Three tips for negotiating a win-win deal

Find common ground early on and neither side will want to walk away too hastily

Start off with the low-hanging fruit and know your red lines

In business, negotiation is not always a zero-sum game. By treating proceedings as adversarial and hostile, you risk walking away without knowing what you could have won. But with patience, strong research and a clear idea of your next best alternative, you can reach an agreement that is beneficial for both sides in ways neither had previously anticipated. Here are some tips for reaching a mutually satisfying settlement.

GET ON THE SAME PAGE

Start with the low-hanging fruit, advises Ed Brodow in Negotiation Boot Camp. A positive relationship will be established by agreeing on a number of points early on. Neither side will want to jeopardise any progress made and this will incentivise finding a solution which works for everyone. “Your history of agreeing will motivate both of you to be more creative with the difficult portion of the negotiation,” says Brodow.

It is also important to agree on some independent indicators of value and performance for the assets or services being traded. Establishing the truth of research findings will show that your estimations aren’t fanciful. It will also emphasise that there is a mature rationale behind any red lines you draw.

THINK OF INTERESTS, NOT OUTCOMES

In many ways, identifying your side’s general interests and using them as guidelines will prove more successful than doggedly pursuing one particular figure or outcome.

But it is equally important to understand the needs of the other side. Good research is indispensable in finding out which precedents (prices, conditions, time frames) the other side has accepted in the past. Posing questions and listening to the answers is also crucial – you may be able to provide a solution to a question they don’t know they’re asking.

As Vantage Partners’s Jeff Weiss put it to the Harvard Business Review, the best negotiators understand the “whole terrain rather than a single path through the woods.”

AIM FOR “BATNA”

Many business leaders take a dim view of entering negotiations with a win-win mindset. Indeed, a desire to avoid an impasse at all costs will invariably lead us to accept a poor deal. Research by Northwestern’s Adam Galinsky found that negotiators are more likely to lower their reservation prices and counter-offers if they have been told that a tough negotiator will be sitting on the other side of the table.

Aiming for BATNA – the best alternative to a negotiated agreement – can guard against such bad decisions. Defined by Roger Fisher and William Ury in Getting to Yes, BATNA is “the only standard which can protect you both from accepting terms that are too unfavourable and from rejecting terms it would be in your interest to accept.”

When determining your BATNA, Harvard Law School advises establishing your “no-deal” options before devising a list of possible alternatives you would consider. Of those alternatives, identify the one with highest utility (your BATNA), and the lowest value deal you would be willing to accept (your reservation price). If the final offer is lower than your reservation price, reject it and drive for your BATNA. If the final offer is higher than your reservation price, you should probably accept it.


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