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5 Days to Better Negotiating: Day 4 – Set the Rules

Negotiation, like any competitive undertaking, should have rules.  Establishing and agreeing to the rules is an essential part of every negotiation. In some instances the ground rules may be a simple understanding of the topic of conversation and the boundaries of the negotiation. In others, a very formal set of rules such as those undertaken in arbitration may be appropriate. 

Negotiators indicate great value is lost when the parties fail to establish rules prior to the commencement of talks. The ensuing lack of trust that can result by one party feeling ambushed or disadvantaged can permanently alter the tone of the discussions.


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As an example, imagine you are negotiating for the purchase of a competitor. The other travel agency’s ownership likely has an emotionally charged understanding of the value of their company.  Setting rules early in the game requiring objective criteria and standards such as gross income, employee expenses and the client list  as well as how market value will be determined will drain some of the emotional potential out of the discussion. Likewise, if you think the conversation is going to be about the transition but the other party re-opens the issue of price, you will feel the process has been undermined. A set of rules can prevent such misunderstandings.

It is always appropriate to clarify exactly what is being negotiated. Whenever one party strays from the objective criteria and standards, the conversation can be tactfully brought back to center. By doing so up front, much time can be saved, nerves spared and the proceedings will be far more efficient.

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