In the October 2007 issue of the Negotiation newsletter, the unnamed author discusses “The Crucial First Five Minutes.” The theme of the article is that what we say, think and do upon meeting someone sets the course and tone of the relationship: to avoid starting off “on the wrong foot,” two common mistakes should be avoided.
The first common mistake involves making snap judgments. Whenever we meet someone, we absorb a lot of visual information and cues which we synthesize into a “profile” of that person. While in certain instances, this distillation process may serve us well, it does not do so when we are making deliberate high quality decisions. If anything, the “snap” judgment may cause us to misread the other person, and then implicitly and unconsciously to act on our misassumptions. Through our body language, we convey these misassumptions to the other party, thereby unwittingly and unknowingly cause the relationship to get off to a bad start. Consequently, we must be conscious of our implicit biases, attitudes, assumptions and avoid misjudging a new acquaintance.
The second common mistake is to be guarded when we meet someone new. Often, out of fear, we tend to be guarded and defensive rather than open and cooperative. As a result, the negotiations get off to a bad start. A better way to start off is simply to start with small talk. Rather than getting immediately down to business, chat with the other person on unrelated topics. Such conversation builds rapport and trust. Studies have found that “. . . pairs who chatted for just 10 minutes about topics unrelated to their upcoming negotiation shared more information, made fewer threats, and developed more respect and trust during talks than pairs who” got right down to business. (Id.)
As an aid to avoid this second common mistake, consider the settings for your negotiations. Where you meet the other party can be critical to the outcome. The setting itself can color or impact your judgment. While conventional wisdom states that it is always better to hold a meeting in your own office rather than the other party’s, you can gain a wealth of information by viewing your opponent’s settings. There are many visual cues available that will help you understand the other party much better and quicker. Further, by agreeing to travel, “you convey a strong attitude to make a deal.” (Id.)
In contrast, meeting in a neutral location robs both you and your opponent of the opportunity to learn each other through the myriad of visual, non-verbal cues found in all of our offices.
Another aid to avoid these mistakes is be prepared to be surprised. Try to anticipate the difficult or obvious (or not so obvious) yet critical questions. Doing this may entail some role-playing in advance in which you ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the responses.
While the above tips address the issue of one-on-one negotiations, they are equally applicable to mediations. Mediation is just another form of negotiation. Avoiding assumptions or snap judgments about other parties to the mediation and engaging in social conversation for the first few minutes to put everyone at ease, works quite well in mediations. Once you get to know a person, the “human” element becomes part of the process. It, then, becomes much easier to resolve the dispute precisely because of that “human” element.
. . . Just something to think about.