Negotiation Tips

Don't Start Your Negotiation by Surrendering Control of the Agenda

by Erich Rifenburgh

Experienced negotiators never pass up the opportunity to control the agenda.

One critical mistake many negotiators make is relinquishing control of the agenda from the outset. The negotiation agenda sets the tone, determines the topics of discussion, and shapes the direction of the conversation. By ceding this control, you risk being reactive rather than proactive, potentially hindering your ability to steer the negotiation in your favor. This blog post will help your negotiation tactics in business by building on your agenda-building skills.

The Pitfalls of Surrendering Agenda Control

Allowing the other party to dictate the negotiation agenda can put you in a disadvantaged position. Here's why surrendering control at the onset can be detrimental to your negotiation tactics in business:

1. Reactive Positioning

You're forced into a reactive role when you let the other party set the agenda. Reactivity limits your ability to strategize and prepare adequately for the negotiation. It becomes challenging to anticipate their moves or align the conversation with your goals and priorities.

2. Loss of Strategic Advantage

Control over the negotiation agenda provides a strategic advantage. It allows you to shape the conversation around your priorities

s and preferred topics. Surrendering this control means potentially sidelining critical points or issues vital to your objectives. The opposite party’s negotiation tactics in business lead when you surrender control in your negotiations.

3. Missed Opportunities

A negotiated outcome often relies on uncovering shared interests and creative solutions. By letting the other party set the agenda, you might miss opportunities to explore mutually beneficial options or address critical concerns that could lead to a more favorable outcome. You’re a negotiation expert and understand the importance of discovering interests before negotiating.

4. Power Dynamics and Perception

Control of the negotiation agenda can influence power dynamics. Surrendering this control may inadvertently convey a lack of assertiveness or confidence, potentially shifting the perceived balance of power to the other party's favor. This can make it easier for them to use their negotiation tactics.

Taking Charge: The Importance of Agenda Control

Empower yourself by taking charge of the negotiation agenda. Steering the conversation allows you to influence the discussion and maintain a sense of direction. Here's how to regain and retain control so that you can spearhead your negotiation tactics in business.

1. Preparation Is Key

Before entering any negotiation, conduct thorough preparation. Define the negotiables for both sides and list them in order of importance. We want you to set the agenda and align it to your priorities, not theirs.

2. Set the Agenda Early

At the start of the negotiation, propose an agenda or framework that aligns with your objectives and negotiation tactics. This proactive step establishes your control over the direction of the discussion. I think presenting a structured agenda shows preparedness and helps steer the conversation toward your priorities. I suggest doing this verbally and by email before the meeting.

3. Flexibility within Control

While maintaining control is crucial, remain open to adjusting the agenda within reasonable bounds. Flexibility allows for a more collaborative environment and shows a willingness to address the other party's concerns. However, ensure that any alterations align with your overarching negotiation strategy.

4. Focus on Interests, Not Just Positions

A well-structured agenda focuses on your interests rather than rigid positions. Encourage discussions around shared goals and mutual benefits. Emphasize finding creative solutions and exploring options beneficial to both parties.

5. Assertive Communication

Assertiveness is key in maintaining control. Express your intentions clearly and confidently. Steer the conversation toward agenda points that align with your objectives while respectfully addressing the other party's concerns.

Putting it into Practice

Consider this scenario:

You're negotiating a partnership agreement. The other party suggests discussing terms that seem advantageous to them, potentially sidelining critical aspects that matter to your company.

1. Preparation: Understand your priorities and potential areas of agreement and conflict. Based on previous discussions or industry standards, anticipate the other party's agenda.

2. Setting the Agenda: At the negotiation's onset, propose a structured agenda that covers those negotiables most important to you. Be sure to address their concerts at the end of the agenda only after covering yours.

3. Flexible Navigation: Be open to adjusting the agenda slightly if it aligns with your overall strategy. Redirect discussions to key points that need consideration without deviating significantly from your priorities. If you are requested to add key points to the agenda, make sure they are placed at the end.

4. Focused Discussions: Encourage discussions that explore shared interests and long-term benefits. Redirect conversations to points that align with mutual gains.

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