No matter how intelligent you are, to be effective in negotiations you have to build time to think into the bargaining process. There is simply too much for any mind to process as talks progress. You have to listen, evaluate the other’s arguments, observe their body language and gestures, get ready to present your ideas and rebut theirs. Is it any wonder that many brilliant people dislike or fear negotiating and consider themselves poor at it?
Let’s start by recognizing the obvious: people think more clearly about matters related to their own field of expertise. That’s why it is so important to assure that what is said at any meeting is understood by all, not just a few. Only if all participants are aware of what is said and its implications can they contribute their knowledge and wisdom to the issue at hand.
We can learn much about the benefits of time-to-think from the sports world. A coach calls for a timeout when they wish to think about the next play or series of plays. Timeout applies as much to negotiation as it does to sports. It gives us time to think.
Thinking time can be created by requesting time to locate necessary records or documentation to further support a position you take or by asking for time to consult with outside associates before agreeing on a point at issue.
On a more mundane but practical level, lunch and dinner breaks provide thinking time. So also do bathroom and snack intermissions. Special breaks can be negotiated by the parties directly into the agenda. If more time is needed, ask for it.
Several other time-to-think approaches are helpful. One way is to let the other side present their position and documentation before you do. Listen, take notes and ask lots of questions. Then, when their presentation is complete, ask for an overnight or weekend to respectfully consider all you have heard and learned. I know from experience how hard it is to reject or postpone such a request when the other side does it courteously and everyone is tired.
Yet another approach is to advise the other party that you would like to propose an idea that will be better for both of you, but need an hour, a day or more to work it out completely. People are generally interested in new ideas and willing to wait to hear them, especially when talks are bogging down.
Asking questions that call for complex answers can often be rewarded with new information and lots of time to talk. I was once at a negotiation where the other side’s engineer asked ours what he thought was a simple question, “What makes your GPS system as accurate as it is?” The answer took two hours. Much was learned that we didn’t know about the strengths and weaknesses of their GPS system.
Effective Negotiating®, be it with associates at work or elsewhere is a difficult job. It requires clear thinking under pressure, something generally not found in one’s ordinary work. Building in time-to-think when you need it should be part of every negotiator’s planning kit.