The difference between man and beast is that man assumes he is better than the beast. In the wild man is only a match if he has the right equipment, is well trained, and knows the jungle. A camera on safari is no match for a hungry lion!
In every dispute resolution one must assume certain things about the other person in order to make progress. As an example, you may be trying to measure when the other person has reached his limit in the discussion before you make your final concession. How you come to this conclusion is based in part on an assumption on your part.
To assume is to presume or presuppose. Assume also means to imagine. This is dangerous territory in a negotiation. You need to limit your imagination as much as possible by turning to your communication skills and validating your assumptions.
Better still, you need to minimize your assumptions.
In the final analysis you will have to make a few assumptions. Assumptions are both necessary and dangerous. It is unlikely you will have all of the information you need to make a decisions. So you must fill in the blanks, so to speak. How you do this will determine if you are successful or not in whatever you do.
A negotiator’s rule should be to assume less, listen more, and validate.
Identify what you are assuming before a meeting and, when the meeting starts, ask questions to validate your assumptions. Seek third party input to validate an assumption. Don’t make an assumption about something that can be researched.
If you don’t know, ask. You may be surprised at how open the other person is.
Especially if the assumption is about a significant issue, don’t rely on your gut. Investigate, question, brainstorm, network and research until you can assess the approximate accurateness of your assumption. No one said negotiating is easy.
The best defense against a poor assumption is good preparation. Thorough knowledge of your topic, your goal, your strategies and objectives, your company, yourself, your opponent, his company, and the issues relating to the task at hand is the best way to insure your assumptions are reliable. But we can assume that few have the luxury of such preparation in the day to day environment. So prepare as much as possible then use you knowledge to measure the reaction to your questions and observations. During a casual question and answer session you can refine what you know and what you think with great accuracy if you listen effectively and watch the body language of the other person.
Bad assumptions can lead to bad conclusions. During your preparation identify what you know and what you are assuming to be the case. Then focus you preliminary conversation with the other person on validating your assumptions. Many people use the preliminary casual discussion to build a good working relationship or to create a healthy environment within which to negotiate. But they should also view this time as an opportunity to validate assumptions.
In Seven Secrets to WINNING Without Losing a Friend, I discuss how relying on assumptions can lead to poor negotiating results.