The Art Of Negotiation: A Complete Guide


Negotiation. You do it with your partner, when you buy a car and of course at work. Negotiation is an art form. But even people whose jobs mean they’re constantly negotiating often don’t realise what works and what doesn’t. Why did you succeed at negotiating a pay rise out of your boss? Why did your team fail in negotiating that deal with another company? There are reasons. This article aims to be a complete guide through the negotiation process from beginning to end.

Assembling Your Team

Never put negotiation teams together at the last minute or leave it down to chance. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven- everyone on your team should have a role. Otherwise, your colleagues may feel they ’have to contribute’ and you end up with a lot of pointless reiteration or accidental conflicting of arguments. Your team should have one or two spokespeople who will lead negotiations, the rest are there for back-up, to negotiate specific issues concerning their departments, or specific roles like being a witness, note-taker or operating the PowerPoint presentations. (Note taking during negotiations is useful as it means you can review what’s been said during any breaks). In a team of four, one spokesperson and one main back-up person is ideal. The other two will answer on specific issues (if necessary), take notes and make strategy suggestions during breaks.

Seating Arrangements

Negotiation doesn’t begin when negotiation begins. It begins before that; being friendly and polite to your opponent will relax you (and possibly lull them into a false sense of security, though this only completely works if they already underestimate you). If your team is shown into the room first, spread yourselves out so the two teams will not be directly opposite each other, such as by sitting at the side of the table, too. This will take tension and adversarial feeling out of the negotiation. Round tables are best. The feeling of ’two sides’ is not beneficial for commercial negotiations in which ideally both parties should feel like they’ve got a good deal. If the other party thinks they’ve got a bad deal, that may not bode well for you as they might not carry out the contract well. You might have got a great deal on price but you didn’t expect it to come at the cost of late delivery or poor quality!

Cooperation Not Opposition

People tend to forget that (at least in the world of work) negotiations take place because a deal has already been agreed on. Now we’re just haggling over the details. This means that listening, acknowledging the other party’s position and trying to come to a compromise where everyone wins will mean the deal succeeds. Trying to have it all your own way means the deal will fail and they’ll give that money or service to another company. How sad! Instead of taking a position (’we’ll do it for x amount’) and giving it up, then taking another position (’OK- we’ll go as low as y amount’) and giving it up, and so on, try a less oppositional style of negotiation. Ask them what their main concerns are, then state yours. Communication is really important at this stage. If everyone understands how they’ll benefit and what they want to avoid, a compromise can be reached where everyone’s a winner.

Use Breaks Wisely

If you’re negotiating at another company’s office, they’ll take breaks whenever they need to consult their legal team or discuss strategy among themselves- i.e. whenever you’re winning. For obvious reasons that’s undesirable. Constant breaks when you’re at a crucial point can also distract you, so use the downtime to write notes about what’s been said and what you’ll say when the break is over. They’ll be figuring out how to address your last point, so pre-empt them by stating a new point or demand as soon as you go back in. Breaks can potentially make people forget the parts of the deal they were excited about, so don’t forget to recap on the pros after the break. They may also forget their original position so you can just make them agree with you after the break, though personally I’ve never seen this happen. Don’t be afraid to take breaks yourself. If you’re negotiating against an organisation which has authority over you and acts like it’s in charge, cite health reasons for needing a break such as feeling unwell, tired, dizzy, upset, etc.

Break up Stalemates

So you’ve been negotiating- or more like politely arguing- for literally hours and both sides are feeling it. This is your chance! Negotiations are all about finding solutions and resolving issues (a lot of people don’t see it in such benign terms, of course, but it’s the general idea). So here’s your chance to say “OK, let’s all just stop. We’ve been arguing for hours and going nowhere. I propose that we resolve this right now with a solution everyone will be happy with.” Then say your original position in a way that sounds new. You might just win!

Don’t Ruin It At the End!

So you’ve negotiated yourself a great deal. Don’t ruin it now! It’s all too easy to get smug and leave yourself vulnerable. Back when I was 18, I negotiated an amendment (to clarify false statements) out of a local authority, only to have them change the wording of the amendment when they finally wrote it, so the amendment was intelligible and useless. So it’s important to be very careful with wording (especially regarding contracts). Make sure the other party agrees to your exact wording; also, be suspicious of an easy surrender; if you’ve been debating for three hours, why are they giving up now?

Don’t Ruin it AFTER the End!

Just as negotiations begin before they begin, so they don’t end when they end. If your opponent tells you to send an email cancelling a deal, be vigilant. I’ve been in a situation where, at the end of a meeting in which I was constantly persuaded to accept a decision and not appeal, an organisation admitted it had been wrong and would rescind a decision (which of course meant I no longer had to continue with my appeal). They told my mother (I was 15 so my mother usually acted for me in writing) to write to another department cancelling my appeal. The result? They thereafter pretended that we had cancelled the appeal because the decision hadn’t been wrong. So, while you’re negotiating, make sure that any actions you have to carry out as a result of the negotiation can’t be misinterpreted or used against you in future.

Negotiations can be difficult (and fun!) but remembering how to use breaks effectively, as well as getting in the negotiation mindset before it begins, and remaining alert at the end will all contribute to a successful result.