By Seth Freeman (c) 1996

Preparation- Jewel in the crown of negotiation. Get this right (and merely doing it is not enough) and your performance in the negotiation dramatically improves. -Gavin Kennedy

How do you prepare for a negotiation? A simple planning tool can help you focus your thinking. The tool is a mnemonic called “I FORESAW IT.”^^

I FORESAW IT sums up many of the key factors which a negotiator needs to consider in preparing for a negotiation. In essence, the mnemonic asks you to do six things: (1) consider what you each really want and why, (2) learn as much as possible about the situation, (3) think creatively, (4) empathize, (5) develop alternatives to agreement, and (6) identify your targets and priorities.

Each letter in the mnemonic follows a loose order, though you can jump around. Students find they can profitably use the mnemonic in as little as ten or fifteen minutes. However, extensive preparation is almost always better; most seasoned negotiators take hours, days or even weeks to prepare for important talks. Regardless, the I FORESAW IT mnemonic can help.

Here’s what the letters stand for:

Interests- Mine, hers, ours. Beyond our respective demands, why do we each want what we say we want? Rank the answers in order of importance. Include intangible interests such as face-saving. Don’t skimp on common interests (that is, shared goals you can achieve by working together)- expert negotiators spend far more time on this than average negotiators do.

Factual Research- Knowledge counts. What are the market prices? What do the relevant documents say? What do industry experts say? What published information is there about the matter? The other person? What is the history of the relationship? What are the cultural norms?

The legal constraints? What does spreadsheet analysis reveal? How is the other person’s organization set up? Err on the side of exhaustive learning.

Options- Brainstorm possible deal terms. That is, think of as many negotiable solutions to the problem as possible, even if they seem silly. Think of solutions that might satisfy each side’s interests. Get help from a trusted friend or colleague. Don’t critique until you’ve generated at least six for each topic you wish to discuss. Excellent negotiators generate twice as many options as average negotiators do. Then review and refine your options and select the one(s) you feel would be your first preference.

Reactions and Responses- Do this last. Once you develop offer(s) using the rest of the mnemonic, practice proposing your offer(s) to the other negotiator and try predicting her reactions to your proposal and to the situation generally. What will she feel she’ll lose if she says “yes,” and gain if she says “no”? Then consider how you might respond. Consider her interests- how will she satisfy her interests by saying “yes” and hurt them by saying “no”? Are there Independent criteria you can use to show the proposal is fair? Role playing can produce real surprises and insights.

Empathy and Ethics- Empathize. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Speak or write a paragraph in his voice about the situation. What problem does he have? Why do you seem difficult? What hang ups are you bringing to the negotiation? How would you like to be treated if you were in his place? If you are working with someone from another culture, try learning about her culture and her history. Empathizing is perhaps the hardest and most important task. A related concern is the ethical and spiritual dimension. What likely ethical dilemmas will you face? How will you deal with them? What limits will you set? It may help (perhaps in ways that have nothing to do with money) to pray for wisdom, patience, strength, and understanding. It may also help to pray for the other person (especially if relations are strained).

Setting and Scheduling- (a) Where will you negotiate? By phone? By letter? In person? Where are you each more comfortable? If you meet, where? Your place? Theirs? A neutral place? Why? Will you meet in private or in public? (Negotiating in the public eye often makes it harder for each negotiator to make concessions without losing face.) Have a change of setting in mind in case you reach an impasse- often this can help change the result. Palestinian and Israeli negotiators reached agreement in 1993 in part by meeting secretly in a Norwegian diplomat’s living room where food was served and children were running around. Will you meet via phone? Email? (Phone negotiations tend to fail more than face to face do; email negotiations tend to fail even more.) (b) When will you negotiate? Before something else happens? After? Why? Timing can be crucial. If there are several parties, with whom will you meet first? Then whom? What time of day will you negotiate? (If possible, avoid negotiating when you are tired.)

Alternatives to Agreement- If there’s no deal, what will you do instead? What will she? List the different possible alternatives separately for each side. For example, if you’re negotiating to buy my car and we can’t agree, what exactly will you do instead? Take the bus? Buy a new car you saw at the local dealership yesterday? Try to improve your alternatives with research. Rank yours; which is your best alternative?

Your worst? Rank hers. Which is her best? Her worst? (If she says “no,” she may be running the risk of winding up with her worst alternative. Tactfully noting this risk may encourage her to say yes.) Alternatives matter. All the negotiating technique in the world won’t matter if the other person has a great offer from someone else and you need her business desperately.

Who- Who can influence the outcome of the talks? Who will you deal with? Is there someone else who would be better to deal with instead? Is there someone you might deal with if you reach an impasse? (e.g. managers often have much more latitude than clerks). Who do you each answer to? What do they want? Who else should you involve in the process? Should you use agents? Mediators? Who else may influence the negotiations? Spouses? Customers? Name them. Learn as much as you appropriately can about them. Also, are there coalitions you can form? Other coalitions you need to block? If several people are involved (say, a board of directors or a work team), is there a likely ally whom you should talk to first?

Independent Criteria- What objective standards can you appeal to so the other person feels your offer is fair and reasonable? Look for something the other person is likely to trust that’s out of your control: e.g., blue book estimates of fair market value, Consumer Reports ratings, a jointly chosen accountant’s appraisal, industry statements about standards and practices, verifiable precedent, existing contract terms, or a fair decision rule such as ‘I cut/you choose’. Independent criteria let you say, in effect, “don’t take my word for it; let’s turn to something we both trust.” They are far more persuasive than saying, “well, I think I’m making you a very fair offer.”

Topics, Targets, and Tradeoffs- This last letter is where you turn your preparation work into a focused one page guide to the talks. In essence, you set an agenda, develop goals for each, prioritize, and add some promising creative options. Here’s how:

(a) Topics. Write down the topics you’ll talk about (such as salary, hours, vacation time). Look beyond the obvious for hidden topics worth discussing (such as start date).

(b) Targets. For each topic, set two targets- the outcome you’d like best (your top target) and least (your walkaway target). (For example- “Salary: 50K – 40K”). Your top target should be ambitious but realistic, based on your factual research into market values and the other person’s alternatives. Your walkaway target should be fairly firm and roughly equal to the value of your best Alternative to a negotiated agreement.

(c) Tradeoffs. (1) Look for tradeoffs between topics by ranking topics. Which matters most to you? Would you give up lots of X (say, salary) if you could have lots of Y (say, vacation time)? Ranking topics is particularly valuable when there are lots of them. (2) Look for tradeoffs within a single topic- that is, look for creative options that would really satisfy you both for that topic. Review the list Options you created earlier select the options you’d accept (say, salary plus a loan) or offer (say, regular hours plus a monthly business trip).

Now put together three possible agreements. (1) First, design an opening offer. Do this by jotting down the best possible deal you can realistically imagine by listing your upper Target for each Topic. Then add to that deal a reasonable cushion so you can make concessions. Write down the cushioned proposal. (2) Second, write down the worst possible deal you will accept by writing down the best deal you have been offered elsewhere, or, if you have none, by listing the lower Target for each Topic. (Later, compare any tentative deal to this one to make sure you’re not accepting a bad one.) (3) Lastly, write down at least one other possible deal- preferably a creative solution. You might describe a deal that gives you lots of your favorite Topic and less of your least favorite; or a deal that uses Tradeoffs within Topics. (Have such deal(s) ready in case an impasse arises during talks.)

Don’t feel these agreements are the only three you can accept. Treat them as a ballpark to play in. If you hit an impasse during talks, review your Options, Interests, etc. Are there other proposals that might work?

See Appendix A for a sample Topics, Targets and Tradeoffs Worksheet.

One of the virtues of I FORESAW IT is that it’s easy to remember. It serves as a check list, reminding negotiators of many of the factors they want to think about. It is not a complete list, though. There are several other things a negotiator may want to consider which may be pivotal, including psychological dynamics, deadlines, tone and manner, key words and gestures, specific approaches to use at the table, and media relations. While no planning tool can be completely comprehensive, the mnemonic makes it easy for negotiators to get into the habit of preparing extensively and opens the door for further preparations.

Many negotiators feel more confident in negotiations once they’ve gone through the I FORESAW IT mnemonic. They are more willing to listen to their counterparts because they have less reason to feel threatened; they’ve done their homework. This confidence and openness can make a difference in their ability to deal with intimidation, to respond effectively to claiming tactics and threats, to listen for hidden agreements, to disarm, to relate with compassion and creativity, to learn something, and to craft surprisingly satisfying agreements. It also helps them avoid the mistake of revealing too much or too little out of ignorance or fear. Often negotiators demonstrate poise and creativity that transform a mess into a remarkable solution. It doesn’t always work out so well, but luck favors the prepared.

One last thought: keep detailed notes during negotiations and be prepared to review your work and update your plans after each session. In other words, leave room to learn something.