How do you deal with difficult negotiations?

NegotiationPreparation for difficult negotiations

What is a ghost negotiator and what does he advise his clients?

Interview: Foad Forghani, Ghost Negotiator.


Mr. Forghani, you have specialized in business negotiations with your company. Your profession can be described with the term “ghost negotiator”. What exactly are you doing?

I advise on both economic and political negotiation cases. The task here is to enable the client to achieve his negotiation goals. To do this, I take a close look at the bodies and people involved in the negotiation - especially the decision-makers. Then I develop an effective strategy for achieving the goal and implement it accordingly with measures or tactics. The clients are advised without the negotiating partner (or opponent) finding out about this.

And who needs your consulting services?

It is often people who have a higher degree of responsibility in business, such as managing directors and board members. The increasing degree of responsibility correlates with the need to organize the tug-of-war over motives and interests more effectively. The mandates come from all areas and industries. What the clients all have in common is that they are confronted with a difficult, complex or almost hopeless negotiation case.

What role do personal influences or perspectives play in negotiations?

In a negotiation, you never negotiate about the negotiating object. We negotiate about the added value of the negotiation object for the decision-maker (and decision-maker) in this negotiation. The added value for the individual, in turn, varies depending on how his or her needs are structured. It is therefore crucial not only to know the character and perspectives of the relevant people in a negotiation, but also to understand their motivation and driving force. For this it is necessary to “profile” these people in order to be able to work out a possible interlocking of the added value of the negotiation object with the motives and interests of the negotiating actors in the context of an overall solution. Only then can one speak of real negotiation.

Is there an aspect that should be considered in any negotiation? For example, what role do fear and recognition play?

Former US President Bill Clinton once said: "When negotiating with other nations, you should not only know their interests, but also their nightmares." This principle applies to all negotiations and a good negotiator should always take this aspect into account. On the one hand, because fears and nightmares very often influence human decision-making much more than interest. On the other hand, because a negotiating partner who perceives us as a threat will hardly aim at an agreement with us.

Keyword globalization or intercultural communication: Studies show that German business people are very often inferior in negotiations with the Chinese. Psychologists attribute one third of this to faulty non-verbal communication. What roles do you attach to facial expressions in negotiations?

A very high one. In the literature you can often read that non-verbal communication is very important and that a large part of our communication is non-verbal. Nevertheless, this knowledge is seldom enough considered and lived in the business world. In addition, many consultants often do not dare to emphasize such "soft facts" with the necessary intensity. The fact is: soft facts play a very important role in the world of negotiation. More important than what you say is how you say it.

A bluff, for example, lives almost entirely from the way it is presented. Non-verbal communication gives us away. If you don't pay attention to this, you can lose more than you would like while negotiating. Communication at this level is seldom perceived consciously, it is rather perceived as subtle. The point, however, is that non-verbal communication has a significant effect on the other person's decision-making. That is the reason why we negotiate at all - in order to influence the decision-making process of the other person.

Imagine taking on a mandate for a customer who has to negotiate with a foreign business partner. Do you have to take into account the special cultural customs of the other person or how do you proceed in such a case?

Yes. The way a person conducts negotiations is directly and to a considerable extent influenced and shaped by that person's cultural values. In order to understand a person - even when negotiating - we first have to understand their cultural values. In addition, cultural values ​​ensure that planned tactics suddenly take on a completely different meaning during a negotiation. An example: In Germany a business project is started with a contract, but in Malaysia a contractual agreement is only drawn up when trust has been created - not beforehand. Until then, everything is pure risk investment. The list of differences and their effects is endless. The fact is: Anyone who disregards the subtle cultural differences will be severely punished and left behind when negotiating.

In game theory there are conflict situations that can lead to different solutions. In a zero-sum game, the successful player wins as much as the other loses, in a win-win situation both win, in a lose-lose situation, however, both lose. Do you know all three situations from your consulting practice?

Yes, I know cases in which negotiating partners have “attacked” each other with massive demands. After a violent argument, no result could be achieved and the relationship was also in the can - so a lose-lose situation. I know cases in which it was possible, despite initial blockades, to enlarge the negotiation cake and to offer both sides additional incentives so that they can come closer to each other in the core conflict - an example of a win-win situation. The zero-sum game, on the other hand, as a model of conflict resolution is found quite often in business.

An example of a lose-lose situation is government budgeting. It is easier to accept cuts in your own department if everyone else has to cut too. Is there such a thing in the private sector or in negotiation situations?

Whether this negotiation case can be viewed as a lose-lose situation depends on the objective of the negotiation. If, for example, the goal of the negotiation provided for the reduction itself, this is not a lose-lose, but a conditional win-win situation. The overall goal, namely the reduction, could be achieved through concessions or a compromise attitude in one's own area.

However, if the original goal of the negotiation was to increase or maintain the status quo for all negotiating parties and due to a lack of willingness to reach an agreement and further financial restrictions, all sides have to accept cuts inadvertently, then one can speak of a conditional lose-lose situation. Conditionally because the negotiating parties have not lost their entire budget.

Similar situations can also be found in business. Just think of the struggles of department heads for budgets in large companies or the behavior of suppliers at open auctions. However, the latter negotiation relationship should not be viewed as a lose-lose, but rather as a win-lose situation - i.e. a zero-sum game.

What do you generally recommend for optimizing your own negotiation strategy?

There are a number of measures that can be used to optimize your own negotiation strategy. It is not possible to list all of them. Therefore I would like to recommend only one aspect from the large pool of measures in order to continuously optimize your own negotiation strategy: preparation, preparation and further preparation. The fact that we deal with the matter and the people when preparing for a negotiation not only increases the chance of an agreement, but we also think in advance of possible negotiation processes and the persons involved. In this way, we are constantly learning and can gradually develop our strategy further.

Thank you very much for talking to us, Mr Forghani.