7. How should you proceed to “Assess the Other Party” when strategically planning a negotiation?
Assessing a counterparty simply means taking steps to uncover any relevant information about her. The most salient attributes to determine include:
• Interests or Objectives – Begin with the understanding that the other party’s interests (and the value of those interests) may differ from your own.
• Resistance Point and Alternatives – The other party will likely have a resistance point with regard to these interests. The resistance point will likely be tied to the options available for a given interest or the collective interests at issue.
Assessing these attributes of the counterparty can be quite difficult. Often, these attributes cannot be ascertained. Thus, a party must make assumptions or estimates regarding the other party’s dispositions. In any event, a negotiator should attempt to uncover as much of said information as possible. Counterparty research should be carried out through two approaches:
• Indirect Assessment – Indirect assessment might include: observations, consulting documentation and publications, speaking to knowledgeable individuals (such as friends, acquaintances, or experts), etc. It might also include anticipating the other party’s interests (as if you were “in their shoes”).
• Direct Assessment – This includes any straightforward method of determining key information about the other party. It might include asking the other party to discuss her goals (either at the table or before negotiations begin) or otherwise persuading the party to reveal this information. It might include conducting a preliminary interview, such as a broad discussion of what the other party would like to achieve in the upcoming negotiations (focus on broad interests, not just issues). It may also include seeking this information from records or third parties.
• Discussion: Can you think of other aspects of the counterparty worthy of exploration? Can you give examples of how indirect and direct assessment can affect a negotiator’s position?