How to Be Good At Negotiations


by Kare Anderson

Become the safe, trusted center in skirmishes and you’ll be the one others want to support.

Here are some specific suggestions for acting honorably and productively to reduce friction and find ways for bring out the better side in others. Use these methods and you’ll naturally reduce friction and reach better agreements more easily.

1. Anticipate what you want out of a situation before you go into it. Savvy negotiator, Howard Raiffa once said, ‘It is easier to deal with a jerk who knows what he wants than a pleasant person who doesn’t. Know your most important goal in the situation in advance, then you will be more able to listen, open and flexible in the situation. Without a goal, you have less context, thus you listen less and are more likely to be rigid and reactionary. You can always change your goal in the situation.

2. Demonstrate visible goodwill upfront. Establish your willingness to find a compromise and ability to be genial even and especially if you don't like the person or the situation. This is first a commitment to your own standard of behavior, and secondly the best way to keep the channels open.

3. Know that "less is often more." Especially in the beginning, listen more, talk and move less and keep your motions and voice lower and slower. These animal behaviors increase the chances that others will feel more safe and comfortable around you.

4. Go slow to go fast. When you first meet and re-meet people, move and talk more slowly and obliquely. Give them room to "own their territory" and feel heard. Later you can be more direct and move quickly. For role models, watch of the classic TV lead characters (with the sound on and off) in Murder, She Wrote, Matlock and Columbo.

5. Act as if the world is going to treat you well. Look to their positive intent, especially when they appear to have none, and you are more likely to eventually bring out their more positive side.

6. Play with your full deck. You have a wide variety of physical and verbal ways of behaving, from understated to outspoken, most of which you've lost after around fourth grade.

Now you have a more narrow range of behaviors. "Play with your full deck" by using more "cards", that is more ways of reacting to others. Widen your range of behaviors to act more like the person you are with: voice level and rage, kinds and number of body motions, etc.

When you are more like them, you will feel more familiar to them so you get "in sync" and they can feel more comfortable with you and what you have to say.

7. Step outside yourself to see the situation as the other people might. In hostile situations we tend to focus on the best parts of how we are acting and the worst parts of how they are acting. This causes escalation.

Presume innocence. You can't raise positive people on negative feedback.

8. Make an instinctual habit to refer to the other person's interests first. Practice the thoughtful approach to connecting with others, "Triangle Talk" and refer to their interests first (you), then how the topic relates to your mutual interests (us) and finally, how it relates to your interests (me.) Research shows they will listen sooner, longer, remember more and assume you have a higher I.Q. than if you were to address your interests first, and then theirs.

9. Act to enable them to save face and self - correct and you will preserve the relationship. If you think they are lying, keep asking questions (until you lose control or run out of imagination) rather than accusing them of misrepresentation. Asking questions gives you the time to see if, if fact, you were mistaken, thus possibly saving face for yourself. If your suspicions prove correction, by asking questions, you are gently inquiring rather than blaming and allowing them to acknowledge a mistake or misunderstanding and saving face. They are then more likely to correct the situation. You also leave room to escalate later if they do not acknowledge the error.

10. Honor commonalities more frequently than bringing up the differences. What ever you refer to most and most intensely will be the center of your relationship. Keep referring to the part of them and their points that you can support and want to expand upon.

11. Don't assume they readily see the picture you are presenting. Do not presume that the other person recognizes all the benefits of what you are proposing. Take time to vividly describe them in their terms.

12. Don't push to close. When considering how fast to move in suggesting a "final offer" or other form of agreement, lean towards moving slower, especially at first. The best results, as with a Chinese meal, happen with the most time spent on advanced preparation and groundwork, so the final part goes most smoothly and quickly.

13. Have a main spokesperson. If there is more than one person representing you or your group's interests, make sure that only one person is responsible for taking the lead in discussions and that each person know the content area and personality style they will represent.

14. Don't offer what you can't accept. Do not bluff in making an offer you cannot life with, if accepted. For example, including parts that you believe the other person would find unacceptable and not accept and then would move onto another alternative.

15. Make the same offer a different way. Do not overlook rearranging the same elements of an offer to find a more mutually attractive compromise. For example, in money, consider alternative timing and division of payments.

16. Walk your talk. Find ways to reflect your values in how you approach your work and all the people in your life. Your mission gives you your daily context and boundaries.

17. Be present. As many contests require, "You have to be present to win." Keep grounded and involved in what is happening right now, what is being said at the moment, glancing to the past and future only for context and balance.

18. Consider how you say what you say. Consider their perspective in how you make any request. For example, a priest once asked his superior if he could smoke while praying, which led to a denial of his request. Yet if he'd asked if he could pray while smoking he might have received a positive response.

19. Make and keep agreements. In an often unpredictable world, you build an "emotional deposit' of trust when your words and actions aren't contradictory. Then when you make mistakes, as you will, they have built up a level of trust to help them forgive your lapse.

20. Have a larger vision of yourself as your reference point for making daily choices. Establish your central life purpose and core values and let your actions reflect them. Your choices are much easier to make, you will inspire loyalty and attract others to act out their best side when around you.

21. Take your high road. Have a core set of values and a vision of your service and role in your life; relate your vision to your mission of your organization, your role among family and friends and your actions in reaching agreements

22. Use time, rather than letting it control you. Plan and act early to avoid last minute rushing and thinking. Do not be panicked when you have unavoidable outside time constraints. Use the time reassure to get more accomplished in less time.

23. Find fairness first. Remember it is usually more important to be -- and appear to be-- fair than well-liked. And, while not mutually exclusive, they are not always synonymous options.

24. Agree amongst yourselves first. If more than one person is involved in representing one perspective in a conflict, it is always helpful to agree on the bottom line first among yourselves; and to not mistake knowing the content to be discussed with agreeing on your common bottom line. We don't always hear the same things, even among genial colleagues. Thus your bottom line and specific approach bear repeating amongst yourselves before entering discussions with others.

25. Always show respect in your process even if you can't respect the person. If you embarrass someone while trying to reach agreement, you may never have their full attention again.

26. Recognize your blind spots and your hot buttons. When you find yourself getting angry with someone else, look to yourself before lashing out.

27. There is no single "right method." The best way to reach an agreement depends more on the situation than on a set negotiating style or method.

28. Show respect for yourself by respecting them. Even and especially when you have the upper hand, do not make a victim of the underdog.

29. Trust the power of trust over all other qualities. Being right, smart or hardworking is often no help in protecting your interests. Being trusted to act in mutual best interests is often more valuable.

30. Be a "synthesizer "leader. The person who listens longest at first, then most refers to others' points in common as a way of stating their own perspective will eventually gain the most power in a group.

31. Support their pride in how they are performing well. The more they like the way they are when they are around you, the greater the chance is that they will like you, even give you credit for things you did not do and go out of the way to help you, event to their own detriment.

On the other hand, if they do not like the way they are when they are around you, they will blame you for it, more than they are consciously aware. They won't give you credit for things you did and may even sabotage projects on which you are working, even to their own detriment.

32. There is no single "right method." The best way to reach an agreement depends more on the situation than on a set negotiating style or method.

33. Make them feel safe and respected. In every situation, people are guided by their fears and opportunities, their instinctual likes and dislikes. They will always respond quicker, stronger and longer to what they fear and dislike. Acknowledge and respond first to their concerns and they will be open to hearing about the opportunities.

34. Help them change. People change most easily when they believe others they respect have already done something similar. Your third party endorsements from those other people are a credible grounding for your points.

35. Paint your biggest, best picture for others. Give people a vivid picture of all that they could have and they often won't settle for the lesser option they originally considered.

36. Show them the positive longer view. Many seemingly foolish disagreements and negotiations are simply acting to prevent looking foolish later on. The best peacemakers work hardest to allay the other person's worries first.

37. Look for the real source of the anger. When someone is angry with you, consider that she may be upset with herself before you respond.

38. Problems seldom exist at the level at which they are discussed. When you are involved in any argument lasting more than ten minutes, ask yourself: "Are we arguing about what our disagreement is really about or is there a deeper conflict not being discussed?"

39. Aim humor at yourself. One way to release tension is to poke fun at yourself. Make reference to a situation where you did something foolish.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Author: Kare Anderson is an Emmy-winning former NBC and Wall Street Journal reporter, author of SmartPartnering and LikeABILITY and publisher of the Say it Better Ezine read by 38,000 subscribers in 28 countries. Kare Anderson may be contacted at

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