The negotiation game

How’s your poker face? Or your chess game? Skilled negotiators require both the ability to shield what they are really thinking and to plan ahead like chess masters.

The things that go on in negotiations can sometimes seem more like an elaborate game or performance than a business meeting. The games people play are amazing. That is why Stuart Whittle, head of IT at law firm Weightmans, sought out negotiating training from The Gap Partnership. “My background is as a lawyer and I have dealt with some heavyweight litigation in my time. Negotiations as a lawyer tend to be far more adversarial, so moving to my role as head of IT – where we were trying to maintain long-term relationships – for me was a totally different approach. It wasn’t about winning and losing,” says Whittle. “If our relationship with a supplier breaks down that would be incredibly expensive. It’s a contrast to litigation which is all about price.”

Leave your ego at the door

Even if you wield all the power in the relationship, it may not be in your best interests to exploit that at the negotiating table. Leave your ego outside the room and resist all temptation to emulate the House of Commons schoolboy bullying and one-upmanship.

It makes sense to put a lot of effort into getting a long-term relationship on both sides – the classic win-win. Do not screw a vendor to the floor since the implications of doing that are service goes out of the window. When the chips are down and you need a rabbit pulled out of the proverbial, that’s when you need that relationship.

"Negotiations as a lawyer tend to be far more adversarial, so moving to my role as head of IT – where we were trying to maintain long-term relationships – for me was a totally different approach"

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Stuart Whittle, head of IT, Weightmans

Do your homework

Before you sit down for the verbal sparring, you should already have put in a lot of legwork. You need to think about your objectives; the timetable you want things to happen by and what you think is a fair price.
If you are buying commodity hardware or software, find out when is their year-end or quarter-end, as the vendor will probably be more malleable to discounts at those times.

Once you are clear about what you want from the deal, then you need to work out the best strategy to reach your goal. In fact, rather than one strategy, you actually need to have plans A, B, C and beyond at your disposal.

Simply reiterating an argument will not win any ground. You must think about what your best/worst scenario would be; where the supplier is weak or strong; where your own strengths and weaknesses lie; and how you can play to those strengths and cover up the bad points. In other words, get as much information as you can. It is a chess game. CIOs in negotiations should map out numerous scenarios and work out what would happen in each of those and how they would react.