[This is a guest piece by my friend and occasional legal counsel Joyce Colson]
Recent devastating floods in Colorado left many of us scrambling for a roof over our heads, and, once the rains ended, for contractors and equipment to remove debris from homes and offices. I was no exception— I came home to a house full of boulders, mud, and water resulting from a collapsed dirt road above us. Because of impassable roads and rivers flowing down streets, our neighborhood was closed and no one could come to help extricate us from two floors full of mud for five days. We had to find a way to get the two feet of mud and rocks cleared, drywall removed, and begin repairs before the mountain snows started. Sadly, we were not alone – many people in Colorado had similarly pressing needs. We had to rely on our negotiation skills to get what we needed in a situation where resources were scarce and time was tight.
How do you negotiate your way out of such a crisis? As with many business crises we’ve helped clients navigate, we had limited resources, difficult time constraints, and significant competition to get what we needed. The key thing is to ask, the power of asking and getting information.
Here’s what we asked, and what you should ask, when faced with negotiations:
- Ask them to collaborate. Express your willingness to reach a deal that helps the other side– “How can this help your customers?”, “What will improve your standing at work?”, and “How you can best work together?” are all powerful scripts to use.
- Ask “what’s your goal?” Sounds simple, but when all hell is breaking loose it’s easy to get distracted by the trivial and loose sight of what you want to accomplish.
- What are the other side’s needs and concerns? Negotiations go beyond money—emotions are at play. Folks will help you if you take the time to ask how they are, learn about their pressing problems, and express sincere empathy. Make emotional payments—address their fears and concerns through listening, empathizing, and apologizing or conceding where appropriate.
- Ask for help: You may be blocked from taking one course of action; ask if there is an alternative route. We’re often too shy about what we can do in turn: offer to help down the road or call in favors.
- Ask for information: Referrals from your network on vendors and contractors are invaluable, as are tips on how to safely cut corners.
What are their expectations? Ask them what they consider important criteria to judge whether a task is well done. If you treat them as an expert, they are more likely to give you invaluable guidance.
- Clarify the terms. Ask questions to find out their pricing, value, discounting, and other terms. If you don’t have enough information let them make the first offer. If you do have the information, then you can make the first offer—you are bracketing the amount.
- Determine a timeline. What can be done now? What should be done in the medium and long term? Get commitments on this timeline and details on who this depends on– “Are there any third parties that could delay the deal?”
- Use an Agenda: Even for a short meeting, use an agenda. Ask them at the end of a meeting to approve a task list. Nail down specifics: who does what, and who is responsible? Get them committed to not only the contract, but also working with you through the crisis.
In the end, we were fortunate to get the help we needed to repair our house. But it was our checklist of what to ask during the process that got contractors in the door and red tape out of the way faster than just waiting for things to happen. Asking for help, information, referrals, collaboration, and cooperation is critical to navigating your way out of a crisis.
If you want a framework and scripts for negotiating when the odds are against you, I encourage you to learn more about my online negotiation workshop.