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For The Win: What You Should Know In Negotiations


“We come in peace.”


You’ve likely seen enough movies about invasions (extraterrestrial or otherwise) to know that despite meetings beginning with these words, tension starts rising. Why? Because experience has taught us that negotiations are battlefields. Whether it’s a deliberation in the boardroom, the last step in recruiting a high-profile interviewee, or even the daily bravery of running a department, these individual transactions are integral in business initiatives.


Here’s how to play to win:


Get Your Head In The Game


Developing skills for engagement starts with the right mindset. Weiss and Hughes understand negotiations as “...not simply about being skilled in the moment at the table. It's a business process, not an event.[1]” All too often, it becomes about the performance art of the dealmakers - persuasively framed statements, perfectly-timed sweeping gestures, or subtle manipulation through any form of leverage. These do not make  an enduring relationship.


Even at the  start, approach dialogues in good faith and an open (nonetheless analytical) mind. Consider whether the discussion you will be a part of, is a one-time bargain or an ongoing relationship; in long-term commitments it is equally important to set the foundation for future negotiations.


Inexperienced negotiators, many due to the stress of high stakes, often believe in the need to intimidate off the bat, to exercise influence by being non-compromising. Remember, you are not haggling at the market. Here, success is defined by both the quantitative/economic figures (cost of supplies or professional fees, reduced length of lead time) as well as qualitative/non-economic values (better communication fostered by understanding, insightful collaboration).


Game Plan


Deal making is glamorous; due diligence is not.[2]


Indeed, preparation can be grueling, but the payoff is worth the brain workout. The last thing you want is realizing during the discussion that you are investing time with the wrong individuals, are looking at unrelated non-issues, or are entirely jumping the gun by promising things which aren’t technically under your power to barter.


Know who you will be dealing with - the internet is a trove of information on reputation, history, and personal preferences. From online findings or past interactions, find out how much authority they wield, are they with or against you? Cultural faux-pas[3] in international negotiations can easily be avoided by getting briefed on business practices.


Do go over the reports and other references before the actual meeting. Make note of important points for clarification as well as possible items that will spur extensive discussion. Review your assumptions and analyses. Being prepared makes you less reactive and more strategic. 


Make sure you align yourself with your company’s priorities, the broader corporate strategy. Identify your non-negotiable (e.g. delivery deadline, standard of quality) and your bargaining chips (e.g. minimum order quantity, higher price, exclusivity).


Game Play


The book Negotiation Genius by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman expounds on what they term “Investigative Negotiation.” Exploring the dynamics involved, they provide a great map to newbies and a reminder to veterans.


Using their strategies as a guide, here’s a checklist of helpful directions:


Strategy 1

Get the big picture


Be clear about objectives (identified during prepping)

Get to know the participants, their own stated (and implied) goals, how best to win them over

Be conscious of being pressured to act fast - this is when you are likelier to decide based on perception instead of fact

Strategy 2

Uncover and collaborate


Asking “why?” is as important as “what?” when it comes to motivations and hesitations

Brainstorm: develop (fair) solutions and evaluate with the other party; the exercise of constructive critiquing provides deeper insight into shared and conflicting interests/values

Observe actively: body language, between the lines spoken, attitude

Strategy 3

Elicit Genuine Buy-in


Know the difference between being bullied into a decision and getting an enthusiastic, at the very least, genuine buy-in

Convince with facts and figures, even self-interest, but not with feelings

Be conscious if you are acquiescing solely due to a strong desire to alleviate tension, and not because of the rational defense

Strategy 4

Build Trust First


Build trust by seeking fairness in proposals and decisions; engage in good fait

Make incremental commitments; smaller milestones achieved together encourages collaboration

This is an ongoing process applicable to every instance of interaction

Send consistent message throughout negotiations; do not mistake indecisiveness for open-mindedness

Trust is currency in any culture

Strategy 5

Focus on Process


Prewire reference materials before meeting so participants come prepared

Clear communication of logic throughout negotiations

Manage time and effort. For things that need further verification, set specific action points rather than keep speculating


After the Meeting


Follow through: minutes of the meeting, review for any loopholes (ask another expert if necessary), express thanks for a productive session. This helps cement the relationship stronger by communicating commitment in action and not just words.


Like any skill, negotiating is developed best by experience. Practice in situations that are not as high-profile or high-risk, with diverse people. Evaluate yourself or ask a colleague/mentor you trust to provide honest feedback.


To sum it up: pay attention. Be conscious of yourself, of those with whom you are negotiating, of the information in the pre-meeting report, of declarations and subtext in the conversation, of the relationship. As Susan Sontag writes, “It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” That’s how you win.



[1] Weiss, J. and Hughes, J. “Implementing Strategies in Extreme Negotiations.” Harvard Business Review. 18 Nov. 2011 < > 29 Feb. 2012

[2] Cullinan, G., Le Roux JM. and Weddigen, RM. “When to Walk Away from a Deal.” Harvard Business Review. Apr. 2004 <> 29 Feb. 2012

[3] Recommended read: Geert Hofstede “Dimensions of Culture” and Edward T. Hall “Time Orientations”

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