MOST business people approach a negotiation hoping for a win-win agreement.

But even with the best of intentions, they usually fall into the same win-lose patterns that characterise most negotiations.

What qualities do the most effective negotiators possess? How are they able to consistently achieve win-win outcomes?

Cultivating the following qualities will improve your chances of negotiating win-win agreements:

@Engage in mutual problem-solving

Most people are conditioned to see a negotiation as a chance to win or lose.

As such, they do what they can to win as much as they can, and the other side does the same. This competitive mindset leads to win-lose or partial win results.

The best negotiators, however, approach a negotiation as an opportunity for mutual problem-solving.

Understand your interests and prioritise them so that you stay focused on what is important to you.

Know what you must have and what you would like to get from the negotiation before you begin. Have a list of other items you are willing to exchange.

Try to anticipate the other party’s interests as well. Explore ways to help him get what he needs at little or no cost to you. Adopt a collaborative mindset.

Strive to optimise the overall outcome, rather than trying to maximise your gains on each of a series of items.

Share information

Most people play their cards close to the chest during a negotiation.

They refuse to tell the other party anything of substance for fear the other party will use it to their advantage.

Of course, there may be some things you don’t want the other party to know. For example, you may not want to share your alternatives or your bottom line.

However, it does not hurt to let your counterpart know what your interests are. He will often reciprocate, and you are then in a better position to satisfy both party’s interests.

But what if you share your interests and the other party keeps his to himself? Would that place you at a disadvantage?

No, it would not. Recent studies suggest that even when only one party lays his interests on the table, a win-win outcome is still more likely.

The mere fact that some interests are disclosed improves the chances that both sides will benefit.

Ask questions

Asking questions is one way to get information. But the benefits of asking questions go beyond mere information.

Asking non-threatening questions allows you to build rapport and put the other party at ease. It enables you to manage the discussion and gives you time to think.

Questions also allow you to check your assumptions and confirm your understanding of key points.

Be careful how you ask questions. Do not ask in a sarcastic tone or sound threatening.

Ask questions that seek fair information and show a genuine concern for the other party and the negotiation process.

Listen empathetically

You learn more by listening than by talking, so encourage the other party to speak by listening attentively.

Make eye contact. Do not interrupt. Do not form conclusions until your counterpart has finished speaking.

A good listener shows concern and respect for the other party.

Try to really understand the other party’s point of view, even if you do not agree.

Recognise that his arguments and needs have merit.

Likeable and agreeable negotiators accomplish more than self-centred ones.

Explain before disagreeing

Do not be quick to disagree with your counterpart. An immediate rejection suggests you do not really care about the other person and are not open to his ideas.

Consider what he is saying.

Look for common ground and try to build on it with your counter-proposal.

Offer your counter-proposal as a suggestion rather than a demand, and be prepared to discuss it.

Persuade

Use data, evidence, and logic to support your proposals.

Focus on the most compelling one or two arguments rather than trying to build support with a smattering of less convincing arguments. Quality is more important than quantity here.

Use fair and objective standards to support your proposal.

Offer facts and reasons that make intrinsic good sense, such as market prices and historical trends.

Do not offer arbitrary arguments such as “that’s all we are willing to pay”.

Unsupportable rationales are not persuasive and will make your counterpart more resistant.

Think laterally

A win-win solution is not always obvious. The ability to develop creative options is a key to crafting win-win agreements. Learn to think out of the box.

By modelling these characteristics of win-win negotiators, you too will become a better negotiator.