The Value of Time and Timing in Negotiations

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Time and timing are critical components of every negotiation. When time is on your side, you can wait out your objectives, test out different strategies, explore alternative outcomes, and clarify your goals. And the right timing is a gift. Sometimes the passage of time allows circumstances to align so that your goals are either the only outcome or the best possible outcome for your negotiation counterpart. At that point, negotiation becomes unnecessary, as agreement is all but guaranteed. Sometimes, however, you have to consciously create the time you need to achieve your purpose.

Being a parent is a constant reminder of the importance of time in a negotiation. Kids always know when you are in a hurry and rushing to get out the door. They can transform each task needed to leave the house—getting dressed, brushing teeth, brushing hair, eating breakfast, getting coats and shoes on—into a separate and frustrating negotiation.

When time is on my side, I react calmly. When time is rushed, I struggle not to either give in or flip out. And the less time I have, the more difficult it is to take a deep breath and refrain from capitulating or losing it. It’s ironic because both options are essentially negotiating against myself. Both responses cause pain and frustration. It’s less emotional and severe at work than at home, but just as frustrating when I’m in a hurry and not getting what I want immediately.

I was reminded by my youngest daughter this morning about how important time is in a negotiation. I was in a hurry to get out the door and she was having a tantrum. I’m practiced enough to know that responding in kind gets me nowhere. Instead, I firmly state my position, give her a hug, and take five deep breaths. And then I wait. Sometimes more breaths are required. This time, she grabs her shoes and jacket and brings me my shoes. We were five minutes late so, like any good negotiation, we both lost a little.

I can’t use hugs with opposing counsel. And you definitely should not use hugs with your boss. But you can use time crunches to your advantage. Staying calm and firm can be powerful in a negotiation. Having the stamina and wherewithal to stay calm when your negotiation counterpart goes nuclear gives space for your counterpart to reflect on (and maybe even feel embarrassed about) their response.

The key is to not let time become your enemy, even when it feels like it is nothing but your enemy. Wait out the frustration. Make time your friend. And, if you can, pass the time crunch to the other side of the table. Great timing is sometimes serendipitous, but more often consciously created.