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The Unexpected

Brian Buck
230410 The Unexpected
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After years of playing sports, not to mention other physical abuse, it finally happened — my shoulder gave out. Last week, I had arthroscopic surgery. Everything went well, but now the hard part begins as I have my right arm, my dominant hand, strapped to my side for six weeks. Then begins a three- to six-month physical therapy regimen before things return somewhat to normal. While all of this is temporary, it’s forced me to adapt to make my environment work for me. So, yes, the ability to adapt will be my focus for a while.

To take my mind off not being able to use my right arm for a month or so, I’ve been thinking about how my situation might relate to things that happen at the negotiating table. No matter how much planning we do prior to a negotiation, something unexpected always comes up. How we adapt and adjust will have implications on the outcomes. Still, sometimes it's difficult to understand how to adjust.

When I got home after my surgery, one of the first challenges that I didn’t anticipate was opening a child-proof medication bottle. We had a lot of other things figured out, such as how to eat, sleep, and the like, but the medication bottle was unexpected.

Why? I’d never had surgery before, and I don’t take medications. Therefore, the medication bottle was not even in my purview. Lack of familiarity can often be a source of surprises at the negotiating table. However, I find that being overly familiar can also lead to surprises.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect: People tend to prefer things because they’re familiar with them. When preparing for a negotiation that you’re familiar with, you tend to follow the options that are most familiar to you because they’re the easiest ones to understand and process. However, this can limit your cognitive abilities, which can be like wearing blinders while negotiating. 

At the negotiating table, your “medication bottle” might be the other side caring about things you didn’t anticipate them caring about or finding value in things you didn’t realize were valuable to them. Most negotiators plan for expected variability, but the unexpected can throw us off.

So, how could I have prepared for my “medication bottle”? Since surgery is unfamiliar to me, the easiest thing would’ve been to ask others who have gone through a similar procedure. In the case of a negotiation that you’re unfamiliar with, you may want to consult notes from the previous negotiation or people who have negotiated with the other parties. You can also present your planned strategy to peers who can offer an outsider’s perspective.

That said, even if you do the above, you may still be surprised. For example, I talked with others who had my procedure as well as my doctors. I also did a tremendous amount of research about what I should prepare for. Needing help to open a medication bottle was not on anyone’s list. The same can happen when preparing for a negotiation. 

When you're in the middle of a negotiation and you discover your “medication bottle,” there are a few things you can do to adapt.

Get clarity.

If you’ve encountered something unexpected, ask questions to help you understand the situation better. You’d be better served if you paused, regrouped, and started asking clarifying questions to familiarize yourself with this new, unexpected twist, such as: Why didn’t I know about it during my preparation? Why is it important to the other side? What implications might it have on the negotiation?

Evaluate its impact.

Once you have clarity, evaluate how it impacts your entire strategy. Just because it’s unexpected doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful to you, nor does it necessarily mean it’s detrimental to you. Take time to understand its impact.

Have a partner.

There’s no way I could’ve had this surgery without my wife’s assistance. She’s been helpful with everything, including — most importantly — the unexpected things. A partner at the negotiating table can help you in the same way. They can be a second pair of eyes, a sounding board, and someone to reason with as you sort out the unexpected.

Always remember, the more adaptable you are, the more successful your negotiation will be.


We Can Help You Adapt to the Unexpected.
No matter how much planning your team does prior to a negotiation, something unexpected always comes up. How they adapt and adjust will have implications on the outcomes. We can help! Drawing on nearly 50 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.

Talk to one of our experts today.

Brian Buck
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