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Success Criteria for Negotiations

Completion requirements

Mutual adjustment is one of the key causes of the changes that occur during a negotiation. Both parties know that they can influence the other’s outcomes and that the other side can influence theirs. The effective negotiator attempts to understand how people will adjust and readjust their positions during negotiations, based on what the other party does and is expected to do. The parties have to exchange information and make an effort to influence each other. As negotiations evolve, each side proposes changes to the other party’s position and makes changes to its own. This process of give-and-take and making concessions is necessary if a settlement is to be reached.

If one party makes several proposals that are rejected and the other party makes no alternate proposal, the first party may break off negotiations. Parties typically will not want to concede too much if they do not sense that those with whom they are negotiating are willing to compromise.

Success criteria will be a mix of all or any of the following:

  • What you get as a result of the negotiation (e.g. I sell my house).
  • The degree to which you got what you wanted. (e.g. How near to my asking price was the final price?)
  • How much you have had to give to enable the exchange. (Did I have to include any carpets and furniture?)
  • The degree to which you were prepared to give as much as you have. (If I did not want the carpets and furniture, no problem!)
  • How the negotiation’s outcome might be assessed with the benefit of hindsight. (Would I look at the negotiation differently if I knew they would have been prepared to pay 5% more?).
  • How positive you feel before, during and after the negotiation. (Was I happy with the sale or did the buyer make it complicated?)
  • The impact that the negotiation and its outcome have on the relationship between the parties. (Will I ever speak to my buyers again?)
  • How costly in terms of time and money has the negotiation been? How efficiently was it concluded? (Did the sale go smoothly or were there arguments that increased my lawyer’s charges?)
  • To what degree do the other parties achieve their success criteria? (Are the buyers happy?)
  • That the agreed exchange took place. (Did we complete the sale?)
  • If you walk away from an agreement, was it the right thing to do?
  • Identifying your success criteria is a key starting point for all negotiations – otherwise how else would you know whether or not your negotiation is a success?

Know Your Success Criteria Before You Start Negotiating

Not all of our criteria will be equally important.

For example, I might be far more interested in getting a high selling price for my house than whether or not I feel comfortable about talking with the buyer in the future.

If you want the other parties to regard negotiation as a success, you will need to deliver some (if not all) of their criteria. Even if you do not want the other party to achieve success, knowing their criteria will help you understand their conduct during a negotiation. So:

Seek to ascertain the success criteria for each negotiating party – if not in advance, then as early as you can in any communication.

An advantage to delivering at least some of the other party’s success criteria is that it will substantially increase their commitment to follow it through rather than seek a way out.

Some criteria between the parties will be common – in our house sale example, we both want to move house. This perspective can be invaluable:

If negotiations get ‘difficult’, discussing common success criteria will help to move the communication forward.

Conflicting Success Criteria is a reality. For example: in our house selling example, one wants to sell at the highest price, the other to buy it at the lowest. It is this conflict that embodies what needs to be negotiated.

Changing Success Criteria is possible. We should bear in mind that what a negotiator regards as a success in one negotiation does not necessarily apply in another.

Nor can we assume that success criteria are fixed during a negotiation.

During a negotiation, parties can – and do – change their criteria for success and/or their relative importance.

To continue with our example:

In negotiating the sale of my first home, my main criteria for success might be to get as much money as possible. When I sell my next house, the timing of the sale might be more important than a small price change. But if something happens during the second sale to change that priority, I might decide to place timing below that of the sale price.

In addition, the same runs true in business negotiations. An employer might seek an improvement in productivity in the first round of pay negotiations but in a later one seeks to change the employees’ working hours. They then might seek to change the working hours as a top priority for something else during that negotiation – perhaps reduced overtime rates. So:

There is a significant risk that anyone might change their success criteria between or during negotiations.