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“Negotiation” - some people dread it. Some people love it.

I was one of the former not long ago, at work.

Matrix organisation structures irritated me. Conflicts frustrated me. I was drained in just participating in negotiations. Not to talk about the win-lose outcomes/lose-lose outcomes.

The soft-hate used to linger in the environment long after the negotiation ended till something else caught people’s fancy. I searched for a “veto” who could magically put the negotiation to rest every time by taking some decision. I tried dodging negotiations with a flight/ fight response. Nothing worked :-(

Then came a point where I could not longer tolerate my response to it anymore.

So I started to look for better ways of handling it.

I started observing negotiations - both formal, informal. After a few months, the below were my findings:

  1. There were negotiations where all the parties negotiating didn’t exactly get all they wanted. Still when they parted after the meeting, there was a smile on their faces & humour about the whole negotiation. The whole room simply lit up.

  2. There were negotiations where someone brought up an idea which made the outcomes better for both parties. It was strange how they couldn’t individually think of the better idea outside the negotiating room.

  3. Some negotiators simply could go on from Plan A to Plan B, to Plan Z in no time.

  4. Some negotiations yielded results only because the negotiating parties shared their values/ principles/intent rather than just good negotiating terms.

So I started trying out some of the above and got much better results than what I used to before.

When I sit in the coach’s chair today, ‘getting better at negotiation’ is a common goal I hear day in and day out.

One of the resources, I recommend to read on the subject is “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher, William Ur & Bruce Patton. The book is a quick read and explains how to be a better negotiator in simple steps.

The steps are based on the findings from “Harvard Negotiation Project”. The “principled negotiation” they talk about over “positional negotiation” is highly practical.

In short, the steps in the book are:

People: Separate the people from the problem.

Interests: Focus on interests, not "positions.

Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.

Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.

Separate the people from the problem:

If you have ever been a part of a negotiation where tempers are flying high & there is no emotional regulation - you are sure to find that there there is a blurred boundary between problem & people. The book talks about perceptions, emotions & communication as a way to separate people from problem and how to refine them to get better at negotiations.

What has served me immensely is this one pointer - “Don't deduce their intentions from your fears.”

We make assumptions on what the intentions of the other party are based on the worst case scenarios we image in our head.

This most often is not true. This assumption derails the entire conversation. I have found it better in practise to state my intentions and ask about the intention of the other. Once this is done, problem definition is a lot easier.

With experience, one also learns to see the difference between relationship issues & negotiation issues. Deliverables, Terms & Conditions, Prices, Dates, Numbers, Liabilities are negotiation parameters. They have a high degree of variability. They can be moved around during the negotiation process.However trust, reliability, acceptance, mutual understanding etc are relationship parameters that are to be sorted before the negotiation as much as possible.

So before you decide whether you need to improve your negotiation skills, spend time to understand whether its negotiation skills or relationship skills?

Focus on Interests, Not Positions

As Simon Sinek, says - Start with 'why'

The “why” behind the “ask” holds the possibility of being satisfied in multiple ways.

Understanding the needs of the other, may well be a trump card in cracking the negotiation in favour of all parties.

This is a crucial step that needs to be attended to before proceeding towards creating more options that will work well for all the parties.

Invent Options for Mutual Gain

The biggest bottleneck in most negotiations is the premature judgement that the pie is fixed.

All parties can do better with the growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.

When we separate creation of options that would serve all parties from the decision on which one to pick, we have created space for everyone to be part of the solution frame rather than the problem frame.

Insist on Using Objective Criteria

Negotiating on merits of the solution yields far better results. “Merits” is decided on some objective criteria. Sharing the objective criteria brings the parties on to the same page and makes them creative in isolating options.

That leads us to one of my favourite concepts: BATNA- Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

Having a BATNA helps one to know objectively till what point they will negotiate and when they will walk away. Knowing this gives one power.

For eg, if you are negotiating for a promotion with your boss, your BATNA may be at least staying in the same role till you get another better offer.

If you are negotiating two offers from the company, your BATNA may be what you earn in your current organisation. Your BATNA lies between the best & worst outcomes of your negotiation.

Interestingly, you an also consciously build your BATNA to be attractive so that your PlanB is as good as PlanA.

Negotiations involve both planning & thinking on the feet.

Getting better at negotiation begins with one small step to implement every time.

What would you like to experiment with in the next negotiation?

What works for you already?

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