Peering cautiously into the dark recesses of an underwater cavern is not a sign of fear; it shows you are aware of what might be lurking within.
Sounding is a negotiating tactic designed to establish the parameters of the other person’s tolerances. Before making an offer, testing or sounding for tolerance points will enable you make an aggressive offer that won’t be so offensive as to cut off further negotiations.
During the early stages of a settlement conference casually seek to determine the parameters of a conflict. Mediators will often do this in private working sessions with each side before getting to the business of negotiating a settlement. While the objective of this tentative probing is to generate the viable parameters of starting position in the upcoming discussion, the process should provide a feel for where the actual settlement parameters are.
A tactic to use during the probative stage is humor. Appearing to tender what you think would be a good offer in jest allows you to see just how offensive the offer would be if tendered for real. If the other person does not seem to surprised or put off, you can say, ‘no, seriously let’s talk about the offer.’ On the other hand, if offense is take, you can always quickly backtrack by saying, ‘we both know that would be ridiculous!’
During the sounding phase be alert to the other person doing the same thing. You are both trying to determine the best way to get to your respective position without damaging the relationship. In and of itself, this is a good sign. It means that you respect the relationship.
In Seven Secrets to WINNING Without Losing a Friend, I discuss the importance of probing before making an opening offer.