Consider the last time you misunderstood the tone or context of an email… While sometimes we trust our instincts, occasionally our first reaction or initial impression isn’t always the right one. During the negotiation process, false assumptions could prove as perilous as unchecked emotions.
Never Assume, Find Out First (NAFOF)
Negotiations based on untested assumptions frequently fail.
As skilled negotiators, we know the importance of identifying assumptions and testing them rigorously before finalising the negotiation strategy. When looking back at less successful business or personal negotiations, how often do we recognise our strategy was littered with untested assumptions? And how often are these the ones we made about the other side?
Negotiators need to be cautious when those who strongly support their approach make assertions about the other side.
The trained negotiator will carefully assess such advice and clearly distinguish fact from desire. Negotiators must test assumptions using alternative reliable sources before finalising their strategy.
Tips on How to Manage Assumptions
ENSI consultants advise clients that their views of the other side, and the views of supporters, should be treated as assumptions until they have been rigorously tested.
To avoid the pitfalls of untested assumptions, try this approach next time you are preparing for negotiation:
- Clarify your assumptions by making them explicit (to yourself)
- Anticipate the other party’s assumptions. Particularly consider how their assumptions might work to your advantage
- Check what assumptions you or the other party are making about:
- each other’s needs
- rules, constraints, norms, conventions
- power, authorities, time frames, third parties
- stereotypes, cultural variances, prejudices
- alternatives to the options proposed
- Consider how you can test your assumptions before the negotiation commences. For example:
- who else can you speak to (maybe someone who has previously negotiated with the other party)
- make early and informal contact with the other party to check your assumptions. While this may not be possible in war it is acceptable in business and government negotiations
- put yourself in the other party’s shoes and ask how would you react if you were in their situation.
The undermining power of assumptions
In business, we often need to make quick decisions, however relying on pure instinct to make rash decisions rather than analysing the facts could result in failure.