Negotiation – basic assumptions that work.

Mutual benefit or win-win concept of handshaking drawn with chalk on a blackboardYou’re involved in negotiation more than you think. I am not talking about large scale, multi-million dollar contracts, or even buying a house or car; I am talking about everyday life. We negotiate at various levels all the time: setting electronic game limits with your children, where to eat dinner, meetings at work. These are all times where we negotiate.


Here are a few basic assumptions that I use with every negotiation, big or small:

– Everyone wants to be successful.

– Winning doesn’t have to mean someone has to lose.

– Most people agree on a positive end state but may disagree on how to get there.

With those assumptions in mind, these four steps will lead you through a successful negotiation:

Before negotiation, do your research. Stick to the facts and only the facts. There is no room for emotion in fact gathering. Now I am not saying this is easy, but it is needed. Howard Baker, former U.S. Senator and Presidential Chief of Staff, was known as the “Great Conciliator” for his success in brokering comprise and passing legislation. He said, “The most difficult thing in any negotiation…is making sure that you strip it of the emotion and deal with the facts.”

What is the desired end state? Keep your focus forward. Remember your goal is to accomplish something good here.

What has happened? What has gone well, what didn’t go as planned? Be ready to discuss these facts later.

What didn’t happen? What items didn’t get done at all? Be ready to admit if you or your team missed something.

What needs to happen? What has to be accomplished to reach the desired end state? This is not a list of who has to do it, just a list of what.

Begin negotiation by confirming alignment on the desired end state. It is much easier to picture what things look like when they are done and working then it is to picture how to get there.

Everything begins with a purpose. What are we trying to accomplish (not how, that comes next)? It is rare that two parties can’t agree on a mutually beneficial end state – even if it is just words at the moment.

“Begin with the end in mind.” ­– Stephen Covey

Continue negotiation by moving through the roadblocks to success by asking questions that draw out the issues. Listening is one of the most powerful tools in a negotiation.

Listen to the other party state their case and do not take anything they say personally – you should already know these issues anyway from your research. Brian Koslow, President of Strategic Coaching, Inc. and Best Selling Author advises that personalities can cloud your vision:

“During a negotiation, it would be wise not to take anything personally. If you leave personalities out of it you will be able to see opportunities more objectively.”

When you have elicited all the issues from the other party it is once again your time to talk. At this point you should share the facts you learned that describe what has been working that is leading you both closer to the end state. Only after you do this should you restate what isn’t working in a factual basis with no judgment or blame. But ready to accept responsibility if you or your team dropped the ball.

Complete negotiations by restating the desired end state and the original plan to achieve it. Restate what has been done that worked, then discuss what has not worked. Lastly suggest and ask for alternatives to get to the agreed upon desired end state.

Think of this part of negotiation as asking for the sale, and the desired end state as your product. Remember, selling is a process of matching the needs of your customer with the benefits of your product. If you believe in your product and think of the other party in a negotiation as your customer, than you must ask for the sale. As Zig Ziglar said, “We miss 100 percent of the sales we don’t ask for.”