Negotiation need to knows

The extremely complex Brexit negotiations are underway, and the UK’s chief negotiators will face some tough moments over the coming months. The UK has some extremely tough and world class negotiators such as Bernie Ecclestone and Alan Sugar. Is there really no role for them in this process?

British businesses are also going to face some tough moments over the coming years as they renegotiate contracts with suppliers and customers. Even companies that only trade nationally may need to renegotiate their UK business interests to maintain competitivity. Now is the time to brush up on your negotiation skills to get the best possible deal. And to get you started, here are my top negotiation need-to-knows.

Research the situation

The key to successful negotiation is preparation, so take time to understand everything you can about the situation. Start by asking yourself what you want to achieve and why, what the alternatives might be, and what would happen if the outcome was ‘no deal’.

Gather as much information as possible about the people you are negotiating with. Think about what they want to achieve and why, and how badly they need the deal. You also benefit from understanding the make-up of the team you will be up against. For example, do they have any negotiating experience? Which of the attendees has the most power? Do any members of the team oppose the power-holder’s intentions. Knowing this could greatly improve your negotiating position.

Plan your strategy

In most cases, it’s best to aim for a win-win outcome, where both parties have won something that is of value to them. Prior to the negotiation, it can help to agree two outcome positions with your team – your actual minimum acceptable position, and your perceived minimum acceptable position. Revealing the perceived minimum position to your opponent can be a good tactic. The other side thinks they have worn you down, but you know you have hit your target. And if you can’t arrive at even your minimum acceptable position, then consider ending the session. That doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the negotiation.

If you are negotiating as a team, then you can also assign roles to each member. Many negotiators use secret signals to communicate with one another. For example, placing your pen next to your notebook can mean one thing, while placing it next to your glass of water can mean another. Arming yourself in this manner will enhance your confidence, and can increase your control of the negotiation.

Identify the personalities

As the negotiation begins, it’s helpful to understand the personalities you are dealing with. Here are three simple categories that can help:

  • Aggressive negotiators see negotiation as a win or lose scenario. They tend to begin with a high or low starting position, and can come across as bullies. Aggressive negotiators can be okay for one-off deals, but tend to be unsuitable for long-term business relationships
  • Friendly negotiators tend to have a more realistic starting position, and offer a collaborative approach that solves challenges and engineers the best win-win deal for all parties. They tend to be a better choice for forging long-term relationships with.
  • Chameleons are complex characters that come across friendly, but are doing so manipulatively to engineer the best outcome for themselves. Watch out for mind tricks, and think twice about forming a long-term relationship with them.

Get tactical

The aim is to stay in control of the negotiation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean dominating the room. Maintain the strength of your position, but be prepared to give away a few concessions to get what you want. However, bear in mind that you may have something that the other side values more than you do.

Useful tactics include:

  • Be direct and positive, and stick to “we need”, “we want” and “we insist” rather than “we would like” and “we hope”
  • Stay silent when the opponent is making concessions
  • If you feel you need to attack, do it hard and without warning
  • Need time to think? Throw a curved ball to change the pace or direction of the conversation
  • Don’t accept deadlines that try to force you into making decisions
  • Avoid saying “we’ve had a better offer from someone else”. It may work to your advantage, but it could also end the negotiation prematurely.

Watch the language

Throughout the negotiation, pay close attention to the other side – particularly their body language as this can play a key role. When influencing others, some experts cite that body language counts for 55%, while pitch of voice accounts for 38%, and words only 7%.

The ideal body language projects confidence and control, and this can be achieved by spreading out, looking alert, maintaining eye contact, and smiling whether you mean it or not. Keep a close eye on your opponent’s body language as well. Watch for:

  • Hand-to-face movements, which can indicate uncertainty
  • Hand-to-nose movements, which can indicate untruths
  • Crossed arms, which can mean your opponent isn’t accepting your point of view
  • Head movements while talking, which can indicate uncertainty or a desire to be accepted
  • The steeple hands positions (forming a pyramid from the tips of the fingers outwards), which can indicate a belief of power, confidence and a superior position.

After the deal is done

At the end of the process, write down the agreement and sign it. Whether you have come off better or worse than expected, shake hands and be kind. You want to be in the best possible position going forward as you may end up around the negotiating table again. 


If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or a Corporate law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Peter Goodman on 01727 798061.

© SA LAW 2018

Every care is taken in the preparation of our articles. However, no responsibility can be accepted to any person who acts on the basis of information contained in them alone. You are recommended to obtain specific advice in respect of individual cases.
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