Our own worst enemy in negotiations II: Rushing to do a deal

I recently discussed a common way we defeat ourselves in negotiations: by rejecting our own proposals before we ever present them. But there’s another, potentially more common way that most of us undermine our negotiating prowess: By letting the great press of daily to dos rush us into negotiations without adequate contemplation or preparation. Since rushing into negotiations is sure to make life non-negotiable, let me highlight five of the biggest risks you’ll run by rushing to negotiate at the world’s dizzying pace:

  1. You’ll act out of passion: We all know never to email when emotional. Well, you should never negotiate either! Negotiations fundamentally arise when people’s interests misalign. By commenting on that misalignment without adequate thought, you’ll probably drive an even larger wedge between the parties.
  2. You’ll seem desperate: The best negotiators are fully comfortable with waiting the other side out. They never lose their cool if other person takes their sweet time, requesting some progress and thereby signaling their acute desire for a deal. Rush into a negotiation, and you’ll send the unhelpful signal you need an agreement more than they do.
  3. You’ll prevent your situation from improving: Real-world negotiations are dynamic phenomena unfolding in the context of shifting alternatives. Rush into a deal, and you’ll inherently prevent yourself from watching a better alternative roll in—an even better job offer, a more attractive price from another dealer, a nicer yet cheaper house.
  4. You’ll get a suboptimal deal done: Most of us rush into negotiations because we feel an irresistible pressure to get something done. The risk is that we will. That is, we risk prioritizing action over reasoned action, settling for a deal that is worse than our alternative or worse than not acting at all.
  5. You’ll spend a long time regretting what you’ve done: If any of the above happen as a result of your haste, you’re likely to spend a great deal of time, post-negotiation, regretting said haste. And if the goal was to get a deal done and move on with the great press of daily to dos, you’ll find your rumination accomplishing just the opposite.

In sum, most of us face unending pressure from the unyielding world to get things done. What the unyielding world doesn’t realize is this unending pressure makes us unsuccessful at the bargaining table. Resist the pull of immediate deal-making, and you might get some grumbles over your pace, but you won’t get any quibbles over your results.

Are the best negotiators bees or sloths?

The rest of the world often seems to be in a great big hurry. Cars zip by. Pedestrians charge past. Commuters race up the escalator. Everyone, it seems, had to finish something yesterday.

Yet, all this urgency masks an important fact about negotiation: Waiting is often the best negotiation strategy available, particularly when we’re in search of a deal. Resisting the urge to be urgent, it seems, can make life negotiable.

We’re often desperate for a deal—a cheaper data plan, a bigger discount on dryers, a better financing plan on cars. Despite our exhaustive search, however, it’s just not available. If our data plan is expired, our dryer is on fire, or our car is suddenly stalled, we obviously have to act. But if our data is still active; our dryer’s just beginning to creak; or our car would make it another 5000 miles, we may have the luxury of time. In those instances, it often pays to wait.

Consider three fairly obvious yet frequently-overlooked benefits of waiting:

  1. A deal might magically appear. Verizon’s or Best Buy’s or AutoNation’s management, in their infinite wisdom, might grace us with an unexpected data discount, dryer clearance, or big tent sale if we only give them time. Or a holiday with no particular relationship to cell phones, dryers, or cars might inspire a special deal. You won’t know unless you wait.
  2. You might develop an alternative. Even if no deal magically materializes on your coveted good or service, there’s always the chance that a deal might appear on an acceptable or even preferable alternative. If Verizon’s not playing ball, maybe Sprint will decide to get generous? You won’t know unless you wait.
  3. You’ll have time to think and research. Even if no deal nor alternative arises, the extra time will afford the time to consult that impressive bodily organ, the brain, or that impressive modern technology, the computer. It’s not rocket science, but often we’re in such a hurry to act (and/or so beholden to the salesman smiling sweetly in our direction) that we miss the benefits of our own logic or the internet—both promising the possibility of overlooked opportunities for savings. A waived upgrade fee on phones? A washer-dryer combo? An unnecessary feature that could be unbundled from the car? You won’t know unless you wait.

Bottom line, the best negotiators often detach themselves from the great mass of humanity and their irresistible tendency to buzz around like so many bees. Instead, they act the sloth, piecing together a deal ever-so slowly and methodically as to almost escape notice.