What’s The Best Way To Start A Negotiation?

How you start a negotiation often determines how it will end
How you start a negotiation often determines how it will end
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Negotiating is a tough job. Trying to determine how to start your next negotiation can be an even tougher job. There seems to be no limit to the number of different negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that we can use to start a negotiation. We can storm into the negotiating room, throw our things down on the table, and then demand of the other side “what’s your best price?” There are countless variations on this theme. However, if we want to walk away with the best deal for us, what’s the best way to start things off?

The Right Way To Start A Negotiation

In the quest to find out the right way to start a negotiation, many of the negotiators who have come before us have tested lots and lots of different approaches. What they discovered is that many of them did not work – the way that the negotiation was started did not result in providing them with the deal that they wanted to get. Over time they made a discovery. The technique that seemed to work the best was for a negotiator to start out with commonality.

The goal when you are starting a negotiation is to build bridges to the other side of the table. You are going to have to start things off by talking about mundane things like the weather, sports, or perhaps things that you saw on the news this morning. The goal here is to get the other side of the table talking with you and to establish that both of you are human.

If the other side adopts the tactic of telling you “let’s get to the chase” or “what’s your bottom line price”, then you are going to have to put them off. You don’t want to jump into the negotiation talking about these difficult items right off the bat. Instead, you want to tell them that you’ll get to that, but first, while things are getting set up, tell me about how your last negotiation turned out. Get the small talk going in order to build bridges.

How To Conduct A Negotiation After You’ve Started It

All too often when I am working with negotiators who are just starting out, they’ll tell me that they want to get to the key issue as soon as possible so that they can determine where other side stands. I have to tell them to back off. When negotiating, you’ll want to start out with congruence. What you want to do is to identify the things that you have in common with the other side.

As the negotiation starts you are going to want to be respectful of the other side. You’ll want to be taking notes, use active listening to show that you care about what they are saying and show empathy for the other side. If the other side brings up a complaint, do not be quick to provide them with an answer. Instead, repeat their complaint back to them to show them that you’ve heard what they said. Then ask another question to dive into their issue and find out what is really bothering them.

In order for you next negotiation to have a successful outcome, you are going to want to make sure that you start out by discussing the issue that is bound to generate the least amount of issues. As you solve more and more of these types of issues, the other side will become more invested in the negotiations. If the other side says “no” to an issue, then just move on and you can come back to it later on. You’ll want to save your most contentious issues until the end of the negotiations. This is when the other side will already be heavily invested in getting a deal and they’ll be more motivated to deal with you on the big topics.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of any principled negotiation that we enter into is to be able to walk away with a deal that we can live with. In order to get there, the big question that we need to deal with is just exactly how should we go about starting off our negotiation?

It turns out that a great deal of experimentation has been done in this area. The end result of all of this investigation has been the discovery that starting out a negotiation with commonality yields the best results. Using small talk to build bridges allows things to get off to a good start. Once started, you need to pay attention to what the other side is saying. You’ll want to start out with the issues that both sides can agree on and then move on to the trickier issues.

How we start a negotiation can have a direct impact on how the negotiation ends up. Starting a negotiation using commonality to build bridges to the other side is the key to getting things started correctly. Use this technique the next time you start a negotiation and discover just how powerful it is.

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

Question For You: If the other side starts a negotiation by making demands, how can you use commonality to change things?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When a negotiation starts, we often listen to what the other side is telling us using all of their negotiation styles and negotiating techniques and we believe that we know what they want. However, in a lot of cases we are wrong. What’s going on here? It’s actually pretty simple – the other side may not know what they want! What’s a negotiator to do in a situation like this?