Put simply, “the agenda” could be explained as the chronological program of items to be discussed or, in our world, negotiated.
Good negotiators know that often the order items are discussed can be as critical as the particulars of the item or issue itself. Some top negotiators feel that whoever sets the agenda is typically in the more powerful position.
To be sure, the party setting or proposing the agenda sends a clear signal that they are prepared and have thought out how the negotiations should unfold. In complex negotiations, such as labor contracts or international treaties, there is as much bargaining over the agenda as there is on the specific issues before them.
One strategy holds that agendas should be set so that the ‘easy and less contentious’ issues are addressed first. This allows the parties to ‘size each other up’ and a constructive momentum can be established before the tougher and more significant issues arise.
Some negotiators set the agenda so critical issues come up along with some other significant event such as the expiration of a contract, a strike vote, elections or other significant activities impacting one or both parties.
Now most of us don’t deal with labor contracts, treaties or the like, but even in our personal and business negotiations, setting an agenda can prove to be very effective. This is due, in part, because agendas are rarely established or expected. Since they are not expected, one party can gain significant power simply by proposing an informal agenda.
For example, let’s say you are considering the purchase of a major item, such as a car, a major appliance or room of furniture. Too often the discussion turns to price/cost very early on. By introducing an agenda (of issues to discuss and their order of consideration) one can better control events and tactfully exert power.
It might sound something like this:
• “I have some concerns about the price you are asking for this item, but before we discuss that, there are three things I need you to help me understand.”
• “First, what’s been the reliability/durability record on this? Is it built to hold up and, if so, what can you share that would verify that? What’s the warranty and how long do you stand behind this item? Can you provide testimonials/references from others who have purchased this recently?”
• “Secondly, is delivery, installation or removal of the old unit included in the price?”
• “And lastly, what payment terms or financing options do most buyers of this item find beneficial?
Working with the Issues
One could add more issues, substitute other issues and even insist that these be clarified and even agreed upon before proceeding to price and terms.
Agendas can easily be proposed, not as a power play, but as one needing information or clarification before getting to the hard cost/price issue. By doing this, items discussed early on can provide bargaining power or trade-off options during the price negotiations.
Agendas might not be applicable to every negotiating situation, but good negotiators use this mechanism more than one might think. It is obviously most effective when one plans ahead, anticipates situations and identifies agenda items.
Setting the agenda is a great technique and power source for your use as you KEEP Negotiating.