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Crystal Balls

Ellis Croft
Negotiation Blog Time [Converted]
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At the start of the year, it’s entirely normal to see predictions for the forthcoming year broadcast across just about any and every media we consume. Fair enough – many of us are curious and where’s the harm in a bit of speculation? Take on board the fact that it’s very likely to be an election year in the UK (and it most certainly is in the US) and this tendency to read the runes can become all-pervasive.

One of the main drivers of our fascination with these forecasts is of course the fact that they are endlessly debatable – they’re dealing with future events, after all. Well – I say “endlessly”, but of course that highlights the trouble with predictions: at some point, their accuracy is determined by the passage of time, which of course does end the debate. The prediction either rewards or damns the prophet. If you’re canny enough then you can cast your predictions far enough into the future that in the unlikely event you’re right you’ll be heralded as a visionary - and if you were wrong, few are likely to remember your error(s).

What if time were flexible, though? Then you might argue that your prediction is still valid and that it simply hasn’t happened *yet* (fans of end of the world conspiracy, look away now). And indeed this is a common refrain among many soothsayers – their version of the future is still sound, it’s just that the conditions that looked bang on last week to make it happen were actually static interference. The prediction is solid, it’s everything else that’s wobbling around it. If we wait, it will happen.

What does this have to do with negotiation? One of the critical skills underpinning good deal-making is preparation, and in preparing to negotiate, we must address future conversations. In which we’ll need to structure expectations, ask good questions, and understand those we negotiate with in order to progress. In doing this it can become incredibly tempting to second-guess those with whom we negotiate – what they’re likely to want, say, think, do, how they’re likely to approach the deal, and so on. The risk we run in doing so is that like our doomsday friends, we can end up waiting a very long time for what we imagined to come to pass. And for many of us, time is precious. Worse still, we run the risk that we will miss, ignore or dismiss information that would be incredibly useful - simply because it doesn’t conform to what we’re expecting or looking for.

I wouldn’t advise that you ruthlessly eliminate anticipating what the other party might want when preparing – far from it. Like predicting that a certain golf-playing serial defendant may secure the nomination for the Republican Party in the 2024 US election, much prediction is evidence-based and probable, and can therefore add value. When planning for the future, remember that probability is simply a useful indicator - and reality is a greatly more useful companion when you are negotiating.  

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