Whether it’s negotiating the price of cattle, equipment or a pasture lease, hiring a ranch hand, discussing succession plans or just compromising with a spouse, ranching is much more than just managing land and cattle. There are plenty of business dealings ranchers must navigate in order to be successful.
Too often, when two or more parties meet to make a big decision, the conversation can get muddled with misunderstanding, frustration, tempers, and mixed emotions. If mishandled, these discussions can lead to strain at family gatherings, financial overextension, or commitments that aren’t in the best long-term interests of the ranch.
According to Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, veteran negotiation and contracts expert and author of “Think Like a Negotiator,” there are seven “must ask” questions successful negotiators ask to ensure the best deal is made. These include:
1. Would you explain the reasons for your position?
Lewis-Fernandez says that if you can’t clearly understand the other party’s reasoning through simple discussions, the best way to discern their position and motivation on deal points is to directly ask them their rationale for what they’re offering or seeking. “Once you understand the logic behind requests and demands relating to a deal structure, you are better able to control discussions and create agreeable terms,” she says.
2. Is there any reason you can’t?
Lewis-Fernandez says this is a great question to ask when you know the other party is avoiding or rejecting your offer for no legitimate reason. “Sometimes people make shallow excuses for why they can’t do something or shoot down an idea with short-sighted objections. Most often when the question is asked this way, the other party has a hard time coming up with truly legitimate reasons that effectually negate your argument or offer,” she says. When the other party voices a viable objection, it gives you the opportunity to directly address the objection with sound reasoning of your own.
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3. Why do you think this is a fair and reasonable term or condition?
“A fair and reasonable term or condition, such as a price, proposal or provision, can be defined as what’s prudent under competitive market conditions, given a reasonable knowledge of the marketplace,” she explains. “Fair implies a proper balance of conflicting or divided interests. Reasonable means not extreme or excessive. So a fair and reasonable term or condition is one that is balanced between all parties and somewhat moderate. If you are concerned about the reasonableness of an offer, do some due diligence to research comparables.”
4. Why is that point or provision important?
Lewis-Fernandez says that understanding the significance of a specific point or provision is imperative, and can even result in an adjustment of your own position.
She says, “The answer the other side provides will allow you to fine tune your strategy based on this key learning about their critical priorities and values. Understanding, acknowledging and validating the significance of the opposing party’s requests can not only help you recalibrate your approach, but also create more of a team atmosphere or affinity that builds a level of trust at a faster pace.”
5. What part of my proposal gives you the most concern?
She suggests breaking an offer down into individual elements to make it easier to tackle concerns from each party.
“Discussing a proposal point-by-point, particularly specific areas of utmost concern, allows the parties to come to small fractional agreements that may not otherwise have been reached if you discussed the arrangement as a whole,” she says. “Dealing directly with the most difficult deal points in triage mode—from the most to least problematic for the other side—shows you care. This can get you past those sticking points and greatly expedite the entire process.”
6. What documentation or proof do you have to validate your position?
A good, old-fashioned cowboy handshake is no longer good enough in today’s modern world. It’s good to trust who you’re dealing with, but don’t forget to verify.
Lewis-Fernandez says, “It’s important to know that what is being presented is 100% factual. A trusting nature will not serve you well in a negotiation where decisions are being made based on certain claims. And, while cliché, it’s often true: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is an important place for skepticism in a negotiation in that it’ll fuel your need for verification prior to officiating an agreement or signing on the dotted line. Once that ink is dry, undoing a deal, however disingenuous, is far more difficult and quite unpleasant.”
7. What else do you think I should know?
Be diligent in any discussion and don’t leave any stone unturned. It’s important to ask to be sure everything has been covered.
“There could be something you don’t know that, once revealed, might actually change your way of thinking, what you are seeking, or the strategy you originally started with,” she says. “In any negotiation, however large or small, direct communication with open ended questions is vital. People often don’t ask such questions because they fear rejection or how they will be perceived.”
It never hurts to polish up on your negotiating skills to make the best deals in your ranching operation. Keep these seven questions in mind the next time you’re in a position of negotiating or making a big decision.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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