The world’s best negotiators understand that managing information skillfully is critical. When you’re sitting across the table in any negotiation, everything you do and say tells the other party something about your case. There’s direct information that you hand over willingly – the words coming out your mouth, the supplementary documents, the actual demands and concessions – and then there’s indirect information: your tone of voice, your behavior, how quickly you talk, how you move your eyes.
In this blog post, we’re going to focus on the former as we dive into the third Principle of Successful Negotiation: Manage Information Skillfully.
If you don’t watch your tongue, others will
“It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” This expression rings uniquely true for any sales negotiation, where there’s a lot more on the line than appearances. This is because a loose tongue can unwittingly give away privileged details that help the other party build a more comprehensive understanding of your and your company’s wider situation. And the better they understand what’s behind the curtain of your presented case, the more precise ammunition they’ll have when articulating their demands and presenting a case of their own.
During a negotiation, it helps to separate information into two general categories: that which you can give the other party, and that which you can obtain from the other party. The first of these categories can be divided further, into information that you want the other person to know because it gives you a competitive advantage and information that you don’t want the other person to know.
This leaves us with three distinct – and equally important – pillars of effective information management in a sales negotiation:
1. Leverage information that strengthens your case
Going into the negotiation with a list of Unique Selling Points and Reasons To Believe will set you apart from the competition and give you a competitive advantage. That said, timing is everything. Don’t offer all your advantageous info too quickly, otherwise, you’ll have nothing left to leverage when the atmosphere gets more competitive towards the end of the negotiation. Always try to share such information when it’s most advantageous, and always try to have something else up your sleeve.
2. Protect information that would put you at a disadvantage
Wearing your heart on your sleeve and openly discussing sensitive information like price flexibility, internal deadlines, and free “extras” can put you at a severe disadvantage. It’s the equivalent of sitting down at the poker table with your cards flat on their backs for the room to see – and still expecting to come out on top.
To protect your weaknesses, it helps to anticipate the most difficult questions you may be asked and prepare responses that defer answering or reframe the situation around a strength. That said, always operate within clear legal, contractual, and ethical boundaries. Negotiation is usually the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship, so any action that undermines your integrity will likely come back to haunt you.
3. Uncover as much valuable information as possible
Lastly, you’ve got to probe and ask the right questions to uncover key information about the other party. After all, it’s a lot more important to focus on acquiring information than on giving information away. Expert negotiators are known to ask nearly three times as many questions as their counter-party while doing only a third of the talking. See it as a challenge to find out what they really need to solve their problem, without taking their presentation at face value.
One of the biggest differences between a skilled negotiator and a novice is the degree of preparation and foresight that goes into how they manage information. The best plan the way they leverage, protect, and uncover information, while the less experienced will take their chances and try to wing it.
At RED BEAR, we’re experts at creating targeted negotiation strategies that can help organizations across industries gain a consistent, tangible advantage. To learn more about our approach to helping you and your team develop sharp and effective situational negotiation skills, click here.