When it comes to advanced negotiation tactics, consider this—Gavin Kennedy, an expert on negotiation, once wrote that “Preparation is the jewel in the crown of negotiating. Get this right, and your performance in the negotiation dramatically improves.”
The “I FORESAW IT” Mnemonic
So, what are the keys to good preparation? Well, welcome to the I FORESAW IT mnemonic—a powerful tool in anyone’s arsenal of advanced negotiation tactics. The I FORESAW IT is a ten-letter memory tool I’ve created that sums up what skilled negotiators do to systematically prepare for important talks. Each letter stands for a word, and each word stands for a question, a question you want to ask and then answer before you enter the talks. Here’s what the letters stand for: interests; factual and financial research; options; rapport, reaction and responses; empathy and ethics; setting and scheduling; alternatives to agreement; who; independent criteria; topics, targets and tradeoffs.
I FORESAW IT—Here’s what the letters stand for: interests; factual and financial research; options; rapport, reaction and responses; empathy and ethics; setting and scheduling; alternatives to agreement; who; independent criteria; topics, targets and tradeoffs.
As we’ll see, the mnemonic follows a certain logical flow; you can start at the beginning and work your way to the end, and it really will guide you. But you don’t have to; you can starting anywhere and jump around.
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In fact, as you answer one section, you often naturally come up with ideas that belong in another section, so there’s a kind of natural, self-reinforcing quality. However you wish to use it, the I FORESAW IT can help you, as many of my students will attest. You can use the I FORESAW IT in as few as 15 minutes in a crisis, and it really will help you. For important talks, you may want to take considerably more time—hours, days, weeks, perhaps even more.
The Mnemonic in Action
Let’s make things interesting by throwing you into a crisis scenario that’s based on a real set of events. Imagine your parents, your sibling, and you made weekend reservations at the four-star Omega Hotel in Chicago so that you can attend a wedding nearby on Sunday evening. You booked using an American Express card and got a confirmed reservation for one room with a double bed for your parents, a single bed for your sister, and a folding bed for yourself.
Learn more: The Other Negotiator
The cost of the room was $99 per night, or, approximately $200 for the entire weekend. But once you arrive at the hotel, while standing in line at the registration counter, you overhear incoming guests ahead of you being told of a problem with their rooms.
Apparently, the rooms they reserved are still occupied by the previous guests, and those guests have chosen to extend their visit one more night. The desk clerk tells them the city of Chicago prohibits the hotel from evicting guests in such a situation. She says the Omega will give the new guests a free taxi to the Whitman Hotel, a nearby four-star, where they will have a similar room at the same rate. She says they’ll call them tomorrow if rooms become ready at the Omega.
You have a strong feeling you’ll have the same problem; you may wind up spending your weekend packing and repacking, moving back and forth between two hotels, and not even getting compensation for the inconvenience. So before reaching the desk, you ask your family to step out of the line. You explain it would be wise to systematically prepare in case there’s a problem with your room too. So here you are sitting in the lounge with your bags. Can you and your family transform the situation with the help of the I FORESAW IT? Well there it is, a classic travel problem, and a true case one of my students experienced. In just a moment, we’ll see whether the I FORESAW IT can make a difference.
But wait, come on. Who in his right mind, in the middle of a travel crisis, says to himself, “I ought to do a homework assignment right now”? Excellent question. You know what, let’s drop the idea. Let’s just see how normal people might deal with the situation without all this busy work. So imagine you just ask the desk clerk for your room. The clerk apologizes and explains she’s going to give you the same deal that she gave the group ahead of you. You reply, “That’s not acceptable. I want my room, please!” And she apologizes and says, “I’m sorry ma’am, but my hands are tied.” You ask for an upgrade. She says there are no other rooms in the hotel. You ask to speak with the manager. She says he’s not there. Now you’re flummoxed. You complain for a while. She’s polite but unmoved. Now what do you do?
Learn more: The Art of Skilled Listening
“I” is for “Interests”
So let’s take out a piece of paper and write at the top, I FORESAW IT plan—Omega hotel. Then, in the upper, left-hand corner, let’s write the letter “I” and spell out the word interests. And so we’ve begun the process. We are about to systematically think about each of the questions, starting with this one. What are my and my family’s interests here? What are the other side’s interests here? What common interests do we share?
Quickly, you identify several: convenience, that is, being close to the wedding, stay put without having to pack and repack, some compensation for your troubles, and, fair and respectful treatment. We’ll use that list soon to help us discover possible solutions, and we’ll also want to use it test any offer we receive to make sure it satisfies our needs. So this list is doubly helpful.
So what are the hotel’s interests? You quickly list a few: reputation, repeat business, abide by the law, and reasonably control costs. That helps in several ways. First, it helps you realize that some ideas will clearly be nonstarters, like, “hey, just throw those people out of our room!” It’s against the law. But now you also see better that the hotel probably knows that it has a problem and may welcome help solving it if it is reasonable.
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Since you are dealing directly with the clerk, it’s also useful to list her separate interests. Those include: looking good to her boss, keeping customers reasonably happy, not being abused, and keeping her job. That’s valuable too; most unhappy hotel guests treat clerks badly in these situations and falsely assume the clerk is an enemy. But the clerk will be much more willing to help if you see her more accurately, more accurately than that, at least.
What are common interests? Common interests can be particularly persuasive, because they build trust and encourage collaboration. Here, you have several: you both want a fair outcome; you both want to resolve the matter quickly; and you both want to be civil and polite. When the conversation becomes tense, you can defuse it by simply saying, “I know we’re a bit frustrated at the moment, but we’re on the same side here. If we work together we can come up with a fair outcome quickly and amicably; I know you want to be fair, and I do too.”
Learn more: Negotiating Creatively
“F” is for “Factual and Financial Research.”
That brings us to the next letter in the I FORESAW IT mnemonic, F. So we can write, factual and financial research. What research would you like to do before you go talk to the clerk here at the Omega? You might want to go online and find out about other hotels. You might want to check with your Chicago family for advice. You might want to talk to other guests to find out what they’ve been offered. You could check with the Chicago’s tourist board and find out what the law really is. And you might want to call American Express or another travel advisor and find out what the industry standard is in such a situation.
When you call American Express, they tell you the industry standard is that a four-star hotel will give one free night at a nearby peer hotel, and sometimes two nights, if it can’t keep the reservation. How do you feel now? Thanks to your quick research, you’ve discovered a powerful piece of information. When the time comes, you can say something like this. “I know we both want to be fair, so to be sure I was being fair, I checked with American Express to see what’s appropriate in situations like this. Here’s what they tell me is the norm for top hotels like yours. I’d be happy to share their number with you if you would like. Since the Omega is a top hotel, I wonder if we could follow the industry standard?”
Here, you’ve appealed to solid facts, a credible third-party, and a common interest in fairness, and proposed a solution that meets each of the key interests you have.
Here, you’ve appealed to solid facts, a credible third-party, and a common interest in fairness, and proposed a solution that meets each of the key interests you have. You’re not home free, but your bargaining power has clearly improved.
Learn more: Knowledge Is Power
“O” is for “Options”
The next letter is “O” for options. Excellent negotiators consider over five options per negotiable issues. Since I want you to be an excellent negotiator, I want you to develop six per topic. So here, as we’ve seen, the idea is simply to brainstorm. Then, later, you can group them into categories.
Here at the Omega, there are many critical options you might want to consider: stay at the Whitman for two nights; receive a cash settlement and use it to find your own new hotel room; ask for a free upgrade for Sunday night; cover all meals and transfer costs; get frequent flyer miles to defray the cost of the flight home; and so on. Many of these ideas will not work; one or two of them may be brilliant. You won’t suggest more than one or two at first. But if the clerk says no, you can turn to the next, and so on.
“R” is for “Rapport, Reactions, and Responses”
The next letter is R for rapport, reactions, and responses. Skilled negotiators want to be hard on the problem, soft on the person, and so they carefully think about ways to build rapport and connection. But they also prepare themselves to respond to hard reactions.
Here at the Omega, you first want to jot down a couple of things you want to say at the outset to set the right tone. It could be as simple as this: “Hi.” “How are you?” And, “looks like you’re having a bit of a challenging evening.” There’s no one right phrase; the key is showing intentional respect.
But what if the clerk quickly pushes back with phrases like, this is all I can give you; your suggestion is against policy; or, I don’t have any authority to give you what you are asking for? Fortunately, you’ll be ready. Because every part of the I FORESAW IT and your negotiation training can help you develop good responses.
For example, if she says, “I don’t have any authority to do that for you,” you can reply, “that’s OK. I wonder if there are things you do have authority to do that might help?” And then you can suggest another creative option. Or you could say, “That’s OK. Should I speak to the manager about that?” That is, change who you speak with.
You won’t have a great response ready to go for every reaction. But practice can help. So as we’ve said, you may want to take this further and actually do a quick role play with your family. That’s a good way to get ready emotionally and predict likely challenges.
Learn more: Credibility and Rapport
“E” is for “Empathy and Ethics”
The next letter is E, empathy and ethics. The ability to deeply understand the other negotiator is vital. As we said, I believe it’s important for its own sake, regardless of whether it gains us anything. But fortunately, it happens that empathy can also help you negotiate much better.
Here at the Omega, thinking about the situation from the clerk’s perspective can be revealing. So, Presto! You’re the clerk now. How do things look from behind the desk? You probably feel stressed, wishing you could help, tired of being attacked by one angry customer after another, and worried that if you give some special deal to one customer, all the rest will demand it too, which may put you in trouble with your boss.
Notice anything? The clerk is probably struggling, and may be interested in helping, but unsure how to do it without giving away the store. To help her help you, then, you may need to be more than just polite; you may need to offer her choices, and do it discretely, so she can quietly and safely agree with you, if she wishes.
The letter E also stands for ethics—there are many ethical traps to watch out for in negotiations and conflicts. Spotting them can be a very practical way to avoid problems. For example, here at the Omega, the clerk seems to face an ethical dilemma herself; if she gives you the hotel room, she breaks the law; if she doesn’t, she breaks the hotel’s promise. Demanding that she throw the other guests out only pushes her further into that dilemma, which will frustrate her and do you no good. Good thing you spotted that.
Learn more: Can You Negotiate When Trust Is Low?
“S” is for “Setting and Scheduling”
The next letter is S, which stands for setting and scheduling. Setting and scheduling can be hidden influencers that skilled negotiators think about carefully. Here at the Omega, speaking loudly in front of the large group of other guests may put the clerk on the defensive and make it much harder for her to change her mind. Speaking discreetly off to the side may have the opposite effect. Similarly, scheduling the conversation for moment when there aren’t so many people around may also help.
“A” is for “Alternatives to Agreement”
The next letter is A, which stands for alternatives to agreement. Understanding what each side can do if there’s no deal is central to gauging how much relative power, or leverage, you have in the negotiation, as well as a key to knowing when to walk away, when to give in, and when to negotiate.
Understanding what each side can do if there’s no deal is central to gauging how much relative power, or leverage, you have in the negotiation…
Recall that it’s wise to list five possible alternatives to agreement that each side has so you don’t miss something. Here at the Omega, your alternatives include staying at another hotel without the Omega’s help; complaining to the CEO; staying with relatives; making a stink on the Internet; and, complaining to travel organizations.
The Omega’s alternatives include simply refusing us; losing us as customers; perhaps losing others as well; relying on other customers to show up when the current occupants leave. A lot depends on how busy things are in the city and at the hotel this weekend, which may deserve some further research.
Learn more: Basics of Distributive Negotiation
“W” is for “Who”
The next letter is W, which stands for who. Skilled negotiators find strength and insight by listing who else away from the talks may be influential. Here at the Omega, that list includes your family, the bride and groom, competing hotels, the city of Chicago, American Express, other customers, and perhaps most importantly, the clerk’s boss.
This list suggests people we may want to contact for help and advice, and people whose agreement we must also win. Making a proposal that the clerk can happily share with her boss may be essential, and keeping her boss in mind will help you frame the discussion in winsome ways. “Since other excellent hotels seem to offer two free nights in many cases, and since American Express confirms that, I wonder if that might be a basis to reach out to your boss for permission.”
“I” is for “Independent Criteria”
The next letter is I, which stands for independent criteria. These are objective standards; trustworthy benchmarks that can be persuasive because both sides find them credible.
Here at the Omega, your factual research revealed one, the industry standard, as reported by American Express. We’ve already talked about its potential persuasive power. If time permits, we may want to strengthen it by finding an additional benchmark so that if the clerk rejects American Express, we can show further reasonableness by sharing a second one.
“T” is for topics, “Targets and Trade-Offs”
The last letter, T, stands for topics, targets and trade offs—the summation of the plan where we organize key points about creative and competitive aspects on a single sheet.
In the last article in this series of negotiation tactics, Successful Negotiation Tactics—Making the Best of a Bad Situation, we will look at the real-life conclusion to the Omega Hotel problem, and how my student applied the I FORESAW IT mnemonic to his situation.