Negotiation is a fine art, and all of us could stand to do better at it. Like persuasion and sales, we all do it a little on a daily basis, so let’s look at how we can better negotiate in a business setting.

Each negotiation is different. The outcome or what is at stake varies, as do the people and organizations involved. The negotiation can be of a positive nature – for example after winning a major contract, we need to negotiate some small but important detail. It can be of a semi-positive nature, such as where an employee needs to be re-assigned responsibilities different to those first agreed, or it can be of a negative nature, for instance where a bank gets pushy about loan repayments that we can’t currently service.

Whatever the negotiation type, there are things we can do to make it a successful experience for everyone.

Often, negotiation involves two parties each with their own agenda relating to an existing agreement. The negotiation usually relates to changes to that agreement.

As with most things in life which involve some effort, working to a plan can help get better results. Here are some basics of negotiation planning and conduct:

Be prepared

Know what you want from the negotiation (right down to number-crunching with supporting documents) including knowing your ‘bottom-line’ (the minimum you want from the negotiations). Know as much as you can about who you will be negotiating with. Is it a person who is personally affected by the outcome, a person you know closely, or just another salaried worker in a large organization? If you know some personal detail about your counterpart, use this to help build rapport. Also, it can pay to practice and visualize how you want the negotiations to go. Be in a good physical and mental state – for example get a good sleep the night before and avoid stressful situations at work before the negotiation.

The place of negotiation

The negotiation could occur at your place, their place, or a neutral place. The location affects everybody. For example, you will feel most comfortable at your place, but the others may not. If it is at your place, make sure you make the other person feel welcome and at home.

The time of negotiation

Select a start time which gives ample time to complete negotiations, allowing for over-run. You don’t want to have to leave the negotiations at a critical time to have to pick up the kids from school. Also, don’t make those who travel to and from the negotiation get caught in peak-hour traffic. Everyone should be in a relaxed frame of mind.

Attending the negotiation

It may be best to attend the negotiation with another qualified person who has a friendly and tactful nature, and who is thoughtful. This person may not only provide input when required, but their presence will also have a neutralizing effect on you if you get a bit emotional or get off track.

At the start

The best negotiations are done when everybody is relaxed and happy, so smile, be respectful, maybe tell a joke, and generally radiate confidence and happiness. Maintain a positive attitude. If the negotiations are at your place, make sure everyone is comfortable with plenty of refreshments. If negotiations are elsewhere, don’t be late.

Empathize with the other party

Empathy is the ability to fully understand and share another’s feelings, and it is one of the most valuable skills anybody can have. So is the ability to listen and ask intelligent timely questions to better understand the other. Avoid being too focused on your wants; do that later. Find what is really attractive to them and try to give it but on terms that suit you. You can get what you want more effectively by helping the others get what they want. Maybe after hearing an important detail, repeat it in your words to make sure you understand it and show you are committed to their needs. Taking regular notes can also reinforce this commitment.

The bottom line

We all have a ‘bottom line.’ Straight up, but tactfully invite the other to disclose their bottom line, which will greatly help you and speed things up. If you have to disclose your bottom line, don’t give it all away and go slowly. Present your bottom line with little extras which you can sacrifice if need be later. Giving away many smaller benefits can seem psychologically better for the other party than giving away a single bigger benefit, and it telegraphs cooperation. However, if you make concessions, aim to get something in return.


As things progress, show your satisfaction with it all. Perhaps repeat the negotiated items to emphasize the progress made and to show that resolution is near. Strike the right balance between giving and being stubborn. Don’t go too fast and make mistakes which can be very hard to correct later. Agree only to conditions you know you can keep. If things have dragged on, maybe a short break will do everyone good. The body is connected to the mind and standing or walking helps make the mind more sharp. If progress is slow or your counterpart is stubborn on an issue, avoid the temptation to show frustration or anger. The physical act of smiling and looking up, or telling a short but tactful witty joke, can help everyone’s frame of mind.

Sticking points

You may come across sticking points – those things that neither of you want to give up on. No matter whose sticking point it is, empathize and try to understand the others point of view, even if you don’t like it. They should subconsciously appreciate this. Tactfully question their sticking point as you may find that they actually do have room to move. If you come across a real barrier, maybe break for the day to literally sleep on it. Avoid showing frustration or anger and emphasize the progress made and that this barrier should not be a deal breaker.


Never resort to using ultimatums. If they use an ultimatum, empathize and calmly turn it into a question to try to get to the bottom of it.


At last, a resolution will be reached. However after it is all documented, there may be some minor detail that needs to be further resolved, which should be easy to do.

It takes practice to be a good negotiator. To guide you, maybe summarize the points made here and take them with you to the negotiations. Keep in mind, we all can get better at things we put our minds to. All the best with it.