How to validate the opposition’s credibility during negotiations

Anyone involved in negotiating a deal, be it an acquisition, a contract, or a transaction that requires possible concessions, must first determine the style and veracity of the person across the table.

You should always look for subtle and not-so-subtle body language that might reveal what the other person is really thinking. Interpreting the meaning behind these subtleties includes watching for telltale signs of excess nervousness, which could mean a person lacks confidence or doesn’t grasp with specificity the facts and figures to answer correctly.

However, never solely rely on intuition or gut feelings. Instead, learn to craft questions that will separate intuition from facts. This requires doing your homework on the subject matter. In addition, it entails knowing the answers to your inquiries before you even pose them. Using this technique will quickly determine if your opponent is a seat-of-the-pants responder or a laconic conservative type who sticks to what was asked. Worse, it could be someone who’s a flaming embellisher with no regard for the facts or even a blatant prevaricator.

Once past the obligatory and introductory preliminaries, subsequent questions must be open-ended and not answerable with a one-syllable yes or no. This requires the person with whom you’re interacting to elaborate, which gives you further insight into how they think and, more importantly, whether they know their stuff.

Anyone can fake it for a few minutes into negotiations, but few can fake it throughout the session. Therefore, you must choose your words carefully, crafting your query to avoid ambiguity. To elicit meaningful information, you cannot make the other person guess at what you want to learn.

It’s also essential during the process to build your credibility. How you dress, your tone and your body language speak volumes about you and create a sense of trust. If you’re negotiating a dot com deal, wearing a T-shirt probably will suffice. But if you’re discussing a long-term lease that could amount to hundreds, if not millions of dollars, you must at least look the part. Be careful not to project the persona of an interrogator trying to trap the other person into a “gotcha” mistake. Using a tone that exudes smug superiority will put the other side on guard and might trigger a one-upmanship boomerang effect.

If the talks are slowing down, lack substance, or reach a blockade, it is wise to call a timeout. Stopping a session is also an opportunity to confer with others, without saying you need to get outside-the-room assistance or check with higher-ups. Even if it’s true, the, “I have to talk to my boss” comment could diminish your perceived decision-making authority.

Most things in business and life at one point take on some form of negotiations. Always know before you start what you’re trying to accomplish and what you are willing to accept or sacrifice. Another technique is also to ask the other party what they expect as the result.

The negotiating process is like building a bridge to get to the desired destination. Knowing the answers before asking the questions can be an effective road map to avoid getting lost and winding up in the wrong place.

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”