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Don't Be a Stranger

Get the scoop on the other side before you meet them at the bargaining table.

If you don't know exactly who you're up against, you could shake on a deal and walk away missing a few fingers. Improve your chances of success by finding out in advance the answers to these questions:

1. Who's got the upper hand? Few negotiations occur between evenly matched players. How do you stack up against your opponent? Who's got superior leverage, bargaining skills or momentum? Who wants the deal more? Strategy starts with assessing the other side's strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own.

2. Who's the decision-maker? Know whether you're dealing with a pawn, a bishop, a rook or even the king himself. Note titles, but remember they mean different things in different companies. Ferret out the true pecking order. Find out how approvals are given so that you can move things along.

3. What's negotiable; what's not? Choose your battles carefully. Because businesses institute uniform policies to help them run smoothly, declaring an issue non-negotiable is just another way to steamroll you. Work your grapevine. Your best sources are either inside the company or what you've learned from previous negotiations.


Know whether you're dealing with a pawn, a bishop, a rook or even the king himself.


4. What does the other side really want? Consider this classic anecdote: Two kids are squabbling over the last orange in the fridge. When Dad hears the ruckus, he goes into the kitchen and is sure he's got the answer. He slices the fruit into equal halves and gives one to each kid. Surprisingly, no one is happy. Why? Because one kid just wanted the pulp, and the other just wanted the rind. The moral is, don't jump to conclusions about what the other side wants. Try to find underlying interests. Often, the differences between two companies make agreements possible.

5. How does the other side negotiate? You'd think that a bumpkin would be a pushover and a veteran would negotiate the shirt off your back. Sometimes, it's just the opposite. An ace knows the ropes, evaluates concessions and recognizes a fair deal. A naive opponent's too insecure to give and take, so he or she stonewalls. It's especially important to build trust with beginners.

Last month, I discussed gender and negotiation. In a world increasingly dominated by international, multinational and transnational corporations, cultural differences are just as important whether you're dealing with foreign businesses or second- or third-generation Americans. Check out the literature on the topic, because it will probably apply to many of your encounters.

We all bring our quirks to the bargaining table, so heed the words of the great financier Andre Mayer: "The merger business is 10 percent analysis and 90 percent psychoanalysis."


A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener is the author of Deal Power: 6 Foolproof Steps to Making Deals of Any Size.

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This article was originally published in the September 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Don't Be a Stranger.

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