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 >  Home   >   Negotiating Successfully
German Business Etiquette in English

german business etiquette business knigge

Negotiating Successfully

- chapter excerpt - the entire article - 

In the German business world, you must negotiate constantly with clients, suppliers, colleagues, and even supervisors. Consider the following 12 points, and you will be able to successfully build freedom to negotiate in your discussions with business partners and come to sound business decisions.

Das ist doch alles ganz einfach...

  1. The perfect negotiator:
    A famous German diplomat once described a good negotiator as having the patience of a clockmaker and not suffering from prejudices or stereotypes. Keeping that in mind, be sure that you do not confront the other party immediately with arguments and demands. Take time at the beginning of the negotiations to break the ice and establish rapport. This can be achieved by discussing a non-controversial current event which might include sports, entertainment, business issues, etc. However, don't go into detail about the traffic jam on the highway, the search for a parking spot, or the bad weather - you need to save time for the "major" topics to be discussed.
  2. Set up your goals and plan your negotiation time:
    As the saying goes, "He who does not know where he wants to go will never get there." Be sure that you go into negotiations with concrete goals in mind, based on the answers to the following questions:
    • What is my most important goal?
    • What is NOT negotiable?
    • What are the possible trade-offs or concessions? What do I require in return?
    • Where is the compromise threshold or where should I draw the line?

    In order to make the threshold of possible compromises clear, you can call on a higher authority. However, be very careful when making this move, otherwise you could leave the impression that you do not possess bargaining authority. If the other party chooses to bring a higher authority into the discussion, ask them exactly what their intention is.
    Many negotiators reserve a higher authority for final ratification or the approval of the tentative agreement. This empowers the negotiator to engage in meaningful discussion until the end of the negotiating process. Every negotiator must know what his limits are PRIOR to negotiations or he runs the risk of his efforts not being approved.
    Also, be sure that you do not just have your own goals in mind. In order to remain reputable, you also have to consider the needs of the other party, otherwise a compromise will not be possible. A successful negotiation results in both parties getting something they value.
    For example: If you ask your boss for a raise, and you cannot justify your asking by listing a few of your major accomplishments for the company or your increasing responsibilities, you are destined to fail.
    In addition, before going into negotiations, it is helpful to learn what you can about the other party's interests, needs, philosophy, style and level of knowledge. This will help you to better understand the other party's position and the arguments offered. In this way, you can prepare compromises that allow you to achieve the full extent of your goals.

  3. Genuinely communicate your own strengths:
    Make sure that you communicate your own strengths, regardless of whether others have the same strengths or not. Today's negotiation coaches recommend saying what you really think. Fixed negotiation formulas and behavior schematics are, on the contrary, no longer "in". Honesty and trustworthiness are most important because the other party will quickly see the discrepancy between verbal and nonverbal communication. If you are fuming on the inside, nobody will buy the stoic mask that you are trying to play off on the outside. For this reason, it is better to allow your feelings to come into the negotiation process when it is appropriate and in ways that are constructive.
  4. Pick the right moment:
    As you prepare for your negotiations, do not just think about which arguments you plan to use, but consider which point in the negotiation process would be the best time to use them. By planning in this way, you will be able to make your arguments more potent. Timing is also important when it comes to making an appointment for the negotiations. For things that are considered to be especially important - to you, your employees or your colleagues - you should always make a separate appointment to discuss them. A serious and executable decision can seldom be made when negotiations are hurried.
  5. Be fair and objective:
    When negotiating, keep cool and do not let your emotions get the best of you. If your proposal or position leaves the other party annoyed, do not consider this to be a sign of success. In fact, this usually means you have put a barrier in the way of a resolution. Statements that start with, "You are…" or "You have…" often make the other party feel as though they are being attacked, and they may try to justify themselves in response. These statements often create defensive behavior that inhibits cooperation and encourages competition.
    If you feel provoked or insulted by the other party, change the subject and address the negotiation climate rather than the subject matter. If the other party tries to intimidate you by shouting or to make you pity them by crying, the best thing to do is not react at all. Instead, take a break, wait for a little while and resume at a new, uncontroversial or shared point in the discussion as if nothing had happened. If you feel yourself starting to get too emotionally involved, take a deep breath, count slowly to five and then reply. Another way to manage your anger is to think of something pleasant. One of the best visions to use for this purpose is a mental picture of a beautiful sunset above the white sands of a deserted beach.
  6. Listen attentively, ask questions, repeat, and summarize:
    In order to avoid misunderstandings and vagueness, and effectively navigate the other party through the negotiations, keep the following points in mind:
    • Concentrate on the other party's body language. By leaning forward, making eye contact, nodding your head, and by "um-m-m-ing" and "ah-a-a-ing" you signal your interest in what the other has to say. Always listen until the other party has finished their last word rather than starting to think about your own counter argument as soon as they begin talking.
    • Being patient, talking less, and waiting are often the keys to a miracle. Your silence allows the other party to express their ideas which will not only make them feel as though they are being taken seriously, but will also give you time to get an overall grasp on the situation. When negotiating, stamina and endurance usually count the most.
    • Ask questions, rather than simply interpreting a statement in the way you believe to have understood it. When asking, use certain key words that the other party mentioned in their last statement. "The one who asks, leads," as the old German saying goes. Skillfully formed questions show that you are listening attentively and that you are trying to figure out the motives and the background behind the other's argument. They also give you the opportunity to think things through and to elegantly change the direction of the discussion. Depending on the reply that you want to elicit out of the other party, you can work with different types of questions:
      • Open questions, such as, "What arguments are there against my suggestion?" encourage the other party to express their views and to tell you what they know about the issue. It makes the most sense to ask this type of question at the be-ginning of a dialogue in order to get into a topic and to un-cover as much information as possible. Open questions al-most always begin with "how", "what", and "why", and can-not be answered with a simple "yes" or "no".
      • Closed questions are those that can be answered with "yes" or "no". They are most suitable for clarifying issues and concentrating the discussion on important points. However, if you ask several closed questions in a row, to which the answers are "yes", then the other party may feel intimidated and react aggressively.
      • Suggestive questions are often lead-ins to assumptions or manipulations. Consider the question, "You want us to ex-pand, don't you?" In such cases, the one asking the question is seldom interested in the other party's true opinion. The best way to handle such questions is not to reply or to reply with a counter question.
      • Indirect questions, otherwise known as trick questions, are often used in job interviews. For example, "How would your best friend describe you?" When it comes to these questions, you must be extremely careful with your reply, and antici-pate such questions in advance.

    When negotiating, use the question, "What would you suggest?" as often as possible. This will not only satisfy the other party, but will send the message that you are interested and listening. It also has the advantage of giving the other party the opportunity to express their opinion or make suggestions, which helps build a foundation of mutual respect.

    • Do not accept all problems that get sent your way, but figure out a way to send them back. Problems often are not as serious as they seem at the beginning of negotiations. Try to put "problems" aside so that you can concentrate more on goals that are practical and achievable until the heat has gone out of the argument. By the way, you should know that the word "Problem" ("problem") is frowned upon in the German business world, and it should be avoided whenever possible. Use the word "Schwierigkeit" ("difficulty") instead. This word leaves more of an impression that the situation can be solved.
    • Repeat basic statements throughout the negotiation process such as, "So, I understand that to mean…" This lets others know that you are paying attention to what is being discussed and, when you express issues in your own words, you ensure that you have understood correctly. Avoid making your own interpretations, judgments or allegations. Restating a proposal or position also helps bring focus when the discussion has strayed. Repetition also has other advantages:
      • If you do not want to reply to a question immediately (or at all), repetition wins you more time.
      • If someone is talking too much but saying very little, repeti-tion will allow you to capture the gist of what the person is trying to say and refocus them on the subject.
      • If someone says something vague or confusing you can repeat or restate what they have said to help clarify your un-derstanding. ("So basically, you are saying that…")
      • If many different arguments are at hand, restatement allows you to prioritize the issues ("So the most important thing for you seems to be…")
      • By repeating what someone has said, you often lead them to supply additional arguments. Therefore, if you want to get additional information from the other party, you may find this method useful.
    • Put together a summary at the end of each negotiation phase. Summarize what was agreed upon and what needs further clarification. This summary will allow you to refer to the main points of the negotiations, structure the rest of the negotiation process and provide a basis for the next discussion.
  7. "Visualize" your arguments:
    Don't just make claims, but make your ideas clear with easy to follow steps. You can do this by using charts, graphs, or diagrams, or by using a flip chart or overheads. These visual aids make your arguments and your calculations easier to understand and accept.
  8. Use clever phrases:
    To keep the negotiations from running headlong into a brick wall, do not always reply directly, but form your arguments wisely:
    • Transform the argument: Instead of saying, "I see this differently…" you are better off saying, "You are talking about a problem that can be seen from many different angles. In this case, the most important thing is…"
    • Re-interpret: Instead of saying, "I am of a completely different opinion…" say, "That is a good point, but I think we should also take…..into consideration."
    • Avoidance: Instead of saying, "No, that will never work…" say, "Yes, that is an important problem, but let's concentrate on the following situation for now…"
    • Postponing an argument: Instead of saying, "We will not come to a solution that way…" you should say, "Before we come to a conclusion, we may want to consider…"
  9. "I" & "We":
    Use the word "I" when you are stating your own convictions. On the other hand, if you are talking about performance, always use the word "we" ("We have…","We are…","We think…") because everyone knows that a whole team stands behind a complex project. In Germany, you will almost always make a better impression if you don't personally try to hog the limelight.
    On the other hand, when talking about defeats, use "I" ("I am disappointed that…", "I wonder why…"). It is less threatening for someone to hear your individual opinion than to be confronted with "we statements" that sound like accusations.
  10. Dealing with Defeat:
    Be aware that negotiations are a constant game of give and take. Do not automatically consider a compromise as a defeat. Negotiations are not based on the principle of "all or nothing, win or lose". A negotiation strategy that focuses on destroying the other party or winning so they lose should not come into play because it does not focus on building fair and constructive business relationships. As Bismarck once said, "Whoever destroys his opponent, or wounds his opponent's pride, should be aware that he has created an enemy who will later seek revenge."
  11. Impromptu Meetings:
    Even if you set up a meeting on short notice, make sure you inform others (the best way is via email) as to what the meeting's focus and proposed agenda are. In this way, you give others time to prepare, and this will allow a more goal-oriented discussion.
  12. All is well that ends well:
    At the end of the negotiations, summarize what was discussed. Repeat all of the important points that were agreed upon. Those points that are mentioned at the end usually stick best in peoples' minds, and both parties can walk away with the knowledge that they have reached a solution. When a group has been involved in the negotiations, it is wise to put these agreements on a flip chart for all to see and acknowledge. In the case of a personal discussion, a follow-up memo confirming the agreement is appropriate and minimizes the possibility of future misunderstandings.


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