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Trick or Treating

Siobhan Bermingham
Negotiation Halloween [Converted]
© Adobe Stock

As the excitement and expectations of Halloween are building, I’ve been reflecting on the various negotiation strategies I implemented from a young age during Halloween. I remember the anticipation – as the youngest of 6 children, I’d watched my 5 brothers come back with huge buckets full of sweets. It was finally my turn! Although I couldn’t go as far from home as they could, this was my chance – my first-time trick or treating! Time was limited (much like it can be in negotiations), so I had to have a clear strategy. We focussed on the houses closest to home to maximise the chances of filling our buckets with treats that we could proudly show off to our eldest brothers.

My youngest brother and I set off full of pride in our Halloween costumes believing that people would be amazed at how good we looked and freely begin offloading the treats, much like the stories our eldest brothers had told us. We knocked on an elderly gentleman’s door, we regularly waved to this neighbour, we were sure it would be a good house to start with. After we excitedly said ‘trick or treat’ we waited expectantly. No sweets… (no free concessions in this negotiation. We stood clutching our empty buckets hopefully.) The neighbour asked us to perform our ‘tricks’ and reminded us that you don’t get ‘treats’ for nothing in life. Needless to say, he was underwhelmed with us shouting ‘boo’ and jumping towards him. He told us to work on our tricks for next year and gave us 1 of the smallest sweets each from his big bowl.

We continued our trick or treating, some gave fruit (to my mum’s delight), others gave handfuls of sweets and some specified just 1 sweet. Much like in negotiations, there are those that hand out several ‘treats’ as good will gestures and those that teach us we mustn’t be greedy and will only get something if it’s traded for (in this case – a decent Halloween ‘trick’). The elderly gentleman we first visited certainly taught us that he will only trade a sweet on the condition of us performing a ‘trick’. New strategy – prepare a decent ‘trick’ for him in advance. We upped our game and he rewarded our efforts with the largest chocolates in the basket.

Over the years, I noticed how there are some negotiators who added on ‘good will gestures’, free concessions that were unconditional. Rather unfortunately for them, this taught us to expect the ‘treats’ each time we came to the table to negotiate, rather than reciprocate with our own ‘treats’. I remember when one particular partnering company had a significant budget cut and suddenly their generous good will gestures were gone – no more free treats. Everything was traded for. If we agree to something they wanted, we’d get something that we wanted. Although the sudden change was uncomfortable initially, we certainly learnt to shift our expectations and became more creative in our preparation, so we had lots of concessions we could trade to get things on our wish list. It certainly motivated us to be far more creative and strategic in our negotiations and ultimately resulted in far more fruitful contracts for both parties. Which sort of negotiator are you? Do you find yourself handing out handfuls of ‘treats’ unconditionally and forgetting the value those items may hold for the other party? Or are you trading concessions to get something that you want from your wish list?

Preparation is key to creating strong wish and concession lists that you can trade with in a negotiation - avoid being like my younger self, struggling to be creative under pressure - my shouting ‘boo’ and jumping certainly didn’t hit the mark!

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