When negotiating, is there a way we can get “clues” on our counterpart’s situation so that it can help us proceed with next actions? – Tony from Metro-Manila
 
First of all, I sense a serious negotiation practitioner in you, despite the brevity of your query. While a lot of people doing negotiations are naively and myopically focused on their own side’s plans, the mark of a serious negotiator is a heightened consciousness for the other side’s actions, particularly reading (tactical) and anticipating them (strategic). To answer your question…YES, there is a way!  Offers, counteroffers and consequent concessions give you hints to your counterpart’s situation as well as yours to them. Let me focus this article on that then.  Prudence and diligence, however also point out the need for you to consider offers, counter offers and concessions in the context of negotiating styles of the parties involved as well as the prevailing negotiation atmosphere or changes occurring to it.  If you’re interested, there’s more on these in a Mansmith program called Negotiation Strategies and Secrets.
 
WHAT OFFERS, COUNTEROFFERS AND SUBSEQUENT CONCESSIONS REVEAL
 
The initial offer is likened to a camouflaged sniper’s first shot. Such a shot is hard to locate unless you chanced upon looking at that very direction at that precise moment, and thus, had a glimpse of the muzzle flash or any other tell-tale signs of sniper presence. It is more likely though that you happen to be a very experienced counter sniper who knows where to look when anticipating a sniper’s probable position, relative to the target and are by intention looking at such possibilities.  Translated back to negotiation context, the first one, (had a glimpse) refers to having stumbled on critical information by chance while the second (knows where to look) is brought about by a combination of using concession value analysis and nego-mapping, valuable tools I have developed for use in tactical and strategic negotiation planning.
Initial offers may be exploratory feelers or just about the real thing already. Initial offers can be used to test a counterpart’s initial position (counteroffer), the relative presence or absence of power and time advantage or disadvantage.  If the offer can somehow be read, the counter offer, being by nature a response, is easier to read  and the subsequent concessions, much revealing indeed!  This is likened to a thief’s ruse, purposely tripping the alarm at a safe distance and observing reaction in terms of timing, relative strength, actions, components and key drivers.
 
‘T.R.A.C.K.-ing’ YOUR COUNTERPART’S MOVES
 
‘TRACK-ing’ refers to Timing, Relative Strength, Actions, Components and Key Drivers.  Timing, Actions and Components are the observable items while Relative strength and Key drivers are usually inferred based on the earlier three mentioned. 
 
As an example, a fast or slow reaction to an offer can reveal the relative importance of the deal to the parties as well as the perceived relative strength. Another example is that, when the action immediately combines multiple outbound concessions instead of progressively using them, this may reveal time pressure, relative perceived values of outbound concessions, relative importance of inbound concessions, importance of the deal altogether, a weak walk-away position, etc. The subsequent moves will confirm some if not all of these.   In terms of components, earlier offered concessions reveal their relative value to be less than subsequent concessions that can be used to replace them.  Key drivers are revealed when actions, tend to orbit around them or instead create a diversion to veer away from revealing them. There are many more.
 
CONCLUSION
 
True enough, negotiation moves such as, offers, counteroffers and subsequent concessions can be read by ‘TRACKing’ them.  By understanding their dynamics and taking these in the relative context of negotiating styles and the negotiation atmosphere, tactical moves or better yet strategically mapped actions can be confirmed and executed more efficiently. All these are of course in line with negotiation optimization, that is, getting all parties to win at the highest yield for your side with the least input expended. 
 


Rowen Untivero is a Partner and Chief Sales Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., the country’s leading marketing and sales, strategy and innovation training company.  He is the developer/training master of Selling Science and three Negotiation Courses (Tactical, Strategic and Language of Negotiation), where related framework, processes, strategies and tools can exclusively be learned. Please send your questions, comments or feedback to mentors@mansmith.net. You can also visit www.mansmith.net.