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The Importance of the Preliminary Stage of Negotiation Interactions

By Charles B. Craver

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When proficient negotiators get ready to interact with others, they initially enter the Preparation Stage during which they determine the relevant, factual, legal, economic, cultural, etc. issues. They then calculate their own bottom lines, goals, and planned opening positions. They look across the table and try to place themselves in the shoes of their opponents to estimate the bottom lines, goals, and underlying interests of those persons. Once this stage is complete, they contact the other side to begin the bargaining process.

In most instances, the opposing parties commence their interactions through telephone discussions. When less significant issues are involved, their communications may be entirely through phone calls and/or e-mail exchanges. When significant issues are involved, personal meetings are usually employed. At the beginning of these interactions, most negotiators tend to move immediately into the Information Stage during which they use questions designed to determine what the other side wants and to ascertain the interests underlying those stated positions. Once this “value creation” stage is complete, the parties move into the Distributive Stage where they engage in “value claiming” as they work to divide the surplus that was generated during the Information Stage. During this part of their discussions, they should work to give each side the items they value more highly than their adversaries. This enables them to generate efficient terms that will help them to maximize the joint returns achieved. With respect to the competitive issues which both sides desire, negotiators generally use power bargaining tactics to claim more of these items for their own side.

Near the end of the Competitive Stage, the parties use the Closing Stage to reach final agreements on all of the relevant issues. Once this is accomplished, they should move into the Cooperative Stage to see if there is any way they can expand the overall pie and simultaneously improve their respective positions. They look for items that may have ended on the wrong side of the table and offer to exchange those to benefit both parties. Once this stage is complete, they have final accords.

Despite the importance of these five stages, impatient negotiators often ignore a sixth stage that can significantly influence their overall interactions – the Preliminary Stage. This stage should occur when they initially begin their inter-party communications. When parties commence negotiations, they are often anxious, because they do not know whether their efforts will be successful. They view the persons on the other side as the enemy, and begin with adversarial behavior. If one side discloses its initial interests in an argumentative manner, the other side almost always responds in kind, causing their discussions to be highly combative. Negotiators who take the time to initiate their interactions with a well-developed Preliminary Stage can significantly decrease such adversarial conduct.

The Preliminary Stage should be employed at the beginning of bargaining interactions to enable the negotiators to establish personal rapport and positive environments for their discussions. Before they begin any substantive talks, negotiators should exchange some small talk to get to know each other on a more personal basis. They should look for noncontroversial topics in which they may have mutual interests. They may talk about the weather, sports, music, their educational backgrounds, or other similar issues in a cooperative manner. As they focus on their joint interests, they tend to develop a mutual likeability that should assist them as they move into the more competitive phases of their interactions.

The Importance of the Preliminary Stage of Negotiation Interactions by Charles B. Craver


Copyright © 2012 Charles B. Craver
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (February, 2012)