A negotiation is best kicked off with a relaxed getting to know each other with the aim of building a personal relationship without taking positions or putting demands on the table. Topics such as politics, religion, money and diseases should remain off limits. Introduce yourself by name and above all, name your area of responsibility. The emphasis is on responsibility - this suggests to your counterpart that you are not only competent in a certain area, but that you can also make decisions in this area.
Important to know: When you enter the negotiation room, stop two steps into the room, greet your negotiating partner and wait for them to stand up and come to you to welcome you. This is a good way you put yourself on an equal footing with them.
As soon as you have introduced yourself, ask your counterpart about their area of competence. Also try to find out their role at the negotiating table. Is that person a negotiator, i.e. your direct contact person, or a commander, or possibly even the decision maker? As soon as you know their area of responsibility, you also know to which topics they can respond to, and when they have to call in third parties. Ask directly: "Who else, apart from you, will be involved in the decision?By the way, good negotiators will use small talk to flatter you quite regularly. Stay objective and always be aware of your role in this negotiation.
The development of a personal relationship depends very much on the culture in which you operate. In Germany, you can usually move on to the next step after a short warm-up phase. This is also reflected in the etiquette for business lunches. You can start negotiations with German negotiating partners already after the appetizer. With an Italian negotiating partner, you are should refrain from discussing the actual topic of your meeting before the espresso. In Arab or Asian countries, relationship building is everything. The actual subject of negotiation is discussed almost incidentally.
It is important to know that you set out the rules of the game in the form of an agenda right at the start. Then everyone knows the basic conditions and limits. Violating the basic rules means the immediate termination of negotiations.
You have three tactical entry alternatives to enter the negotiation. Choose the one which shows your negotiating partner that you are the lead in this negotiation.
1. Place a high demand
With this entry, you have the advantage of having a demand on the table that can no longer be ignored. You force your negotiating partner to react right at the beginning. They will usually comment on this demand and thus reveal important information. Those who aim high will shoot far. Those who start high will also achieve a lot. But only if you follow a few rules. Your demand must be realistic and the so-called ZOPA, the "Zone of Possible Agreement" must remain in sight. That is why this approach is recommended whenever you already know the negotiating partner and can assess their ZOPA. Anyone who makes too high a demand might be labelled "unrealistic & incompetent". The same applies to weak demands. Those who shoot too low will fall by the wayside and will not realize the full potential of the negotiation. However, those who dare to make realistic, but high demands at the beginning of the negotiation should go for it. Surprise and reactions on the opposite side are almost guaranteed.
2. Wait for a demand and aim to meet in the middle
As the negotiator, you could ask the other party on the outset to put their demands on the table. As soon as they do so, you question it with the addition of "what is it realistically?". Unprofessional negotiators will buckle and minimize their demands in response to this. In the second step, you place your own demand - based on that of your opponent. Your claim lies far outside of "ZOPA" to give you sufficient leeway throughout the entire negotiation to meet in the middle – a middle that you shifted in your favor at the start. Interestingly this works particularly well in German-speaking countries. Use this knowledge for yourself.
Let your negotiating partners talk - ask them a few questions at the beginning. Or even better: Do not say anything. After repeating the agenda, just wait and see what happens. Listen carefully, take notes – do not say anything. As long as your counterpart is speaking, you will get information. If you talk, you get nothing. It is that simple - and applies to the entire negotiation, not just at the beginning.
Especially in emotional negotiations, an emotional introduction is a good choice. However, keep in mind that you may well be able to understand the feelings, but not the situation, of your negotiating partner. You can only understand situations if you have experienced exactly the same situation as your counterpart. This is often not the case, so you would risk coming across as insincere. On the other hand, everyone understands feelings. Everyone has experienced fear, anger, disappointment or humiliation. If you say "I can understand your fear, I know myself..." this may open doors.
1. Understand your negotiating partner’s point of view
Points of view are a result of the perspective from which a matter is viewed. If there are four people sitting at the four sides of a rectangular table and there is a coffee cup with a coin next to it in the center of the table, we will get four different answers. One will say the coin is in front of the cup, another one that the coin is behind the cup, etc. This is a simple example to illustrate that there are always several sides of a coin. For all four people, their point of view is the right one.
2. Speak to the feelings of the person you are talking to
As mentioned, in most cases you do not know the situation of your negotiating partner, but you can understand their feelings. Try to get your counterpart to talk about his feelings. "I can imagine that you are disappointed now." Or "I can understand that this frightens you in the first step." Take them by the hand and guide them "emotionally" through the negotiation.