Negotiation Place: Does Turf Matter?
Gain insight on how the home turf environment can offer both advantages and disadvantages at the negotiating table.
At the close of the day, I was escorted into his corner office. He was the managing partner of the law firm, and he sat behind a huge desk, in the power position. It was my final interview. If it went well, I hoped to receive a job offer.
So began our negotiation. Many would state that I was already at a disadvantage. I was on his turf, in his office, at the mercy of his schedule, and he ruled the environment.
I’m not so sure. While these factors can provide a leg up, I discovered some important information about him from sitting in his office and soaking up his surroundings. This information proved crucial in the latter stages of our negotiation. A skilled negotiator is able to observe small patterns and traits that most others miss.
Many negotiations begin with the turf battle: your place, my place or a neutral negotiating meeting place. In some cases, the home court provides a much bigger advantage. On other occasions, it can work to your detriment. Neutral sites, of course, remove much of the bias.
What factors affect this turf issue? Consider the following when deciding, or negotiating, where to meet.
In my office, I regulate the environment. While some limitations exist, I mainly control the seating and the office support functions that parties require. I could even control who attends, if this has not already been explicitly addressed. This control can provide a substantial advantage.
Recently, I was asked to consult with a large manufacturing company after it experienced an especially challenging negotiation with one of its largest customers. Last year, it was asked to send its team to negotiate at the customer’s headquarters in the Midwest.
Unexpectedly, when this company’s negotiating team arrived to begin, they were told their biggest competitor was in the adjoining conference room. A bidding war ensued for the customer’s business. This would not have happened without the customer’s home court advantage.
The company’s negotiation mistake? They neglected to address the question of who would be at the table before they traveled to their customer’s turf.
A primary reason to negotiate on your home front relates to the psychological comfort many receive from their most familiar environment.
If you’re psychologically at ease, you will be better able to make the moves required to maximize your negotiation effectiveness. Plus, we psychologically tend to fight harder for what we want on our home front than elsewhere. Sports teams know this well.
These psychological factors obviously occur in the reverse if you’re going to their place.
Some experienced negotiators downplay the relevance of this factor, claiming it’s no big deal. It may very well be true — for them. If you’re an exceptionally confident negotiator, you may be equally comfortable in many different environments.
But your counterpart may not as well. Take this into consideration.
At your office, you inevitably give strategic information to your counterpart as to who you are and how you approach matters. One of the first things I ensure when I meet someone in their office is analyze that individual’s personal and business environment.
Are they ego driven, with awards and other exhibitions of their alleged expertise significantly displayed? Are they family and relationship-oriented, with family photos all over? Are they risk-takers, with sky diving pictures on the wall? What does it reveal to you if they have an organized, neat desk, and sharpened pencils lined up on top? The list goes on.
Of course, you always can meet in a relatively sterile conference room, although they still will get a sense of the personality of your work environment.
Efficiency and logistics
There’s no travel cost, in time or money, if you’re negotiating from your home base. Additionally, you often can deal more effectively with unexpected issues or emergencies. Your resources are right at your finger tips.
But if your office doesn’t meet the parties’ logistical needs, you may be forced to meet on their turf or in a neutral site. At times, this may be the only factor involved.
Finally, think about what expectations exist regarding the negotiation site. Tradition may drive this decision. Be cautious of conceding on the location front, though, if you believe your counterpart will consider it a sign of weakness and reflective of your negotiating style.
This time, we were on the same side of the table. The law firm hired me, and the managing partner and I now were on our way to hopefully resolve a substantial lawsuit.
As we drove to opposing counsel’s office, I thought about our decision to negotiate there. Bottom line: It’s difficult to pull a walkout if the negotiation takes place in your office.
Marty Latz, a negotiation columnist for The Business Journal of Phoenix.