The Importance of Focus in Negotiating

Recently I observed a complex negotiation between two people. It took place over a couple of days, and proved to be very frustrating to both parties. The problem? Lack of focus.

One negotiator was fairly intent on making a deal and put together a comprehensive plan, based on what he knew about the other negotiator at the start. He then set out to learn more through some emails and phone calls.

The other negotiator seemed distracted throughout the process. She didn’t ask very many questions in her initial emails. Like many people these days, she was frequently drawn to her phone seemingly preoccupied by emails, social media posts and other “shiny objects” that popped up on her screen even in the midst of negotiating face-to-face. Even when she put her phone away (or at least face down), she was still unable to focus on the conversation at hand.

Maybe she is one of those people who believe that they are great multitaskers. Despite a significant number of studies disproving this concept, there are many who persist in thinking that they can accomplish more by doing several things at once. Take a look at this brief article that cites evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps she’s just a product of modern Western society, subjected for most of her life to an ever-increasing amount of stimulus. Sorting through all the marketing messages, physical sights and sounds, and hurried pace of life may make paying attention difficult for her.

By no means am I saying that the negotiator is a bad person. Rather I am pointing out that without a different approach to making deals, she may find herself less than effective at getting what she wants. And the deals she manages to make may prove less than satisfactory to people she’s negotiating with.

So, What to Do?

In our MAP Negotiation Workshop, we emphasize the importance of planning. A good plan lays a critical foundation for negotiation success. You must think about several key items:

  1. What is my motivation for making this agreement? Why might the other be interested in it? What are our alternatives?
  2. Do I have enough information to negotiate effectively? What questions should I ask, and which ones will be tough for me to answer? Is there information should I avoid disclosing?
  3. What should I aspire to in this deal? Are my goals financial, personal, or both? What does the other party want? What are both party’s priorities?
  4. How can I work towards a win-win deal? What terms are we both looking for? How much value does each party place on the things they are asking for and offering in return?

When planning, you may discover that you have many questions without answers. Good! Now you know what to begin looking for.

Find out as much as you can about the other party by researching them online and talking to people you both know. If you already have a relationship, think about past interactions, their personality as you’ve experienced it, and so on.

And put everything into a written plan! When I say written, I mean on paper, in some sort of application on a computer, tablet or phone, or some method of documentation. Use whatever system, form or method works best for you, but don’t rely on working just from memory or winging it.

When the intensity of the negotiation increases and you become more emotional (and you will!), the likelihood of your remembering everything is reduced, and so is your effectiveness.

Stay on Track!

Regardless of how you conduct your negotiation—over email, text, phone, Slack, Skype or face to face—keep your plan in front of you. Let it guide your focus. Add to it, delete items that prove to be unnecessary. Fill in the blanks and make notes.

And no matter what method you are using to engage in the negotiation, give it your undivided attention. If you’re using a digital platform, close all other applications. If the physical environment you are in is noisy or distracting in some other way, change it. Close your door, move to another location. If you can’t change your surroundings, consider rescheduling to a time and place that allows you to stay focused.

You may not be used to working in this kind of single-minded way, but the stakes when negotiating are too high to be unfocused.

Focus – Think Long Term!

Going back quickly to the negotiation I observed, the two parties eventually made a deal. But both were frustrated with one another throughout the process, and not particularly pleased with the agreement they made. In truth, I doubt that the agreement will hold up, or that they will want to do business with each other again in the future.

Do you struggle with lack of focus as a negotiator? How do you minimize or eliminate distractions? We’d love to hear from you!

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Bradley Humbles

Bradley Humbles

Bradley has been studying negotiation, successfully using negotiation skills, and facilitating negotiation workshops for more than 20 years. As a small business owner, Bradley understands what it takes to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

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