Stay nimble, even when the rules change

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in Salary Negotiating,Workplace Communication

Settling on a walkaway point in negotiations seems easy if you’re working in a stable environment. But what if your options run better or worse? In turbulent conditions, winning can mean improving your capacity to observe and respond.

Here’s how to negotiate when conditions constantly shift:
  1. Make a bump plan. Don’t figure every angle; focus on two negative possibilities, setting aside almost everything else. First, anticipate your enemy’s most likely tack. Second, gear up for the worst risks by identifying the greatest threats to your own success.

  2. Act boldly and fast. You’ve heard that one before, but here’s a great example: After the pro hockey strike ended a couple of years ago, a few general managers quickly bought out some older players’ contracts. They acted on a clause saying that, for six days in July 2005, buyouts wouldn’t be counted toward the salary cap. By acting immediately, they’d be sitting pretty later.

  3. Learn and adapt. The late Col. John Boyd championed this strategy, which has spread to mass marketing and sports: During the Korean War, the enemy’s Soviet-made MiGs could accelerate faster, were better-armed and tolerated higher altitudes than the American F-86s. The U.S. fighter pilots, however, exploited their two advantages: the F-86’s hydraulic controls let it climb, bank and accelerate into dives faster, and it had a bubble top for clear views.

    From these factors, Boyd developed the “OODA loop”: observing, orienting, deciding and acting. The Americans pressed their situational awareness and won the advantage.
—Adapted from “When the Only Constant is Change,” Michael Wheeler, Negotiation, Harvard Business School.

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