Negotiating thoughts, 2

Previously: Negotiating thoughts

This weekend's negotiations class has gone off so much smoother for me than last weekend's class—not in the same ballpark as last weekend, not even the same game. When I have to sit down across the screen from someone now, I don't dread it in the same way. Now it's more like the dread before a presentation or race—more of a hormone cocktail with all of its attendant mood swings from let do this to let's get out of here. That's a feeling (feelings) I can work with. Not only that, but the lack of that pre-competition melange is a warning sign that the thing isn't being taken seriously enough.

There's no magic to most of the improvement: preparation. Some activities last weekend I did the minimum preparation for, just grabbing a simple list of issues from the case that I guess I thought I was going to just figure out how to get what I wanted on the fly. I can talk on the fly, sure—I can present and introduce and lecture and banter and so on without much more than a prompt. But to pry some kind of concession out of someone else, or convince them to give me something that I want (and that they might also want)? It ain't me. But with some preparation—understanding issues and coming up with some numerical boundaries on what I want and what I'd leave the table for and what is definitely the most valuable to keep and so on—I could calm down and find a path to get there.

That feels like it's just as obvious as most of my revelations. Better prep, better performance. Obviously. There's a self-feeding feedback loop—or self-starving, really—in there that hindered preparation. The anticipated discomfort of competing made preparation difficult, which led to bad performance, which led to want to avoid prep for the next round, and so on. You just have to break the loop. There's no magic.

One other quick thing: my baseline definition of negotiating is that you should beat the other parties in the negotiation. It's a competition, eh? I think that's a broken definition now. Related to the preparation: if you figure out what you want, and you get it, well, you win. It's not an optimization problem to max out while also taking as much as you can from the other parties. That's a limited view of the system. Just that one mindset shift made entering the next negotiation easier, and then it ended up boosting performance anyway.

The remaining thing that I'd like to learn, though it won't come from this class, which ends tomorrow: how do people analyze what the other side(s) are going to negotiate for before they come to the table? What do they want? In the clench, what do they have and what do they need? My approach is still mostly limited to what I want, along with some intuitive trading of performance on my issues for someone else's. It just seems like there should be a more systematic way to do that.

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