Whether you are negotiating a multi-million dollar project, the details of a new hire, or a deal that may be for a short duration, it’s always best to keep a paper trail. There are two aspects to this paper trail.
First, the paper trail is an internal record – your record – of where things are at. The second kind of paper trail is an external record – a record that is shared with the other party. One should keep both kinds.
The trick however, is knowing just how much data to retain and which data is critical and to whom.
Many people fail to keep a paper trail for a number of reasons :
1. When things are proceeding well, when information and events are fresh in your short term memory, when the thing you are working on is taking centre stage in your life, it’s easy to conclude that you can remember the important bits.
2. It can be cumbersome – why act as if something bad were to happen? Everything is moving well.
3. It detracts from the main purpose of your dealings ie to get on with the deal.
But there are many benefits to keeping a paper trail.
1. You can use it to refresh your memory especially if the deal is prolonged, adds more parties as time progresses or gets further complicated as the discussions continue.
2. Having all your notes with you means that when you hit a rough spot, your ability to review the timeline chronologically, to look at how the relationship has developed and the level of discussion that ensued will enable you to perhaps see a new angle on an issue you think you already resolved. It may allow for a fresh perspective.
3. When things get tricky or messy, as they sometimes can, your notes will guide your negotiation with the other and show them that you know what you are talking about because you have a certainty and level of detail associated with the assertions you make.
Time can play tricks on you especially with complications arising in the nature of the deal, the increase in parties involved and the passage of time.
Differentiating data – the internal paper trail
The trick in knowing the level of data to keep is to ensure you have the 5Ws covered – who, what, when, where, why and how.
Keep things simple for yourself by paring down to the basics :
1. Why am I entering into this deal?
2. What do I hope to get out of this?
3. Why is the other party interested in pursuing this deal?
4. What is the other party likely to be interested in?
5. Is there likely to be a meeting of minds between us?
6. What are potential hurdles?
7. Where do our interests diverge and how can I overcome this?
If you are guided by these points in your discussions, you will know the right sort of notes and communications to retain. You should also put yourself in the other party’s shoes so that you can better understand how to prepare your position.
For the record – the external paper trail
The external record, as far as I can see, is merely to ensure one thing : that the deal doesn’t break down due to poor communication. The external trail is to record what has been discussed, offered or exchanged. It is to record your perspective, your offer and your objections. And vice versa.
In the event of a dispute or uncertainty, keeping this paper trail ensures that as far as possible, both parties are on the same page.
Because this is the case :
1. Even when the other party explicitly says something, the meaning you may give to what’s been expressed may differ from the meaning the other party intends.
2. Despite what people may agree to verbally, they may change their mind later and a paper trail makes it that much harder to do so.
3. In complicated deals, in contingent deals, in multi-party deals, there are so many points at which miscommunication can occur. You want to ease the process, not leave it to chance.
4. Things in writing nearly always trump verbal comments because they are easier to verify and prove.
Next : Tip #3 Ask for What You Want.