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Enhancing Negotiation Acumen: Recognizing and Overcoming Unseen Hurdles in Business Transactions

Enhancing Negotiation Acumen

Joshua Cooley a senior consulatant at The Gap Partnership, share his knowledge on negotiation dynamics and the unseen obstacles within them has guided countless clients towards successful outcomes.

The Unseen Hurdle: Why is the Deal Stalling? Recently, a client, Tim, approached me with a perplexing situation. For nearly a decade, he maintained a favorable partnership with a prospering CPG firm. Yet, as their contract neared its end, renewal discussions were oddly off the table. The puzzling part? There were no clear reasons given for this abrupt change of stance.

Feeling cornered and with the contract’s expiry looming, Tim turned to us. It was hard to grasp why, despite a history of positive interactions, the company was now seemingly unresponsive.

Is it Their Misjudgment or Your Oversight? Often, I’ve seen negotiators label their counterparts with less-than-flattering terms: “illogical”, “incompetent”, and so on. However, in high-stakes corporate negotiations, it’s improbable that the other party lacks understanding. Rather, their actions stem from information they possess, which might be absent from your perspective. This unseen information or perspective can be termed as a “blind spot”.

For Tim, this blind spot was evident in the thrice-repeated request from the client for a minor contract modification: third-party sourcing during supply chain disruptions. Tim’s firm consistently declined. Eventually, the client chose to silently let the contract lapse rather than broaching this touchy topic once more.

Decoding Johari’s Window: Unmasking Blind Spots An insightful model to understand these dynamics is the Johari’s Window, conceptualized by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham:

  • Open (Known to both)
  • Hidden (Known to self, unknown to others)
  • Blind Spot (Unknown to self, known to others)
  • Unknown (Unknown to both)

While the first and third sections of the window reveal already known facts, the second quadrant holds the key to decoding actions which seem irrational. 

The Illusion of Full Knowledge: Confirmation Bias Blind spots, by their very nature, remain unseen. We’re often lulled into the comforting illusion that we’re fully aware, which leads us to confirmation bias, where we prioritise information that aligns with our beliefs and ignore contrary data.

This false sense of security can be jarring, reminiscent of the famous words of Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” It’s imperative to be receptive, actively listening and discerning cues from the counterpart.

Strategising Against Blind Spots Fortunately, biases, such as confirmation bias, are systematic. Awareness is the key. It helps to remind oneself that every negotiation possibly holds undisclosed data that could be game-changing. Adopt a proactive mindset, questioning assumptions, and be prepared to adjust your negotiation strategy based on new insights.

Tim’s story had a favorable twist. Recognising the importance of the contract modification to the client, he took swift action, reconfiguring the contract which was then promptly endorsed.

Learning from Past Oversights In my role, I’ve often detected oversights which could have derailed business dealings. For instance, an entertainment conglomerate opting for a bid after a ten-year partnership. Initially, it seemed like a sign of discontent. However, it was a strategy to get better pricing from their existing provider.

Similarly, a CPG firm managed to secure three times the promotional space for nearly half the original cost, defying the initial assumption that retailers would penalise them for price hikes.

Conclusion: Staying Ahead in the Negotiation Game As you navigate negotiations, always challenge your preconceptions. Question the other party’s motivations and stay alert to shifts in market dynamics or business interests. Equipped with comprehensive information and an open mindset, you’re better poised for negotiation triumphs.


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