• Kyle Dickson

Six Approaches to Effective Negotiation

1. Understand your Opponent’s Position


a. Crawl into the shoes of the other guy. When you understand your opponent, you have a better chance of reaching a successful conclusion. That means paying attention to how they view the issues.


2. Build Trust through Personal Relationships


a. Through mutual trust, you are able to achieve things that benefit both sides. When there is trust, you can talk about their assumptions, strategies, and even fears.


3. Build Confidence


a. Confidence building keeps the parties talking. The best way to think about a big negotiation is in a series of small negotiations. Start with an issue that could be resolved quickly, reasonably and amicably.


b. The longer you can keep the sides talking with one another – instead of delivering sermons to one another – the better the chances that a middle ground can be reached.


c. Once the two sides are able to take small steps in unison, you can move to larger and more complicated issues.


4. Compromise


a. Negotiation is by definition the art of compromise. But no compromise should be taken to the extreme of sacrificing core principles. Know what you are willing to give up before the negotiations start, and by abiding by Approach #1, you should have a pretty good idea what the opponent can live without.


b. President Reagan once said; “I’d rather get 80% of what I want that to go over the cliff with my flag waiving”.


5. Timing


a. Recognize when to press a point and when to withdraw. Like a good poker player, you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.

b. On the other hand, bad timing can undermine successful negotiation.


6. Maintain a deep Appreciation of and Respect for Politics

a. The difference between success and failure is often measured by the ability to understand how political constraints shape the outcome of any negotiation. Understand the external influences the opponent may have.


b. Appreciate what objectives, arguments, and trade-offs are important to your opponents.

c. A public official must have the power to make the decision. That power largely derives from public support or support of a board of directors.

d. A public official who loses public or board confidence also loses power. Understand that the opposing negotiator may have to save face to get the deal done. Understand what is necessary for the official to save face.


How one considers these six approaches will change from situation to situation. An approach to timing that proved effective in one negotiation might not work in another. Always remain flexible.

There are three maxims that remain absolute. Ignoring one of these maxims can seriously jeopardize a successful negotiation.

Maxim 1: Never lie.

Maxim 2: Nothing should be deemed agreed to until everything is agreed to.

Maxim 3: Keep a written record of all discussions.

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