Your Ideal Negotiation Meeting Location
Conventional wisdom tells us that negotiation meetings held at your office location gives you the advantage. This article challenges this thinking.
The question as to where a negotiation should ideally take place is a critical one and gives rise to both well-thought advice and knee-jerk reactions. The most widely held belief taught on most sales negotiation courses and buyer negotiation courses is that negotiators are at an advantage holding negotiation meetings on their own territory.
I would like to offer some alternative food for thought.
Negotiation text books often make analogies with sports events where, true enough, home teams tend to have an advantage over visiting teams, mainly because they know the arena and have thousands of supporters encouraging them on. In negotiations we don’t have those supporters, although we do know the territory. Unfortunately, our own territories can work against us.
I do acknowledge that the overriding advantage of negotiations located at home is that of saving time, energy and expense. Modern-day buyers, for example, frequently have to fit a dozen negotiation meetings into a day.
There is much to be said as well for holding the negotiation on neutral territory such as a hotel (a lawyer’s office is not neutral territory…) particularly if both sides need to cool things down or the choice of negotiation meeting place has become an ego issue. Bear in mind that matters such as who gets there first, who pays the room hire or who pays the entertainment tab can become a bone of contention.
On balance, I believe that negotiating on one’s opposite number’s premises affords some significant advantages.
We are less likely to prepare adequately for negotiations at our office location. We may promise ourselves to get the file out at nine o’clock and be thoroughly prepared for the 9.30am meeting. But with all the day-to-day demands on our time, the reality is that their arrival in reception has been announced before we’ve begun to open the filing cabinet! At least they’ve had a car ride to discuss the meeting.
The question as to where a negotiation should ideally occur is an important one and gives rise to both well-thought advice and knee-jerk reactions. The most widely held view is that negotiators are at an advantage holding the proceedings on their own turf.
We are more likely to be interrupted negotiating in our own office location. Your counterpart can simply switch off the cell phone, but even when we request to be left alone, our very presence on the premises invites interruption by phone calls, secretaries and colleagues. Buyers at one of my clients report that their bosses feel free to wander into negotiations and sit uninvited in the corner, and observe the proceedings.
Conventions of the Host
These include welcoming politeness, the “Welcome” signs, arranging coffee, beverages and pastries, showing off your town in the evening and so forth. These conventions are not on the shoulders of the visitor.
It is more difficult to walk out when negotiating at your office location, should negotiations break down. Asking the other side to leave is pretty final.
The other side may well communicate with people you’d rather they didn’t: gossiping office juniors, indiscreet bosses, technical managers who reveal that you really need that supplier. Visitors have the chance to observe idle factory machines; who’s seeing whom from the visitors’ book, and new product development plans on flip-charts. One client, who leases the most sumptuous premises in central London, finds it exceedingly difficult to plead poverty when he wants prices reduced.
It is often to your advantage to claim ignorance of a certain document or some other piece of information. This is easier if you’ve just happen to have your briefcase with you. Much harder if the filing cabinet is behind you.
The Ego Element
If they think that making you appear before them is a victory, then let them win this cheap victory. You’re there to win what’s on the table, not win ego points.
In conclusion, when the question comes up as to where a negotiation should take place, don’t automatically say “let them come to us.” Ask yourself if you’re making a local or international business decision or an ego decision.
Jonathan Sims, is Principal of the Human Development Centre
I always suspected that my company's mantra "make'em come to us" was more macho led than profit oriented. We suffer from nearly all the disadvantages mentioned in the article. I'll make sure that all future important negotiations take place on our suppliers' premises.