What to do BEFORE Negotiating Anything

While most articles on negotiating (include one I recently wrote) focus on tactics during negotiations, less attention is paid to preparing yourself before negotiations ever get underway. This negotiation “advance work” is just as important – if not more so – than what you do in the negotiation itself.

Recently I came across some sound advice on pre-negotiation skills offered by Steven Blum, who teaches at one of the nation’s top MBA programs, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.  

Here are 7 things that Blum – author of Use Proven Negotiation Skills to Enrich Your Financial Life – says you should focus on to start off on the right foot.

NegotiationsDefine what you don’t want as clearly as what you do want. 

As a business owner or entrepreneur, one of the most important things you can do before you negotiate anything is figure out what you are really trying to achieve. When you know exactly what you want you’ll be better at driving the process toward reaching your goals. Hint: Don’t frame it in terms of merely “beating” the other side. 

Be clear on your BATNA.

That stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, and it simply means that you should know your alternatives to a deal before you ever start a negotiation. For example, you should never accept a deal unless it is better than your next best alternative. In essence, this is a minimum acceptable deal for you.

Don’t think in terms of win-win.

It’s tempting to do this. Win-win seems like a great way to keep everyone happy and maintain a positive relationship with the other side. But Blum warns that this approach can backfire, causing you both to settle for the first plausible solution that improves everyone’s position. You can probably do better.

Research the other side’s interests.

The more you know about the other side, the better. “If the agreement doesn’t meet the needs of the other parties, they won’t agree to the deal,” says Blum. “If they sign a contract that doesn’t really work for them, they will seek ways to sabotage, escape, or otherwise not comply.” What you view as a good outcome might not be that good if it leaves the other side feeling worse off or victimized, especially if you’ll be working with them again.

Know where to place your trust.

Approach negotiations by insisting on being forthright and honest yourself. But that doesn’t mean you should entirely trust the other parties, says Blum. “The best advice is to always act in a trustworthy manner but don’t assume others will do the same,” says Blum. “Be extremely cautious about placing too much trust in others. Better to allow your confidence to build slowly as it is earned. And never trust anyone whose incentives and interests suggest strong motivation for them to deceive.”

Prepare your questions.

Great negotiators spend almost 40 percent of their time acquiring information (asking questions) and clarifying information (restating and reframing what they’ve heard to verify that they’ve understood correctly). But average negotiators spend only about 18 percent of their time doing the same. In other words, average negotiators ask half as many questions as great negotiators. “The key is to ask previously prepared questions and, just as important, listen well enough to pose precise follow-up questions,” says Blum. “Probing and clarifying the other party’s position requires that you listen carefully and formulate good questions on the spot. Strong listening skills, along with good preparation and the ability to express thoughts clearly, are among the top traits of the most effective negotiators.”

Prepare to be patient.

One of the best things you can do in the closing and commitment stage of a negotiation is to be patient. So don’t set unrealistic timing goals going in. The negotiator who is not rushed has a favorable position and is free to work for the best possible deal. Some methods to help make this attitude possible include starting early, not procrastinating, and avoiding negotiating when you are in a needy state of mind.

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Additional Resources


Negotiating Tips for Small Business Success
Webinar 8/14: What You Need To Know About Negotiating Your First Commercial Lease

Connect with a SCORE mentor for free guidance!

About the Author

Daniel Kehrer, headshotDaniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. Read more of Daniel's tips at www.BizBest.com, follow him at www.twitter.com/140Main and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danielkehrer.
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