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Tactical Tuesday: Meet in the Middle

Posted by Andrew on Oct 4, 2016 8:19:26 PM

Also known as : Split the Difference, Looks Like We've Agreed on X.

Description: You started high, he started low -- and now you've agreed to meet in the Negotiating tactic:  Meet in the Middlemiddle and make a deal. Everyone wins, right?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Intent: Meet in the middle is a classic compromise. It seems like a great way to end a negotiation and finalize the agreement. But just make sure you've done your research in advance and know the market. Otherwise you may be walking into a trap.

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This tactic does not add value. It is the path of least resistance, and often it really is the most sensible course of action. But don't fool yourself into believing that you are collaborating. It's more lose-lose than win-win, in that both sides are giving up value. It's expedient -- but comes at a cost and is not without risk.

The cost? Meet in the Middle often results in the loss of value -- or least the tacit decision not to pursue more value-adding alternatives. You are splitting the pie instead of growing it. Meet in the middle is a haggling technique. Truly collaborative negotiators search for differences in relative value calculations -- you have an asset that is relatively easy to offer but valuable to him, and he has an asset that is cheap for him but dear to you. Once you start splitting differences, the opportunity for value-creation is over.

The risk? I learned a lot about negotiation during my years in China where we foreigners loved the open-air "silk markets" (otherwise known as fake markets). We were all so proud of our sophisticated haggling skills -- bragging that we were able to cut the local hawkers' prices in half or more. After all, our Lonely Planets told us the a they doubled the "real" price. Turned out they had read the same books -- and they started to quadruple the "real" price. Meet in the middle only works if you have some sense of what the real benchmark is supposed to be.

Meet in the middle is best when the negotiation is non-strategic. It's either one in a string of minor negotiations within the framework of a longer-term relationship, or it's part of a non-critical one-off transaction. But make no mistake -- meeet in the middle is a concession. Useful -- but nothing to be proud of.

Style:  Is it compromise or collaboration. Or competitive?
It looks compromising. You'll tell people it was collaborative. A lot of time it ends up being super-competitive, if you don't know when to walk away from an unreasonable opening offer.

Counter: You may not have to counter this tactic at all, if it is working to your advantage. In many cases, Meet in the Middle is a face-saving joint-concession, and the value left on the table isn't worth all that much effort. Sometimes, however, you should treat MiM as an alarm bell. This is your last chance to walk away from the table before shaking the greasy hand that will soon be around your throat. The best way to counter a bad "Meet" is to re-anchorat the beginning, but by the time you see this beauty it's probably way too late for that. Your best option is to A) inject more complexity into the deal by expanding the range of variables or the scope of the deal, or B) bring in a New Face or a Secret Boss. They're all wimpy stall techniques, but if you've reached the point where Meet in the Middle is going to hurt you badly, then this is no time for false vanity or mock manliness. Avoidance techniques (i.e.: running away and hiding) are valid negotiating options -- no matter what your counter-party says.

Topics: Compromise, Negotiation, Tactical Tuesday, Tactics

Written by Andrew

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