Ask any comedian about the secret to telling great jokes and he will say “timing”. Baseball great Warren Spahn summed up the game with, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” 

Matthew Perry, of hit TV show Friends, said: “I love the idea of ‘the one’ but I actually believe that there isn’t a Miss Right. There are 12,000 Miss Rights out there and it’s all timing.” 

Well, it’s the same in negotiation. Your timing — especially at critical points — can determine the success or failure of your negotiation.

When you start

The success of your negotiation will be determined as much by the work you do before you get to the negotiating table as by what you do at it.

Relationships are rarely built across a negotiating table — this is where they are tested. So, you need to make sure the relationship is strong enough to withstand any test.

The better your relationship with the other side at the start, the better you will be able to understand their interests in the negotiation which will open up more options for a mutually beneficial agreement.

How well prepared are you? Do you have all the available information? Do you know what they know? Which of you is under the most time pressure? Is the cycle of the seasons, the market, the news working for or against you? These are all questions you should answer before you start negotiating.

When you say no

The ability to say “no” and still have the other party want to negotiate with you is the mark of a great negotiator. The latest book by William Ury, a senior fellow at Harvard University and one of the greatest thinkers in negotiation today, is titled The Power Of A Positive No. 

 If this negotiation fails, what alternative ways can you meet your needs? These options should be determined as part of your preparation and monitored because in a fast-moving world, they may change over the course of the negotiation. 

Most importantly, these act as your reference point — especially when the bargaining gets tight — so you know when it is best to walk away.

When you give in

Negotiation is about give and take. Part of your preparation is to know what you are prepared to give, and what you expect in return. Smart negotiating involves “giving in” on the issues that are of relatively low importance to you and getting in return something that has higher value to you.

When to put your best deal on the table

Research has shown that most negotiated agreements are reached within sight of the deadline.

If negotiations are concluded early, some people will think: “If I’d held back a little longer, could I have got a better deal?”

It’s only human nature that most of us don’t put our best deal on the table until right on the deadline because we don’t want to give away too much too soon.

Making your offer “time-limited” can be a good way to get the other party to come forward with their best offer.

So, whether you are negotiating a multi-million dollar deal, a raise in your salary or which movie to see with your spouse —your timing will determine your success.