“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow,” or even “why put off to tomorrow what you can put off to the day after tomorrow,” go some oft-quoted and well-loved maxims about procrastination. I’ve pulled as many all-nighters as the next guy, but when it comes to negotiation, it’s preparation – not procrastination – that’s your friend. Preparation is key to effective negotiating and is the number one factor that will give you a competitive edge.

Here, the negotiation prep steps you can’t skimp on:

  • Flesh out the issues in writing. Perhaps the most overlooked yet most critical piece of negotiation prep, carefully identifying the issues before you begin will set you up for a good result. The harried negotiator often doesn’t want to “waste time” outlining issues that seem obvious. Negotiating a shareholder buyout? Value is of course vital to the discussion, but it’s not everything.  What about the perks or a title that the departing party doesn’t want to give up?  Similarly, if you’re negotiating a lease, price isn’t the only factor.  Other issues that may make or break the deal might include exclusivity or default provisions.  Writing down the issues during negotiation prep makes them become real and helps you focus on them when it counts.
  • Gather information. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was probably not a strong negotiator. Gathering and analyzing information is the only way to identify and make sense of the issues in a negotiation.  If you’re buying a new car, arm yourself with a competing dealership’s best offers to negotiate a lower price.  If you’re making your case to a potential new customer, be prepared with specific examples of how your product improved the bottom line of other customers in the same industry.  This type of preparation takes time and research – if you’re googling things in the parking lot before heading into your negotiation, it’s too late.
  • Ways to create value. In their classic negotiation treatise Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), Robert H. Mnookin, Scott R. Peppet, and Andrew S. Tulumello offer a great example of this concept. Say you’re moving across the country for a terrific job opportunity, but your new employer balks at paying your moving expenses out of concern it will set a precedent for other employees.  Perhaps instead of paying your moving expenses, the employer can offer an interest-free loan or a signing bonus that would meet your needs while also meeting the company’s.  The negotiator who always employs a “take it or leave it” approach will never arrive at this type of win-win (or at least win-not lose) situation.
  • Determining your BATNA – and theirs. In their bestseller Getting to Yes¸ Roger Fisher and William Ury coined the term “BATNA,” or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, to describe what is essentially a Plan B: the option that best meets your goals and that you will most likely take if the negotiation doesn’t go your way. Knowing your BATNA – and your adversary’s – empowers you to know whether to keep negotiating or walk away from the table.  (Learn more about BATNA from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.)

Tempting as it may be, don’t look at your next negotiation as another task to cross off your to-do list.  If you invest the time and effort into thorough preparation, you will unquestionably achieve a better result.

Joe Campolo is the Managing Partner of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP, a premier law firm with offices in Ronkonkoma and Bridgehampton. Prior to starting the firm, Joe served in the U.S. Marine Corps – 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, based at Camp Pendleton in California. Contact Joe at jcampolo@cmmllp.com