In this post we will describe how important perception in contract negotiations actually is:

  • How are you perceived by your counterpart during contract negotiations?
  • How impacting is that perception?
  • Is it enough to “have it right” and then spend time arguing about it?

“It is the taste in the mouth that counts”

As a kid, I had a knack for creating nice sentence for concepts I was defending. One of these was the title above. I used it in situations where, in vigorous discussions with my parents, they ended up accepting my arguments but not the way they were presented. This happened on stupid discussions on issues like “Whether it is egoistic (not) to have children.” They defended that living a life just for yourself is egoistic; my brother and I made the case that, because of overpopulation, having kids was in fact the egoistic act. Not really world-changing discussions but good practice for techniques to convince. Over time, I realized that “pure argumentation” was not the most successful approach.

Much later, during my professional life, on one of these long negotiations, I debriefed with the young lawyer on my side during a pause :

  • “Man, you have all the right arguments”, I told him.
  • A satisfied smile appeared on his face.
  • “But they are not buying it”, I continued.
  • “??? Yes, they are a bit slow to understand!”
  • “They are rather getting the feeling that you are teaching them a lesson, that you feel superior to them.”
  • “They don’t want to be in such an unequal position. So, they resist and do not give in.”
  • “Even if they think you are right. Nothing to do with the quality of your arguments. If I, or any other person from our side, will propose the same, they will accept it”.

So, we agreed he would go “low profile” for a while. I would – a bit later on so that the situation was less obvious – test our counterparts willingness to accept what my lawyer had been arguing for. And yes, when I proposed the same, they accepted it immediately. Almost to make an implicit statement: “to you we are willing to give it, but not to him”. The moral of this story is:

During negotiation, always avoid situations of perceived superiority. Especially if you are working on the Contractor’s side towards the Employer.

The other party’s perception in contract negotiations

Avoid fighting a battle for the best arguments. Avoid that words and intentions can be misinterpreted by the other party during the negotiations. Top negotiators know that it is there duty to avoid any misunderstandings in the first place. For multi-cultural or international negotiations the challenge is even bigger, but the issue ever more important.

Top negotiators avoid wrong perception in contract negotiations by doing the following:

  • Formulate your ideas in the most simple, clear and precise way. Use simple vocabulary and short sentences.
  • Make your case with the help of calibrated questions (as can be seen in the example about negotiating payment terms).
  • Always check upfront that you morally stand by what you are going to say. If someone would make that proposal to you, finding yourself in a similar position as your counterpart, would you neither feel offended nor mistreated? If your back-office / management pushes you in a direction that you don’t agree with, argue rather with them than getting in trouble with your counterpart.
  • Double/triple check how the other party is understanding you.
  • Avoid the “you’re right” trap, as brilliantly explained by Chris Voss.

Conclusion

The way you are perceived is extremely important during contract negotiations, probably even more than the quality of your arguments. You need to be self-conscious about this. It is a far better approach to be a “curious person asking questions” than a “brilliant orator / lecturer”. Such a behavior change also corresponds to the maturity shift that good negotiators make when becoming more experienced.

During your next negotiations, always be on looking after yourself: are you relying too much on argumentation?

About AfiTaC

AfiTaC.com is the blog on commercial and contractual subjects for the Project Businesses (Construction, Infrastructure, Oil & Gas, Power & Renewable, Water Supply & Sanitation, etc). Its objective is to stimulate reflection, learning, convergence to balanced contracts and positive dispute resolution. You can subscribe to our newsletter by writing to “newsletter@afitac.com”. You can also connect to our LinkedIn page. Engagement with the readers is what keeps us going. So, don’t hesitate to exchange with us by commenting here below, liking our publication on LinkedIn and writing to us “info@afitac.com”. 

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