Step 2: Opening Negotiations the Right Way

Introduction to Opening

While an understanding of the 5 phases of negotiation is key to achieving the oft referred to “win-win” negotiation the dilemma exists of how to achieve buy in from the other side where they themselves have no understanding the process.

This can be achieved in the opening phase of the negotiation.

The opening phase is by far the most underappreciated and underutilized phase of any negotiation.

In the construction industry the parties are often well acquainted from previous jobs or, at the stage that disputes are raised, the parties have been working together for a substantial period of time on the same project.

However despite the fact that the parties may know each other quite well there is still substantial benefit which may be gained from opening your negotiations in the right way.

The Main Goal

To often negotiations seem to drift along like a rudderless ship lost at sea - the parties while having the best of intentions end up frustrated at the lack of progress and the negotiations go down hill from there.

This is the reason the manner in which the negotiation proceedings are opened is of any paramount importance.

The main goal of the opening phase is to create an environment that is conducive to positive negotiation and allow for the provision of early feedback in respect of your preparation and strategy.

It is during the opening phase that the so called “Ball Park” for the rest of the negotiations is set.

During the opening phase the parties have not entered what can be termed “negotiation mode” accordingly there exists the opportunity to ask open questions in respect of the other sides positions.

It is highly likely that if you manage to ask the correct questions that you may learn vital new information which you did not possess during your preparation phase which will assist you in reassessing your own tactics and strategies.

A Basic Outline

The most vital stage of the opening stage in my opinion is to create an agreed structure for taking the negotiation forward.

The ideal time to garner agreement on a process orientated approach to negotiation is during the opening phase.

During this stage emotions are relatively low and it is easier to obtain buy-in from the other side to commit to your ideal negotiation structure.

I find that it is most useful to list the stages and/or topics, at a very high level, that need to be tackled on a white board / flip chart. This assists the parties and may steady the negotiation ship if people get off track. It also serves to re-enforce the parties buy-in to the agreed negotiation process.

The General Process

The general framework I process parties adopt during the opening stage is as follows:

Once the parties have committed to the above process you can leverage the psychological principle of consistency – namely that a once a party has committed to a position they will seek to remain consistent with such position.

In negotiation, consistency, or the consistency principle, refers to a negotiator's strong psychological need to be consistent with prior acts and statements. The consistency principle states that people are motivated toward cognitive consistency and will change their attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and actions to achieve it.
Once the parties have reached agreement on the outline they can easily navigate through the various stages of a negotiation.

It is incumbent upon you as a skilled negotiator to assist and guide the other side through the process of negotiation and this is set up in the opening phase.

Key Take-Away

  1. Most parties underutilise the opening phase of the negotiation;
  2. The standard approach is to build rapport through general “chit-chat” before moving on to the substantive issues of the negotiation;
  3. The opening phase is the stage at which the “Ball Park” and/or underlying tone and processes of the negotiation are established.
  4. The opening phase must be utilised to establish the framework of the negotiation in respect of process.
  5. Once the other parties buy-in has been achieved in respect of process the principle of “consistency” will keep them on track with the agreed outline.

Kendrick, Douglas T. Social psychology: goals in interaction (5th ed.). Allyn & Bacon. p. 167.
Adapted from the CEDR Advanced Negotiation Certificate Course