The most common phrase used about negotiation is “win-win”. This clever catchphrase (popularised by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their ground-breaking book Getting To Yes over 30 years ago) is the most quoted — and least enacted — phrase in negotiation. Just like in sport where they say “everyone’s a winner”. No one really believes it — especially the one who came second.

Here are three main obstacles to win-win thinking:


It’s only human nature. People are competitive beings — be it in business or in sport — and old habits die hard.

When having to face-off with another person, it is very easy to adopt a “win at all costs” mentality. The value of the deal becomes secondary to showing who the best dealmaker is. 

This always ends with one party feeling like the loser, and this can be toxic for the relationship. The most likely action for someone who feels they got a “raw deal” in the negotiation is to use every opportunity to recover what they feel they deserve.

The other party, who walked away from the negotiation feeling like a winner, suddenly finds that every interaction becomes more difficult — and costly.

A reputation as a tough dealmaker can backfire. Once the world’s richest man, J Paul Getty said: “You must never try to make all the money that’s in a deal. Let the other fellow make some money too, because if you have a reputation for always making all the money, you won’t have many deals.”

Even when you are genuinely seeking a mutually beneficial agreement, it is difficult not to have thoughts such as “I want a win-win outcome…just as long as I win the most!” or “I want a deal that is fair to both sides… as long as I get the better deal!”

Fixed pie mentality

Thinking this way is inevitable if you believe that you are negotiating over a “fixed pie”. The only way that the other party can get a larger piece is for you to take less.

Very occasionally, a deal must be made where this is the case; but, in a majority of cases, the value that each walks away with depends on their ability to extract the maximum value out of the deal for both sides.

While this should be the aim for everyone going into a negotiation, most fall into the old-style methodology of taking an opening position and then defending it as hard as possible. This position-to-position negotiating is just haggling — no more sophisticated than bargaining over a souvenir in a tourist bazaar.

In win-win negotiation, value is created or carved up. But the only way this can happen is for each party to move beyond defending their position to sharing of interests.

It is only by each party having an understanding of what the other side is trying to achieve that they can identify opportunities for creating value. This brings me to the third point: needless secrecy.

Needless secrecy

Over the years, I have witnessed thousands of people in negotiation role-plays. I see one consistent behaviour trait: unnecessarily withholding information from the other party.

This is frustrating because, often, sharing that piece of information would move the negotiation forward. As the course creator, I know these role-play scenarios very well and there is no way that sharing that information could have been detrimental to them; yet these experienced, professional, intelligent people withheld it. Why? Because they could. 

When questioned in the debriefing, they said they didn’t share it because they could not see any benefit to their team to share it. And they were kicking themselves when they realised that if they had shared it with the other party, it would have opened up an entirely new line of opportunity.

Go for win-win

So, to make win-win a reality:

* Don’t let your will to win cloud your judgment. Define your alternatives to a successful negotiation, know what your walk-away position is, and determine the value of your relationship with the other party — and use these as your reference points.

* Look to create value out of the negotiation, not just carve it up.

* If you can determine that sharing certain information cannot disadvantage you, then share it — you never know what this may lead to.