The Best Way To Start A Negotiation

How a negotiation ends often depends on how it starts
How a negotiation ends often depends on how it starts
Image Credit: Norlando Pobre

When I’m working with negotiators who want to become better, one of the questions that I’m presented with the most often is not about different negotiation styles or negotiating techniques, instead it is “what is the best way to start a negotiation”. The answer to this question is “any way that will end up getting you the deal that you want”. However, perhaps we need to be a little bit more specific about the things that you need to be doing in order to start your next negotiation correctly.

All About The Questions

When you are starting a negotiation, how much do you know about what will be negotiated? I’m willing to bet that at least you think that you know a fair amount. You’ve done your homework, you’ve got your notes, and you think that you have a pretty good understanding of what the other side wants out of this negotiation. This is why what I’m going to ask you to do now is so very, very difficult to do.

You have to ask questions. Lots of questions. You have to ask questions about things that you think that you already know the answer to. When the other side answers your questions, you need to listen to what they are telling you very carefully. Display both empathy and understanding as they explain how they currently see the world.

Write It Down

When the other side of the table provides you with information, you need to immediately write it down. Yes, I realize that sometimes what the other side might be saying will be outlandish or impractical, but that does not matter – write it down. By writing down what they are telling you, you are showing them respect. You may be the only person who has ever done this. By doing this you are going to make them want to be in a relationship with you because you clearly respect their point-of-view.

Ask About What You’ve Written

This might be the most important thing that you do. Every so often during the negotiations, you need to pause what you are doing. Take just a moment and read back to the other side what you have just written down. What you are going to discover more often than not is that the other side is going to tell you that you got something wrong. When they say this, make a change to your notes and show them that you are willing to have a consensus on what has transcribed.

What All Of This Means For You

Ask any professional negotiator and they’ll tell you that how you start a principled negotiation has a lot to do with how it’s going to end up. What this means for you and I is that it might be time for us to take a step back from the negotiating table and take a careful look at exactly how we are going about starting our negotiations.

The first thing that we need to keep in mind is that although we may enter a negotiation thinking that we know a lot about the other side, we really don’t. What we need to be willing to do is to humble ourselves and ask the other side a lot of questions. This includes asking questions about things that we think that we already know the answer to. We just might be surprised what we learn. Next, we need to take the time to write everything down. This shows respect for what the other side is telling us. Finally, every so often we need to stop and ask the other side about something that they have told us. This will allow them to correct anything that we’ve gotten wrong and show them respect.

All of the things that we’ve discussed are simple and easy to do. They will show the other side of the table that we are committed to the negotiations and that we want to reach an agreement with them. Taking the steps to start the negotiations off on the right foot will allow us to have a better chance of making sure that they end up creating the deal that we want to get.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If you have other people on your negotiation team, can you have just one of them take notes?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Ultimately a negotiation is all about getting the other side to do what you want them to do. You can ask them, threaten them, beg them, intimidate them, or try a number of other things but ultimately all of your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques are designed to find a way to get them to see things your way and agree to the deal that you want to sign. One way to go about making this happen is to influence the other side. Great thought, but how do you actually do this?