In the opening stage, much of the tenor and tone of the negotiation is established. Climate issues may include:
Location: Will you meet at your place or theirs?
Seating arrangements: Will members sit across table or at each end? Will there be team seating?
Access to technology and communication: Is there a phone, fax, computer, Internet, or calculator?
People: Who is there and who is not?
Time frame: How much time is allocated for this meeting?
Refreshments: Will there be any? If so, what kind?
In the opening stage, every behavior communicates. If the other side intends to have a collaborative, win-win type negotiation, they will work to establish a positive climate. Many unskilled negotiators are so quick to get down to business that they ignore this critical juncture in the process. During the Paris peace talks to end the Vietnam War, there was a climate issue about the “shape of the table.” At first, I thought this was a euphemism for shaping the agenda. However, this issue had to do with the literal shape of the negotiating table and the seating arrangements. The parties had to negotiate this issue before any substantive progress could be made. In a negotiation with one of our clients, we arrived on time, but were kept waiting, and later were faced with three additional people at the meeting, one of whom turned out to be very confrontational. Whether they intended to or not, the opposing side’s behavior set an adversarial tone.
Many years ago, I worked ...