The 7 Negotiation Principles I Try To Follow

I have done many negotiations in my life, and in most cases, I failed rather than won. I don't necessarily see that as a negative, because I have managed to win some important ones. Besides, some of the ones I failed to conclude successfully involve the cases where I walked out from, deciding they were not worth the trouble. No, I am not exactly referring to 'the grapes are sour' variety; there were indeed some juicy grapes I missed out on. But there were many which looked trouble from the word go, and while I failed to get a win, it feels like winning when I look at it with some perspective. In all, I shall consider myself to be a fairly successful negotiator.

So, what are those 7 negotiation principles I always follow?

But before that, an honest statement: I don't know why it is seven, or whether there are indeed seven. Just that seven looked like a fine number to start the conversation - with its pedigree dating back to Steven Covey, or even to God, who finished everything by the sixth day and went to sleep on the Seventh, but still kept it on record.

So, why did I say 7 principles just like that? Because, it made me feel in control, on top of things, as if I know what I am talking about. To be absolutely honest, we make up a number of things in life out of thin air, and this is one of those things. But, this also gives me the first Principle - The Sense of Being in Control - of negotiation.

1. The Sense of Being in Control: I shall insist on being on the driver's seat in most of the negotiations, defining the agenda. Not that I am pushy - those who know me know that I am not. But, I never get to a negotiating table without having a feel for the other person at the other end of the table, without knowing their needs and desires, and without defining an agenda. So, whatever is the number of the items on the agenda - one, five, twenty - I would have a role in defining them. In situations where I was denied the privilege and an agenda was already set up for me, I shall still come prepared with my sense of priorities and try to sell this to the other people around the table.

2. The Sense of Power : A step from being in control is feeling that sense of power. Power as in power of controlling things as well as power of giving up. Some of my worst negotiation performances were under stress, when I had a gun - notionally - put on my head. I knew I was doing things wrong - I was too desperate to close the deal. After a while, though, I realized I could not continue that way and negotiated my way out of that position. How? I told myself that I do not need a job which takes away my intelligence and ability, and turned on the negotiating heat on my boss who was trying to put the gun on. I said he should fire me. He backed off, because he knew I was doing the right thing. I could at least negotiate better afterwards.

3. The Sense of the Detail: I have seen too many bad deals made, which looked perfect on the negotiation table. This was because the negotiations were hasty and bad. I always bring the details to the negotiation table and do not reach a conclusion unless all of those have been addressed. That makes me a painful negotiator sometimes, even a boring one. But I have suffered from not looking at the details earlier, and do not want to make the same mistakes ever again.

4. The Sense of Common Goal: I am primarily talking of the business negotiations here, but this could be true for any sort of negotiation: There is nothing to negotiate for if there are no common goals for both, or all, the parties. This is something which I focus on first - even before, or sometimes during or after, setting the agenda - what are the common goals we are negotiating for. This tells me whether the negotiation is worth my time and effort at all.

5. The Sense of Long Term: Some time it works against me, but most of the time it worked - to judge the long term effects of the deal right at the negotiation table. It can get difficult, but I have seen that it helps. I have been told how you can think long term when everything is so uncertain around you. But I disagree - I don't think long term thinking has anything to do with certainty in the environment. It is about finding the common threads which are likely to remain the same whatever is the environment. Like, human relationships or integrity. Commit to such principles as goals and you will start thinking long term; focus on how much cash return you will earn, and you are on the short term trap. The trick is to get the balance, and since short-termism is the lazy and the obvious option, the work is to get the long-term side of things right.

6. The Sense of Win-Win: I just talked about power. Negotiations are all about getting the power equation right, which essentially means, in your favour. But I don't think it should end there. You can get it right and win at the table, but I do not think it should end there. Once you have got things going in your favour, it is essential that you start asking - what does the other person get. Because if everyone's not winning, it will not be a successful negotiation. At least in business, where most such activities involve creating and enhancing value. So, think of getting power to be able to define the agenda and keep everyone fair and focused [and if you don't have the power, you will be kicked around and can not make an iota of difference], but power is not for value grab.

7. The Sense of Progress: I see negotiations thus: a meeting of minds from two opposing ends, which is necessitated by a common opportunity or crisis. So, I expect someone to set the agenda [to use philosophy, propose a thesis] and someone to disagree [dispose, or position an anti-thesis], and then go through a process of arguments and discourse to reach a better solution than either parties have proposed [synthesis]. I used the analogies from philosophy because in negotiation too, one must create value and achieve a sense of progress by the act of negotiation itself. There must be some progress, and the solution reached after the negotiation should be better than the two [or more] solutions that were on table before negotiations. So, some way, negotiations are not about winning or losing, but about achieving progress.

One may feel, after reading this post, that I am talking about rather obvious things. Besides, I have missed out on the usual tips people tend to focus on, the bio-mechanical techniques of negotiation like body language and opening and closing techniques. But, I have gone through the process of negotiation quite a few times and know that while those ideas are useful, they are quite distracting. The worst mistake you can do is to see a negotiation as an war. You would rather fight if you need to, but when on negotiation table, you are better off working together, not against, the other parties. I do think this gets missed a lot of times.


A friend emailed me after reading this post, commenting: These principles are not 'unusual', they are very Asian. Point taken.

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