Procurement myths: negotiation is all about body language and NLP

Original Source:  Spend Matters

“I’m probably going to upset a few people here…so I’ll make my excuses first.  I believe behavioural skills are key to effective procurement.  I even believe that neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) has some interesting aspects that can help us deal better with others; whether they are suppliers, colleagues, or friend and family.

But I don’t believe that these are the key factors in determining successful negotiators.  For 90% plus of business negotiations, the two key elements are planning and information. NOT your NLP bonding with the supplier or whether you fold your arms or not. And the number of negotiation-focused articles and training events I see with NLP as the centre-piece worries me.

I spoke a while ago to a guy who is doing an academic study in negotiation.  He’d been interviewing a range of senior procurement folk, including me.  I’m really not an expert, I said; I don’t consider myself a master negotiator by any means. Well, he replied, you are about the only one who has mentioned a BATNA, or placed such emphasis on planning. Most of his interviewees focused on behaviour and approach actually in the face to face meeting; ‘opening’ strategies, body language,  looking for concessions etc.  All fine, but in the vast majority of business situations, not the critical success factor.

It’s a bit like when I started my procurement career, negotiation training went on at great length about having a higher chair than the sales guy, or making him / her stare into the sun.  And ‘opening stances’ was a half day topic. Now, none of this is totally without value, but having a thorough understanding of what you are buying; developing alternatives and options that might help reach a better mutual agreement; analysing product cost structures; benchmarking; preparing your alternative if you can’t reach a satisfactory deal (your BATNA); all of these are more often key to a successful outcome.

Your behaviour in the room is significant in relatively few cases, and then only in a minor way. What you do BEFORE you go into the negotiation is the key, and body language won’t help you a bit if you are hopelessly under-prepared. One of the best negotiators and category managers I ever worked with had pretty low interpersonal skills. But he more than compensated with thorough planning, and strong analytical skills. He had a tenacious, if not very sophisticated personal approach to the negotiation, and he did extremely well.

There’s an old saying that you must never criticise a man (yes, this is a sexist saying) for his driving skills or …  certain other skills. I think there’s a third no-go area.  His negotiation skills.  Pretty much everyone, particularly men I have found, thinks they’re a great negotiator.  But if you think that comes from your ability to scratch your ear at the right moment, you’re very wrong…”

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