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Negotiation: understanding the phases

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A negotiation process is mostly regarded as a linear series of sequence of steps. If you have watched long distance runners, you will understand what I am trying to get at by explaining the phases in a negotiation process.

The winners in a marathon do not normally start leading; they start off at a distance not too close or too far from the leading runner. We have witnessed some front runners pulling of the race because they run out of steam.

The professionals understand when to start their sprint to the finish line. This is also the same with a negotiation process, a procurement manager needs to understand when to give away concessions in a negotiation process, giving away too late or too soon has consequences.

It is generally accepted that there are several key phases within a typical integrative negotiation process.

The seven key steps of an ideal negotiation process are:

Preparation: the process of deciding what is important, defining your goal and thinking ahead on how to work together with the other party.

Relationship building: getting to know the other party, understanding your similarities and differences, and building commitment towards achieving a mutually beneficial set of outcomes.

Information gathering: learning about the issues, the other party and their needs, the feasibility of possible settlements, and what might happen if you fail to reach an agreement with the other party.

Information using: at this stage, negotiators assemble the case they want to make their preferred outcomes and settlements, one that will maximise the negotiators own needs. This presentation is often used to sell the negotiators preferred outcome to the other.

Bidding: the process of making moves from ones initial, ideal position to the actual outcome. Bidding is the process by which each party states their opening offer, and then makes moves towards the middle ground.

Closing the deal: the objective here is to build commitment to the agreement achieved in the previous stage of bidding. Both parties, the buyer and the seller, will have to assure themselves they have reached a deal they can be happy with, or at least, live with.

Implementing the deal: determining who needs to do what once an agreement has been formalised. It is very common that parties discover that the agreement had anomalies, key points will have been missed, or the situation will have changed which sometimes will be the subject of the negotiation.

Understanding the negotiation stages assists in effective planning of a negotiation process. It helps identify and create leverage in negotiation. It also aids in the selection of appropriate negotiation strategy.

The phase in negotiation has limitations in that they assume an integrative approach which is not always possible. Some of the phases can be combined, eliminated or reduced if a distributive approach is adopted. In essence, negotiation process is never linear and will always need adaptation to particular context or circumstances.

Negotiators need to be wary of over-reliance on process-based methodologies. This is because negotiation is an art not a science and the process requires embedded skills within the people who lead it.

It is however, important to understand the natural phases that a negotiation process passes through to facilitate some planning and preparation for such critical meetings.

This also require critical considerations of resources available, information requirements, individual needs, research and analysis, preparation, targets, opening statements, timing and related issues.

Without an agreed process, a negotiator risks drifting and not necessarily fulfilling ones intended outcome.

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