NEGOTIATION is partly a game of luck. However, as the old saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Thus, you can shape your luck.

Most experts agree that preparation is the single most important determinant of negotiating success. And yet so many wannabe negotiators choose to wing it.

Negotiation is also a game of skill. In fact, the more skill you develop, the less you are at the mercy of chance.

Some people who attend negotiation seminars hope to learn the secret to being a master negotiator. Unfortunately, there is no secret. There is only a body of guidelines, principles, strategies, tactics and skills to learn and practise.

There is also psychology and an understanding of human behaviour. And, of course, there are communication and interpersonal skills. None of these is a magic bullet. You must practise and improve in all these areas.


The process

Negotiation is a process. The process begins the moment you perceive a need you cannot satisfy on your own. As you will need help from someone else, you must get him to agree.

At this point your negotiation has begun, whether you realise it or not. You are in the critical preparation stage of the negotiation. How do you prepare? Here is a partial checklist:

• Gather information. Learn as much as you can about the subject of your negotiation, your industry and business environment, and your counterpart.

• Decide what you want. Once you have determined what you think you want, ask yourself why you want it. After asking yourself why a few times, you may realise you need something else after all. You must be clear about your real interests.

• You will often find that you have multiple interests. Prioritise these into those items you must have, those you are willing to bargain for and those that would be nice but not necessary.

• How much are you willing to pay? What is your aspirational price, and what is your walk-away point? What concessions can you make, and when?

• Assess your alternatives. If you cannot close the deal with your counterpart, how will you satisfy your interests? What is your Plan B?

• Determine what you bring to the table. What do you have that your counterpart might want? List everything, tangible (money, products, service) and intangible (brand, reputation, emotional needs).

• What strategies and tactics might you use in the negotiation?

• Anticipate your counterpart’s negotiating style, strategy and tactics.

• What does the other party want from you? What are his priorities? Does he have a hidden agenda?

• Formulate some options or possible solutions to your negotiating problem that will satisfy your interests as well as your counterpart’s. Be prepared to discuss them.

The Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” In other words, preparation is the key to victory in battle. The same is true of negotiation.


Article by David Goldwich, the Persuasion Doctor. He teaches people how to play the negotiation game and become more assertive, compelling and persuasive. He gives talks and conducts workshops in negotiation, storytelling for leaders and sales professionals, and other areas of influence and persuasion. Learn more at