Principles of Negotiation Used by Expert Negotiators

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If you’re wondering, “How do I improve my negotiation skills?”; this article will introduce the six principles of negotiation and outline the negotiation skills experts use to maximize the value of agreements.

To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to pinpoint what separates an expert negotiator from an average one outside of the obvious dominant performance. The most common distinguishing factor is that many of the world’s best negotiators follow a core set of principles to prepare for and execute within the course of their negotiations.

In order to help you develop expert negotiation skills, the following article covers the 6 principles of negotiation used by many expert negotiators:

Principles of Negotiation

  • Position Your Case Advantageously
  • Set High Aspirations
  • Manage Information Skillfully
  • Know the Full Range and Strength of Your Power
  • Satisfy Needs Over Wants
  • Concede According to Plan

Position Your Case Advantageously

Describing your case in a succinct and compelling way helps to convey the value of your proposal or solution at its maximum potential.

Value is subjective, and the way you frame your case affects how the other party ultimately perceives its value. In order to effectively do so, you need to find that sweet spot of being brief and compelling.

Choose a few of your absolute best data points to anchor your value proposition or theme, and learn how to redirect discussion towards your most appealing and powerful themes. Simply repeating your positioning theme in a natural way throughout the conversation helps to demonstrate your conviction about the value of your ideas.

Average negotiators tend to skip over this Principle because they assume the other party already fully understands the value of their proposition or solution, which often-times isn’t the case. Additionally, including too much data or too many arguments to help the other party understand your value proposition can decrease the effectiveness of your positioning. Remember: your position must be brief, compelling, and repeatable.

Good positioning enables you to improve your chances of getting what you want and need out of a negotiation by extending the range of reason.

Set High Aspirations

Those who ask for more tend to receive more. You don’t want the reason you underachieved in a negotiation be because you set low aspirations. This is why it’s important to start high and concede strategically.

Reasonably high aspirations not only help you anchor the conversation to a higher perceived value proposition, but they also help to test the range of reason and reason of the other party.

Savvy negotiators will set high aspirations for all potential negotiables, such as:

  • Access to key people
  • Access to key resources and information (process control or pricing)
  • Agreement with your process, system, or approach
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Quality specifications
  • Favorable contract language
  • Broader warranties
  • Generous payment terms

Establishing either too high or too low of expectations can seriously hamper your ability to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Be reasonable but aim high. You are more likely to achieve a positive outcome and build a stronger relationship by reaching for the highest aspirations without being offensive or appearing to take advantage of your counterparty.

Aspirations can, and likely will be, lowered in a negotiation, but it’s extremely difficult to raise aspirations once they’ve been revealed.

Manage Information Skillfully

Effective negotiators know how to plan the way they leverage, protect, and uncover information, rather than doing so spontaneously. There are three points of focus to manage information skillfully: uncovering information, leveraging information, and protecting information.

Uncover Information:

  • Uncover what the other party really needs to solve their problem by asking questions.
  • Generally, it’s more important to focus on getting information rather than sharing information.
  • Experts tend to ask 2.5 times more questions than average and do one third of the talking. 

Leverage Information: 

  • Provide information that works in your advantage.
  • Share information when it is most advantageous to do so.

Protect Information: 

  • Sensitive information such as financial flexibility, internal deadlines, and free “extras” shouldn’t be shared at the wrong time.

Don’t share too much too early.

  • Anticipate the most difficult questions the other party may ask and prepare the appropriate answers ahead of time.
  • Prepare to answer disadvantageous questions without being lying or misleading.
  • Always operate within clear contractual, legal, and ethical boundaries. 

Know the Full Range and Strength of Your Power

Expert negotiators are able to continually assess their level of power in a negotiation. This doesn’t mean that the entire negotiation hinges on your personal level of power, but your power relative to the other party’s power.

The majority of people tend to underestimate their power and are so focused on the pressures they face and blind themselves to the constraints of the other party. Power starts with personal conviction. You are as powerful as much as you believe you are. 

Power is perception. If others perceive you to be powerful, then you have that power. The best way to enhance your power is to be very clear in the communication of your expectations and boundaries.

Many people tend to become overly dependent on information as their main source of power in a negotiation. There are many sources of power, and high performers recognize how they can leverage all of them to increase their positions.

Skilled negotiators are able to favorably influence the outcome of negotiation by:

  • Analyzing all factors affecting their power;
  • Assessing factors that increase or diminish the other party’s power
  • Managing all factors in a way that helps you execute the desired agreements.

Satisfy Needs Over Wants

Savvy negotiators know how to uncover and address the other party’s fundamental concerns, interests, and motivations (needs) rather than simply reacting to specific and narrow demands (wants.) However, in order to do so, you need to have an excellent radar to differentiate wants and needs.

Wants: specific, measurable, and on the surface, or requirements that can be met in only one way. For example, a $1,500, delivery by Friday, or 500 units.

Needs: general, subjective, less measurable. For example, looking good to one’s manager, managing personal risk, or increasing market share.

Uncovering the other party’s needs requires good questioning and listening skills, and the patience to leave no stone unturned until you discover them. The key is to understand why the other wants versus what they want.

Identifying the other party’s needs allows both parties to be more creative and lead to a true win-win agreement that meets the true needs of both parties and can be more satisfying in the long term.

Concede According to Plan

By preparing value-based exchanges in advance, you can get “concession psychology” to work for you rather than against you.

Determine the cost of the concessions you may be asked for, as well as what the other party might give up in order to obtain them. To do so:

  • Set your targets high enough to support the necessary concessions.
  • Don’t give away things without asking for something in return.

Average negotiators tend to concede in one of two ways:

  1. holding a position for too long, thus appearing inflexible and not negotiating in good faith, or;
  2. immediately collapsing to their lowest number when they get resistance from the other party, thus encouraging the other party to press for even more.

Final Thoughts

By following the above Principles, you will be able to elevate your negotiation skills and start getting more of what you want in your negotiations to the benefit of both parties. The ability to steer a negotiation with direct clarity is a hallmark of an expert negotiator, and by following these six principles, you’ll have built a sturdy foundation in order to do so.

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