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  • Writer's pictureMarc Saris

Preconditioning: The Strategic Art of Influencing Negotiations

Negotiations are more than just what happens at the table. Success often comes from the work done way before any meeting starts. This is where "preconditioning" comes into play. It's a strategy to softly shape the other party's views, expectations, and willingness to reach an agreement. Let's dive into how patience, understanding key players, a well-thought-out plan, and the skill of influence can set the stage for a successful negotiation.

Time and Patience

Think of preconditioning like slow-cooking a meal instead of grilling it quickly. It takes a lot of time to do it right. If you rush or start too early, the other side will catch on to what you're doing. It's like preparing for a marathon; you need to train and build up to it over time. From working with clients, I've learned it can take as long as 18 months to properly lay the groundwork. This might seem long, but it proves how giving yourself enough time can make preconditioning work wonders.

Identifying Key Players

To set up a successful preconditioning plan, you first need to know who you're dealing with. This means figuring out not just the main decision-makers but also those who influence them. Think about everyone involved, including advisors or colleagues who, while they might not make the final decision, have a lot of sway. By understanding this network, you can direct your efforts to positively affect the negotiation's outcome even before it officially begins.

Knowing Your Target

Creating a good preconditioning strategy means really understanding the other side. You need to predict how they'll react to make sure your approach works in your favor. It's about choosing the right time to act or pause, based on what's happening in their world. It's also smart to see how different people react to your messages, so you can adjust your approach and avoid any negative surprises.

Who Should Precondition?

The concept of authority plays a pivotal role in enhancing the impact of preconditioning efforts. Individuals tend to naturally defer to and follow the guidance of those they perceive as authority figures or experts in a given field. To harness this inherent respect for authority, preconditioning can be executed either directly, by identifying the authoritative figure within your own company (e.g. senior leaders such as CEO, CFO, CIO), or indirectly, by using a third-party expert which is recognized as an authority in a specific field. This strategic approach to preconditioning, leveraging the power of authority, can significantly bolster the effectiveness of your communication and negotiation strategies.

Example in Pharma: In our work within the pharmaceutical sector, we tapped into the powerful strategy of using authority to influence preconditioning efforts, particularly in supporting a client's aim to renew contracts and renegotiate commercial terms more favorably. The client had discovered that their medication offered significant benefits to a broader range of patient groups than previously recognized, benefits that were not fully compensated by insurers and governmental agencies. To challenge and change this perspective, we strategically engaged with authoritative figures in the medical field—renowned researchers and physicians treating these conditions. By giving these experts a platform to highlight the medication's extensive benefits well before the start of negotiations, which began nine months prior, we were able to significantly strengthen our client's position at the bargaining table.

This deliberate strategy paid dividends, not only reinforcing our client's argument for increased compensation for the drug's use across a more extensive patient base but also demonstrating the critical role that authoritative endorsements play in shaping negotiation outcomes. Leveraging the credibility of external authorities provided our client with a considerable advantage, elevating their negotiating power by enhancing the perceived value and efficacy of their medication. This approach underscores how the strategic inclusion of respected voices can effectively shift perceptions and create a more compelling case in complex negotiations.

Choosing the Right Communication Channels

It's crucial to share your messages through channels that your audience trusts and uses. For businesses, this could be industry magazines, reputable news sources, or social media with influential figures. Adapting your message for each platform is key; what works in a report might not work on Twitter. Successful communication means creating messages that resonate with your audience and prepare them for positive negotiations.

The Importance of Being Subtle

A big part of effective preconditioning is making sure your efforts aren't obvious. When people don't realize they're being influenced, they're more open to it. This approach ensures that your guidance is seen as genuine advice, not manipulation.

Example in IT:

Working with an IT client focusing on B2B software solutions, we supported their negotiation challenge of transitioning their offering toward modular software packages, a move aimed at reducing the complexities and costs associated with custom-tailored solutions for each customer. Despite the clear benefits, clients had been reluctant to move away from bespoke systems due to a preference for personalized solutions. Our approach was to subtly shift this mindset. Over a period of nine months, we implemented a strategy that highlighted the inefficiencies and financial burdens of maintaining custom software. Through strategic communications, we discussed the labor and costs required for updates and even made certain services intermittently unavailable to underscore our point. Furthermore, we shared a development roadmap that detailed the financial and operational advantages of switching to the modular approach.

This strategy of gentle persuasion paid off. After six months of consistently highlighting the drawbacks of customized solutions, we observed a notable shift in perception. One of the client's customers initiated inquiries about reducing costs and risks, showing interest in the modular software packages. This interest soon spread, and within the next six months, a majority of the client's customers had made the switch to modular solutions. This success story not only demonstrates the power of a well-thought-out and subtly executed strategy but also underscores the principle of influencing decision-making in a way that feels natural and unforced, leading to alignment with strategic objectives without overt persuasion.

Clear and Precise Messages

In the flood of information that often comes before negotiations, a clear and direct message can stand out. It's important to be concise and precise to make sure your point is understood and remembered. Therefore preconditioning messages are often short to the point and easily remembered.

Repeating the Message

When multiple stakeholders repeat the same core message, over time, it amplifies its impact. This can involve team members, management, and external partners. A repeated message over and over can change perceptions and expectations significantly.

Example with Donald Trump: Donald Trump has been a master in the above two points. 12 months before the 2020 election he communicated that the elections would be stolen. A message which he repeated over and over again. Not only that other authority figures also started repeating the message. In the end a significant portion of the American population believed this message.


Mastering preconditioning involves patience, strategic thinking, and an understanding of psychology. By identifying key players, using authority wisely, and keeping your strategies subtle, you can greatly influence the outcome of negotiations. The examples provided illustrate just how effective these methods can be when applied with careful planning and insight.


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