All negotiations have two levels of negotiation going on at the same time – one over substance (the dollars, deliverables, scope of work, or whatever else is being discussed) and the other over process. The process refers to “how” we negotiate – the timing, the format, the participants, and all of the other questions relating to the manner in which we negotiate. In most cases, the “process negotiation” happens implicitly – people simply begin negotiating the substance of the negotiation, without explicitly discussing the process that could or should be used. This is a lost opportunity, because a better process can lead to much better substantive outcomes, as well as a savings of time and energy.
So, don’t be afraid to openly and explicitly negotiate the process. Some examples of process questions are:
• “what is the best time for us to talk about this?”
• “who else should be part of this conversation?”
• “should we do this over email, phone, or meet in person?”
• “the purpose of this conversation is to accomplish ‘x’ (e.g., formulate ideas to consider, NOT commitments); do you agree?”