiation with a curiosity mindset. Demonstrate that you can — true to startup culture — find creative solutions.

Thoughts? Opinions? Comments? Corrections?