The Importance of Researching Your Counterpart Before Negotiating

Being successful in negotiations requires more than just strategy and good communication skills. It requires a great deal of research and preparation, especially when it comes to learning about your counterpart. Knowledge about your counterpart is one of the most important factors in contributing to a successful negotiation outcome. Having a substantial amount of knowledge regarding your counterpart and their motivations allows you to create a negotiation strategy that will bring the most value to you and them. 

Why Should You Research Your Counterpart?

Many negotiators make the mistake of only considering their own needs when preparing for a negotiation. They only think about what they want, what they are willing to give up, how much leverage they have, and what their best arguments will be. Then, they devise a strategy based solely on their own needs and position. While this approach might seem favorable, it is actually missing a very important component- the needs of the other party. Negotiators who neglect to consider the needs and motivations of their counterpart are missing out on the opportunity to create a mutually beneficial solution for everyone involved. Not only does this hinder the negotiations, but it creates a rift between the two parties in future negotiations. On the other hand, negotiators who assess both their needs and the needs of their counterpart achieve more successful outcomes. 

What to Research Before the Negotiation?

Prior to negotiating, you want to gather as much information as possible about your counterpart so you understand their possible motives and what value you can bring to the table. During the research process, you want to seek answers to the following questions:

  • What is motivating them?
  • What problems or pain points do they have?
  • What are they hoping to achieve from the discussion?
  • What is their bottom line?
  • Who is their decision maker?

How to Use This Information Effectively

  • Based on the information you gather, you are now ready to brainstorm a list of possible solutions and outcomes. Strive to come up with solutions that meet both your own interests as well as the interests of your counterpart. 
  • Create a list of concessions you would be willing to make that would satisfy the needs of your counterpart and also determine what you would like in return. 
  • Prepare questions to ask or statements that will help you determine if you have correctly estimated their walk-away point. You also want to choose alternatives that will best satisfy the needs of both parties. 
  • Determine what your walk-away point will be and what you can do to limit the chances that the negotiation will come down to this. You want to have several alternatives that will be attractive to the other party while still helping you achieve your own goals.