The worst piece of advice ever given to a negotiator? Don’t share information. At some point in our development as negotiators, we’ve all heard things like, “Those who speak first, lose” or “Hold your cards close to your vest.” Not sharing information, or sharing only limited information, is one of the most destructive strategies that could be implemented at the negotiating table.
Let me preface the following by saying, I’m not about to advocate full transparency or a complete open-book approach to negotiating. What I will say is that sharing information isn’t only a frequently effective strategy, but it can also help reduce the amount of time that a negotiation takes, not to mention preserve critical relationships. That said, why do people not share information?
I’ve observed or participated in thousands of negotiations, and when I see dealmakers hesitate to share bits of information, I ask, “Why?” The majority of them tell me it’s because they’re afraid that the information will be used against them later on. While that’s not an unreasonable fear, it’s also not necessarily the case.
Yes, there’s some information that, if shared, may disrupt the power balance and give the other side a competitive advantage. That’s the information that you should protect. But what tends to happen is that negotiators can’t discern between good information to share and bad information to share — so out of fear of making a mistake, they don’t share any information at all. That leads them to not sharing some pretty innocuous information that could actually help to speed up the negotiation process.
I can’t give you a blanket rule — “always share this” or “never share that.” But I can tell you that, at the core of the issue, you must be able to evaluate the information: “How will it help me?” or “how will it hurt me?” If it can help you, then share the information and share it early. If it will hurt you, then don’t ever share it. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you decide whether sharing information will help you or hurt you:
- Is this information already available? Sometimes we protect information that’s already readily available, and we didn’t even realize it. It could be that it was shared in previous conversations or emails; or that it was in a current or previous contract; or that it was a matter of public record. If it’s already been disclosed, no need to hide it now.
- Will the information help structure the other party’s expectations? If the other party is going to go off on tangents, or if they have unrealistic expectations about the situation, it’s better to tell them what they need to know at the outset, so that you don’t waste time on things that will never come to pass.
- Will this information help you avoid answering a difficult question? We all have questions in a negotiation that we don’t want to answer. Sometimes you can preempt or avoid the question altogether by sharing certain information upfront that broadly explains the details that you don’t want to disclose.
- Will this information help you gather more information from the other side? Sharing information can encourage the other side to share information. If you can trade for information that will help you, then share it. The more information you can gather, the better.
- Will the information increase the value of the deal to you? If the information can help you get a more valuable deal, then share it. For instance, sharing volume potential could help get you a better deal. However, if the information will decrease the value of the deal, then don’t share it.
Here’s one more helpful hint: Get together with other people on your team and explore the answers to these questions. Gaining other people’s perspectives can help you see past your own blinders. More importantly, analyzing the information you have to share can give you a strategic advantage and help you close more valuable deals faster.
Let Us Help You Know When to Share Information
Is not sharing information, or sharing only limited information, chipping away at the value of your deals, not to mention costing you time and critical relationships? We can help! Drawing on 45 years of real-world negotiating experience, we’ll assist you with getting better deals, saving time, and creating value for all involved — not to mention preserving and even strengthening relationships. Let us partner you with one of our advisers, ensuring that you’ve got the broadest view of your deal.