By Seth Freeman, Ph.D., New York University
When it comes to advanced negotiation tactics, preparation is key. With that in mind, try using this mnemonic device to achieve the best outcome of any negotiation.
The “I FORESAW IT” Mnemonic
The I FORESAW IT mnemonic—a powerful tool I created that sums up what skilled negotiators do to systematically prepare for important talks—is an important skill in any negotiator’s arsenal of advanced negotiation tactics. The I FORESAW IT is a ten-letter memory tool. Each letter stands for a word and a question you want to ask and then answer before you enter the talks.
Here’s what the letters stand for: interests; factual and financial research; options; rapport, reaction and responses; empathy and ethics; setting and scheduling; alternatives to agreement; who; independent criteria; and topics, targets and tradeoffs.
I FORESAW IT—Here’s what the letters stand for: interests; factual and financial research; options; rapport, reaction and responses; empathy and ethics; setting and scheduling; alternatives to agreement; who; independent criteria; topics, targets and tradeoffs.
The mnemonic follows a certain logical flow. You can start at the beginning and work your way to the end, and it really will guide you. You can also start anywhere and jump around.
Learn more about the hopeful power of negotiation
As you answer one section, you often naturally come up with ideas that belong in another section, so there’s a kind of natural, self-reinforcing quality. However you wish to use it, the I FORESAW IT can help you, as many of my students will attest. You can use it in as few as 15 minutes in a crisis, or, for important talks, you may want to take more time.
The Mnemonic in Action
Let’s consider a crisis scenario that’s based on a real set of events one of my students experienced. Imagine you and your family have made a weekend reservation at the four-star Omega Hotel in Chicago so you can attend a wedding nearby on Sunday evening. You booked using an American Express card and received a confirmed reservation for one room with a double bed for your parents, a single bed for your sister, and a folding bed for yourself.
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The cost of the room was $99 per night, or, approximately $200 for the entire weekend. But once you arrive at the hotel and are standing in line at the registration counter, you overhear incoming guests ahead of you being told of a problem with their rooms: the rooms they reserved are still occupied by the previous guests. Those guests have chosen to extend their visit one more night. The desk clerk tells them the city of Chicago prohibits the hotel from evicting guests in such a situation. She says the Omega will give the new guests a free taxi to the nearby four-star Whitman Hotel, which offers a similar room at the same rate. She tells them customers will receive a call tomorrow if rooms become ready at the Omega.
This is a transcript from the video series The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Your instinct says you’ll have the same problem; you may wind up spending your weekend packing, shuttling between two hotels, and not receiving compensation for the inconvenience. Before reaching the desk, you ask your family to step out of the line. You explain it would be wise to systematically prepare in case there’s a problem with your room too. Can you and your family transform the situation with the help of the I FORESAW IT? This is a classic travel problem. In just a moment, we’ll see whether the I FORESAW IT can make a difference.
Imagine you ask the desk clerk for your room. The clerk apologizes and explains she’s going to give you the same deal that she gave the group ahead of you. You reply, “That’s not acceptable. I want my room, please!” She apologizes and says, “I’m sorry ma’am, but my hands are tied.” You ask for an upgrade but are told there are no other rooms in the hotel. You ask to speak with the manager, but the clerk says he’s not there. Now you’re flummoxed. You complain for a while. She’s polite but unmoved. Now what do you do?
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“I” is for “Interests”
Let’s begin using the mnemonic. Take out a piece of paper and write at the top, I FORESAW IT Plan—Omega Hotel. Then, in the upper left-hand corner, let’s write the letter “I” and spell out the word “interests”. We’ve begun the process to systematically think about each of the questions.
Our first question is, what are my and my family’s interests here? What are the other side’s interests here? What common interests do we share? Quickly, you identify several: convenience in being close to the wedding, stay put without having to pack and repack, some compensation for your troubles, and, fair and respectful treatment. We’ll use that list soon to help us discover possible solutions, and also to test any offer we receive to make sure it satisfies our needs.
Consider the hotel’s interests: reputation, repeat business, abide by the law, and reasonably control costs. This helps us to realize some ideas are clearly nonstarters, like, “Hey, just throw those people out of our room!” It’s against the law. Also, the hotel probably knows it has a problem and may welcome help solving it if it is reasonable.
It’s also useful to list the clerk’s separate interests since we are dealing directly with her. Those include: looking good to her boss, keeping customers reasonably happy, not being abused, and keeping her job. That’s valuable too; most unhappy hotel guests treat clerks badly in these situations and falsely assume the clerk is an enemy. However, the clerk will be much more willing to help if you see her position more accurately.
What are your common interests in this situation? Common interests can be particularly persuasive, because they build trust and encourage collaboration. You have several here to consider: you both want a fair outcome; you both want to resolve the matter quickly; and you both want to be civil and polite. When the conversation becomes tense, you can defuse it by simply saying, “I know we’re a bit frustrated at the moment, but we’re on the same side here. If we work together we can come up with a fair outcome quickly and amicably; I know you want to be fair, and I do too.”
Learn more: Negotiating Creatively
“F” is for “Factual and Financial Research”
Our next letter in the I FORESAW IT mnemonic, “F”, is for factual and financial research. What research could you do before speaking with the clerk at the Omega? You might want to go online and find out about other hotels, check with your Chicago family for advice, or talk to other guests to find out what they’ve been offered. Call Chicago’s tourist board and find out what the law really is, as well as calling American Express or another travel advisor to find out what the industry standard is in such a situation.
When you call American Express, they tell you the industry standard is that a four-star hotel will give one free night at a nearby peer hotel, and sometimes two nights, if it can’t keep the reservation. Thanks to your quick research, you’ve discovered a powerful piece of information. When the time comes, you can say something to the clerk like this: “I know we both want to be fair, so to be sure I was being fair, I checked with American Express to see what’s appropriate in situations like this. Here’s what they tell me is the norm for top hotels like yours. I’d be happy to share their number with you if you would like. Since the Omega is a top hotel, I wonder if we could follow the industry standard?”
In this situation, you’ve appealed to solid facts, a credible third-party, a common interest in fairness, and proposed a solution that meets each of the key interests you have.
In this situation, you’ve appealed to solid facts, a credible third-party, a common interest in fairness, and proposed a solution that meets each of the key interests you have. Your bargaining power has clearly improved, but you’re not home free.
Learn more: Knowledge Is Power
“O” is for “Options”
“O” presents us with options. Excellent negotiators consider over five options per negotiable issues. To be an excellent negotiator, I want you to develop five per topic. The idea here is simply to brainstorm, then, later, you can group your ideas into categories.
Here at the Omega, there are many critical options you might want to consider: stay at the Whitman for two nights; receive a cash settlement and use it to find your own new hotel room; ask for a free upgrade for Sunday night; cover all meals and transfer costs; get frequent flyer miles to defray the cost of the flight home; and so on. Many of these ideas will not work. Only one or two of them may be brilliant, but you won’t suggest more than one or two at first. If the clerk says no, you can turn to the next, and so on.
“R” is for “Rapport, Reactions, and Responses”
The next letter is “R” for rapport, reactions, and responses. Skilled negotiators want to be hard on the problem, but soft on the person. They carefully think about ways to build rapport and connection; they also prepare themselves to respond to hard reactions.
While at the Omega, first, jot down a couple of things you want to say at the outset to set the right tone. It could be as simple as, “Hi.” Or, “How are you?” And, “Looks like you’re having a bit of a challenging evening.” There is no one right phrase; the key is showing intentional respect.
The clerk may quickly push back with phrases like, “This is all I can give you,” or, “Your suggestion is against policy,” and possibly, “I don’t have any authority to give you what you are asking for.” Fortunately, you’ll be ready. Your negotiation training and the I FORESAW IT tool can help you develop good responses.
For example, if she says, “I don’t have any authority to do that for you,” you can reply, “That’s OK. I wonder if there are things you do have authority to do that might help?” You can then suggest another creative option. Or you could say, “That’s OK. Should I speak to the manager about that?” That is, change to whom you speak with about the problem.
You won’t have a great response ready to go for every reaction, but practice can help. Doing a quick role play with your family is a good way to prepare emotionally and predict likely challenges.
Learn more: Credibility and Rapport
“E” is for “Empathy and Ethics”
“E” stands for empathy and ethics. The ability to deeply understand the other negotiator is vital. I believe it’s important for its own sake, regardless of whether it gains us anything. But fortunately, it happens that empathy can also help you negotiate much better.
Thinking about the situation from the clerk’s perspective can reveal other factors to consider. How do things look from behind the desk if you’re the clerk? You probably feel stressed, wishing you could help, tired of being attacked by one angry customer after another, and worried that if you give some special deal to one customer, all the rest will demand it too, which may put you in trouble with your boss.
Do you notice anything? The clerk is probably struggling, and may be interested in helping, but unsure how to do it without giving away the store. To help her help you, you may need to be more than just polite by discretely offering her choices. She can then quietly and safely agree with you, if she wishes.
The letter “E” also stands for ethics. Spotting ethical traps can be a practical way to avoid problems in negotiations and conflicts. For example, here at the Omega, the clerk seems to face an ethical dilemma herself: if she gives you the hotel room, she breaks the law; if she doesn’t, she breaks the hotel’s promise. Demanding that she throw the other guests out only pushes her further into that dilemma, which will frustrate her and do you no good.
Learn more: Can You Negotiate When Trust Is Low?
“S” is for “Setting and Scheduling”
The next letter is “S”, which stands for setting and scheduling. Setting and scheduling can be hidden influencers that skilled negotiators think about carefully. Speaking loudly in front of the large group of other guests may put the clerk on the defensive and make it much harder for her to change her mind. Speaking discreetly off to the side may have the opposite effect. Similarly, scheduling the conversation for moment when there aren’t as many people around may also help.
“A” is for “Alternatives to Agreement”
“A” stands for alternatives to agreement. Understanding what each side can do if there’s no deal is central to gauging how much relative power or leverage you have in the negotiation. Knowing when to walk away, when to give in, and when to negotiate is key as well.
Understanding what each side can do if there’s no deal is central to gauging how much relative power, or leverage, you have in the negotiation…
Recall from “O” for options that it’s wise to list five possible alternatives to agreement that each side has so you don’t miss something. Here at the Omega, your alternatives include staying at another hotel without the Omega’s help, complaining to the CEO, staying with relatives, making a stink on the Internet, and complaining to travel organizations.
The Omega’s alternatives include simply refusing us; losing us as customers, perhaps losing others as well; and relying on other customers to show up when the current occupants leave. A lot depends on how busy things are in the city and at the hotel this weekend, which may deserve some further research.
Learn more: Basics of Distributive Negotiation
“W” is for “Who”
The next letter is “W”, which stands for who. Skilled negotiators find strength and insight by listing who else away from the talks may be influential. That list currently includes your family, the bride and groom, competing hotels, the city of Chicago, American Express, other customers, and perhaps most importantly, the clerk’s boss.
This list suggests people we may want to contact for help and advice, and people whose agreement we must also win. Making a proposal the clerk can happily share with her boss may be essential. Keeping her boss in mind will help you frame the discussion in winsome ways to her. “Since other excellent hotels seem to offer two free nights in many cases, and since American Express confirms that, I wonder if that might be a basis to reach out to your boss for permission.”
“I” is for “Independent Criteria”
The letter “I” stands for independent criteria. These are objective standards; trustworthy benchmarks that can be persuasive because both sides find them credible.
Earlier, your factual research revealed the industry standard, as reported by American Express. We’ve already talked about its potential persuasive power. We may want to strengthen negotiations by finding an additional benchmark so that if the clerk rejects American Express, we can show further reasonableness by sharing a second option.
“T” is for “Topics, Targets and Trade-Offs”
The last letter, “T”, stands for topics, targets and trade offs—the summation of the plan where we organize key points about creative and competitive aspects on a single sheet.
In the last article in this series of negotiation tactics, Successful Negotiation Tactics—Making the Best of a Bad Situation, we will look at the real-life conclusion to the Omega Hotel problem, and how my student applied the I FORESAW IT mnemonic to his situation.
Common Questions About Advanced Negotiation Tactics
Tactics of negotiation include being upfront about your information, knowing your priorities, and keeping in mind your goal and your walkaway terms.
The best negotiation techniques are to develop rapport with the other person, use active listening, and ask effective questions.
When negotiating with someone who won’t negotiate, you should use silence effectively, maintain your self-confidence, and remind yourself that you still have plenty of options regardless of whether this person cooperates.
When approaching a negotiation, you should remain objective about the issue (don’t make it personal), frame the negotiation as a win-win situation, and form a plan before going in.