|How Time Pressure Affects the Outcome of a Negotiation
In Puerto Prince, Haiti, former President Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, and Senator Sam
Nunn were in intense negotiations with Haiti's military commander, General Cedras. The phone rang and
it was President Clinton calling to tell them that he had already started the invasion and they had
30 minutes to get out of there.
That was putting extreme time pressure on the negotiation, and people become flexible
under time pressure. When do your children ask you for something? Just as you're rushing out of the
door, right? When my daughter Julia was attending the University of Southern California, she lived in
a sorority house and would sometimes come home for the weekends and need money for books. When would
she ask me? Seven o'clock on a Monday morning, just as she was racing out the door she'd say,
"Dad, I'm sorry, I forgot; I need $60 for books."
I'd say, "Julia, don't do this to me. I teach this stuff. How come you've been home
all weekend, and we didn't have a chance to talk about it before?"
"Oh sorry, Dad, I just didn't think about it until I got ready to go, but I'm late
now, I've got to get on the freeway, or I'll be late for class. If I can't get my books today, I won't
be able to get my assignment in on time. So please, can I have the money now, and we'll talk next
Children are not that manipulative, but instinctively, over all those years of dealing
with adults, they understand that under time pressure people become more flexible. The problem was
that President Carter was putting time pressure on the wrong side.
Power Negotiators know that an interesting question is raised when both sides are
approaching the same time deadline, as was the case in Haiti. Think of this in terms of you renewing
your office lease for example. Let's say that your five-year lease is up in six months, and you must
negotiation a renewal with your landlord. You might think to yourself, "I'll use time pressure
on the landlord to get the best deal. I'll wait until the last moment to negotiate with him. That
will put him under a great deal of time pressure. He'll know that if I move out the place will be
vacant for several months until he can find a new tenant." That seems like a great strategy until
you realize that there's no difference between that and the landlord refusing to negotiate until the
last minute to put time pressure on you.
So, there you have a situation in which both sides are approaching the same time deadline.
Which side should use time pressure and which side should avoid it? The answer is that the side who
has the most power could use time pressure, but the side with the least power should avoid time
pressure and negotiate well ahead of the deadline. Fair enough, but who has the most power? The side
with the most options has the most power. If you can't reach a negotiated renewal of the lease, who
has the best alternatives available to them?
To determine this you might take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the
left side, list your options in the event that you are unable to renew the lease. What other locations
are available to you? Would they cost more or less? How much would it cost you to move the telephones
and print new stationary? Would your customers be able to find you if you move?
On the right hand side of the page, list the landlord's options. How specialized is this
building? How hard would it be for him to find a new tenant? Would they pay more or would he have
to rent it for less? How much would he have to spend on improvements or remodeling to satisfy a new
Now you must do one more thing. You must compensate for the fact that whichever side of
the negotiating table you're on, you always think you have the weaker hand. After all, you know all
about the pressure that's on you, but you don't know about the pressure that's on the landlord. One
of the things that makes you a more powerful negotiator is understanding that you always think you
have the weaker hand and learning to compensate for that. So, when you list each side's alternatives
in this way, you'll probably end up with the conclusion that the landlord has more alternatives than
you do. So compensate for that, but if you do so and clearly the landlord still has more alternatives
than you do, he's the one who has the power. You should avoid time pressure and negotiate the lease
renewal with plenty of time to spare. However, if clearly you have more alternatives available to you
than the landlord does, put him under time pressure by negotiating at the last moment.
When President Clinton called President Carter to tell him that he had already started
the invasion, and Carter had 30 minutes to leave the country, it was an ultimate example of applying
time pressure to a negotiation. The only problem was that Clinton was putting time pressure on the
wrong side. We had all the power in that negotiation because we had all the options. It should have
been Carter putting time pressure on Cedras, not Clinton putting time pressure on Carter.
Because being under time pressure weakens your hand, you should never reveal to the other
side that you have a deadline.
Let's say for example, that you have flown to Dallas to resolve a negotiation with a hotel
developer and you have a return flight at 6 o'clock. Sure, you're eager to catch that flight-but don't
let the other people know. If they do know you have a 6 o'clock flight, be sure to let them know you
also have a 9 o'clock back-up flight or, for that matter, you can stay over for as long as it takes
to work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement.
If they know you're under time pressure, they could delay the bulk of the negotiations
until the last possible minute. Then there's a real danger that you'll give things away under that
kind of time pressure.
In my Power Negotiating seminars, I set up exercises so the students can practice
negotiating. They may have 15 minutes to complete a negotiation, and I impress on them the importance
of reaching agreement within that time period. As I walk around the room eavesdropping on the progress
of the negotiations, I can tell that during the first 12 minutes they have trouble making any progress.
Both sides are stonewalling the issues and there is very little give and take. At 12 minutes, with 80
percent of the time used up, I take the microphone and tell them they have only 3 minutes left. Then I
continue periodic announcements to keep the time pressure on them and end with a countdown of the
seconds from five to zero. It's very clear to see that they make 80 percent of the concessions in the
last 20 percent of the time available to negotiate. So, the rule in negotiating is that 80 percent of
the concessions occur in the last 20 percent of the time available to negotiate. If demands are
presented early in a negotiation, neither side may be willing to make concessions, and the entire
transaction might fall apart. If, on the other hand, additional demands or problems surface in the
last 20 percent of the time available to negotiate, both sides are more willing to make concessions.
Think of the last time that you bought a piece of real estate. It probably took about 10
weeks from the time you signed the initial contract to the time you actually became the owner of the
property. Now think of the concessions that were made. Isn't it true that during the last 2 weeks when
things came up to be renegotiated, both sides became more flexible?
Some people are unethical enough to use this against you. They hold out, until the last
minute, elements of the negotiation that could have been brought up earlier and resolved simply. Then
when you're getting ready to finalize the arrangements these problems come up because they know you'll
be more flexible under time pressure.
Another thing that the priciple of time pressure tells you is that you should always tie
up all the details up front. Don't leave anything to, "Oh well, we can work that out later."
A matter that appears to be of little importance up front can become a very big problem under time
I remember being in Kalispell, Montana, to do a seminar for the Montana graduates of the
Realtors' Institute. These are the highest trained residential real estate people in the state. We
were doing an all-day seminar on Power Negotiating and during the break an agent came up to me and
said, "Perhaps you can help me. I have a big problem. It looks as though I'm going to lose a big
part of my commission on a very large transaction."
I asked her to tell me more, and she said, "A couple of months ago a man came into
my office and wanted me to list his $600,000 home. Well, I had never listed anything that large before,
and I guess I didn't express as much confidence as I should have, because when he asked me how much
commission I would charge, he flinched, and I fell for it. I told him six percent. He said: 'Six
percent. That's $36,000! That's a lot of money.' So I said: 'Look, if you have to come down much on
the price of the property, we'll work with you on the commission.' That's all I said, and I never gave
it a second thought.
"As luck would have it, I ended up not only getting the listing, but I found the
buyer as well. He didn't have to come down much on the price, so now I have almost the full $36,000
commission coming into my office, and the property is due to close next week. Yesterday he came into
my office and said: 'I've been thinking about the amount of work that you had to do on that sale. You
remember you told me that you'd work with me on the commission?'
"I said, 'yes.'
"'Well, I've been thinking about the amount of work you had to do, and I've decided
that $5,000 would be a very fair commission for you.'"
$5,000 when she was due $36,000. She was almost panic-stricken. This illustrates that you
shouldn't leave anything to "We can work that out later" because a little detail up front
can become a big problem later when you're under time pressure.
That story also illustrates how we always think we have the weaker hand in
negotiations-whichever side we're on. In fact, the real estate agent in Montana was in a very strong
position wasn't she? As I explained to her, she had a written contact for the six percent. If anything,
she had verbally modified it with a vague comment that wouldn't hold up in court anyway. So in fact
she had all the power, but didn't think she had any.
However, why expose yourself to that kind of problem? Tie up all the details up front.
When the other side says to you, "We can work that out later, it's not going to be a big
problem," bells should start to ring and lights should start to flash. Don't let people do that
Also realize that the longer you can keep the other side involved in the negotiation the
more likely the other side is to move around to your point of view. The next time you're in a
situation in which you're beginning to think that you'll never budge the other side, think of the
tugboats in the Hudson River off Manhattan. A tiny tugboat can move that huge ocean liner around if
it does it a little bit at a time. However, if the tugboat captain were to back off, rev up its
engines, and try to force the ocean liner around, it wouldn't do any good. Some people negotiate like
that. They reach an impasse in the negotiations that frustrates them, so they get impatient and try
to force the other side to change their mind. Think of that tugboat instead. A little bit at a time,
it can move the liner around. If you have enough patience, you can change anybody's mind a little bit
at a time.
Unfortunately, this works both ways. The longer you spend in a negotiation the more likely
you are to make concessions. You may have flown to San Francisco to negotiate a large business deal.
At 8 o'clock the next morning, you're in their office feeling bright, fresh, and determined to hang in
and accomplish all of your goals. Unfortunately, it doesn't go as well as you hoped. The morning drags
on without any progress, so you break for lunch. Then the afternoon passes, and you've reached
agreement on only a few minor points. You call the airline and reschedule for the midnight flight. You
break for supper and come back determined to get something done. Look out. Unless you're very careful,
by 10 o'clock you'll start making concessions that you never intended to make when you started that
Why does it work that way? Because your subconscious mind is now screaming at you,
"You can't walk away from this empty handed after all the time and effort you've spent on it.
You have to be able to put something together." Any time you pass the point where you're prepared
to walk away, you have set yourself to lose in the negotiations.
Time is comparable to money. They are both invested, spent, saved, and wasted. Do invest
the time to go through every step of the negotiation, do use time pressure to gain the advantage,
and don't yield to the temptation to rush to a conclusion. Power Negotiators know that time is money.
is a professional speaker and the author of two of best selling books on negotiating: Secrets of
Power Negotiating and Secrets of Power Negotiating for Salespeople, both published by Career Press.
He was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame in 1991. You can contact him at email@example.com. His
website address is: http://rdawson.com.
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