Three steps to keep on track in negotiations

I was once told that as a public speaker “I always knew what to say”. No matter how difficult the topic, I’d always seem to find the right way of addressing it and keeping my audience onside. When it comes to negotiation, having the right words is often a powerful tool to enable success, but lacking a purpose with which to deploy them can often cause negotiations to devolve into an unproductive cycle of reaction and counter-reaction. The lessons outlined in this article will help to guard against that in your next negotiation.

As part of my public speaking coaching, I often carry out ‘audits’ where I observe my clients in action. During these sessions, I’m often struck by the same ‘thing’ which grates on my nerves and makes me want to leap in and interrupt a client midsentence. One of the topics I cover is ‘influence through speech’ – an important skill for those conducting negotiations – and it often strikes me that many people consider persistence to equate to skilled negotiation. By this, I mean that they believe that constantly asserting their demands, declaring their positions and imposing their proposals and assumptions upon the other party is skilled negotiation, equating to being able to influence others through speech.

These clients often believe that this persistent stating of demands, preventing the other ‘side’ from getting a word in edgeways is the best way of ‘winning’ a negotiation. They never seem to see that this is an incredibly unproductive (let alone irritating) process which is highly likely to erode goodwill and generate considerable inefficiency in the proceedings.

Although I can understand the temptation, I strongly counsel against taking this stance during negotiations, instead advocating for a three-stage approach.

  1. Begin with the other side. Although we typically feel compelled to start with our own position (after all, it is ours!), it’s often a better idea to start with the opposite side. As keen as you are to get your thoughts and suggestions ‘on the record’, the other side is too, so for as long as you’re talking, they’ll be preoccupied with what they have yet to say, instead of listening to you. A good negotiator will resist the urge to start first and will instead begin the negotiation by saying something like “I would be interested to hear some of your initial thoughts, please feel free to go ahead and share them with me”.
  2. Expand dialogue with good questions. Many negotiators will propose solutions too quickly, resulting in early rejection of what might be a good idea. For the negotiations to develop, proper dialogue needs to take place to legitimise the eventual solutions with both parties. The cornerstone of this dialogue is good questioning, so be prepared to ask the other side about their concerns, interests and constraints; encourage them to clarify and elaborate and ensure that the other side understands that you’re actively listening as opposed to simply humouring them.
  3. Present your views with succinct clarity. After you’ve started the other side talking, then listened and understood their views, it’s finally time to present your own point of view. Many negotiators start rambling when arguing their case – few people have the patience or attention to engage with this, leading to the inefficiency I highlighted earlier. Although many equate verbosity with a show of knowledge and competence, it is my opinion that providing a brief, focused explanation of what you believe signals far greater expertise and confidence. If you find yourself rambling, stop, take a breath and gather your thoughts. Present them in a cogent, focused manner, maintain a friendly tone and a relaxed posture – you’ll be surprised how well it comes over!


Many times, a negotiation lacks parties who have a clear focus to guide them. NBoth might have an idea for an end destination, but not the steps to get there, resulting in a process which is entirely comprised of action and reaction. By having a process with which to guide the negotiation, you will develop an authentic sense of control to gain the outcome you desire. These techniques might not be your first reaction, but if used in sequence, provide a solid and effectual process with which to manage and guide your negotiations with purpose.