When I worked in the insurance industry, I learned that you could figure out where the industry was in the business cycle by analyzing lots of government statistics. Or, you could just listen to who was complaining that the other side was being unreasonable.

The same is true of the meeting business, and from what I hear, things are pretty rough for planners right now. Hotels and other properties are driving hard bargains and insisting on burdensome terms.

Fortunately, if you're a skilled negotiator, you can sail smoothly through hard or soft markets. Keep in mind that although supply and demand change the conditions you are bargaining in, they don't change the bargainers. If you were able to deal with a particular hotelier before, you should be able to do it again. But what if, you might ask, you are trying to negotiate with someone you have never dealt with before, or with someone who was not around when the market was more in your favor? The chances are excellent that you will be able to strike a deal with that person, too.

Why then doesn't everything go more smoothly? Logically you might think that if the other person isn't the problem, I must be suggesting that you are. Not exactly.

The problem isn't the people, it's the way people sometimes act toward one another. In a competitive market, people get tense. Every frustration makes them more apprehensive, and they come to expect the worst. In order to protect themselves from disappointment and failure, they become antagonistic. Antagonism can take two forms. A planner may become defensive, erecting barriers to protect against what he expects a property to say. Or a planner may go on the offensive, becoming a tough and demanding bargainer.

Either way, the planner has taken a combative approach. Inevitably, the properties will feel threatened.The dynamic is simple. Greet people with a smile and an outstretched hand and they will probably shake your hand. But approach them with a fist, and they will either run or ready themselves for a fight.

Planners and properties each have many goals when they negotiate with each other. Some, but not all, of these goals may put the negotiators in conflict. But none of them requires the planner and property to treat each other in a hostile manner. Unfortunately, the struggling that planners and properties engage in can cause them to forget that they need each other. The truth is that each is willing to give the other what it wants. Accept this, and you'll be able to stop thinking of yourself and the other party as combatants in a war and instead see yourselves as partners on a project whose success benefits you both.

When you are negotiating with someone who is a partner, you should be treating him as a friend, not as an enemy.

Is this naive? No, it's effective, and in this market, it's probably essential.