• Be as flexible as possible with your own time as well as with the parameters that will satisfy your needs.
• Never give up something unless you get something in return.
• Never sit down to negotiate without an exit strategy in mind.
• There is no contract in place until everyone signs on the dotted line, so don't expect a hotel to hold your space if a better offer comes along.
Consistently taking up my time are mistakes made by meeting professionals in their negotiations. So, let's focus not on how to negotiate, but rather on what not to do.
Matters of Timing Many times we restrict our negotiating ability before we even sit down at the table.
When I started negotiating internationally, I took one of my first trips to Japan. As I was greeted by my host, the conversation included the question of when I was returning to Chicago. I replied Friday, which was in just four days. By Friday morning, however, not much progress had been made, and I was faced with the need to return vs. the need to complete the deal.
I had boxed myself in by setting an artificial time limit. Now my response to that question is, "I'm going back when we have completed these negotiations, and by the way, I will be meeting with my client on Friday." This shifts the time factor to the other side. They know somebody else is waiting in the wings (whether true or not), and that we need to advance the dialogue before Friday.
Raising expectations without doing a reality check also can tie your hands. How many times has a planner told his or her group they will be meeting in X destination and staying at Y hotel before a contract is signed or even before any confirmation is made that the space is available? Planners who do this put themselves in an embarrassing, not to mention career-damaging, position. In this case, the other side knows you are committed with no way out. Never sit down to negotiate without an exit strategy in case things don't work out.
Quid Pro Quo So many times we see planners give up a meaningful line item in frustration just to get the process moving. Mistake. The old rubric still holds: Never give something up unless you get something in return. Thus, have points on your "great to have but not necessary" list that you can let go without compromising the core of the meeting.
In Your Words Always be willing to write the contract. In fact, insist on it. It gives you two advantages: First, you set forth your version of the agreement in your words based on your own comprehensive notes. Second, and in all seriousness, it forces you to read the contract and understand it.
Some lawyers might tell you that by writing the contract, any ambiguities will be construed against you. There is a way around this. State that both parties have had the opportunity to review the agreement and to have it considered by lawyers, that they fully understand it and that the fact that you drafted it is immaterial.
The Final Deal If someone says, "this offer is open until X date," that in itself is not a contract. It is a deadline by which you have to accept the offer or make a counteroffer. It does not obligate the other party to hold space open until that date. Both parties still can make a deal with someone else. Note also that if you respond after that date, it is a counteroffer, not a contract.
I'm sure many of you have negotiating tips to share. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll put the best online for all to see.