10 Key Lessons from the World of Negotiation - Part 2

by Dr David Venter

Learn five valuable tips to enhance your negotiation with another party. Use questions to find opportunity, and to gain both trust and credibility.

Negotiating is not simply an act of joint problem solving. Although it undeniably does assist in removing a problem from the negotiation table, this is a somewhat limited view of what negotiation can achieve. By defining negotiation as mutual problem-solving it is given an inward focus towards removing the problem and therefore is past or present related. When negotiation is, however framed as opportunity finding the main focus becomes outward and is thus future orientated. The challenge then, is to stimulate the joint exploration of a wide array of opportunities. This will not only remove the problem from the table, but also present new possibilities than can be jointly exploited. From the opportunity finding perspective negotiation will then become a resourceful interaction that is targeted beyond the mere disposal of a problem.


  • Labelling negotiation simply as a problem-solving tool negates its potential to go beyond the problem and use it as a stimulus for creating new value-adding agreements
  • By viewing negotiation as an opportunity-finding tool, negotiators are prompted to resist premature thought closure and think outside the concepts they generally operate within.
  • Whereas problem-solving tends to deal with what has been (past) or what is (present), opportunity-finding leans towards what has yet to happen (future)
  • Negotiation is not about fixing the past or the present; it is mainly about where and how we will be living tomorrow.


With the possible exception of buying or selling a home, negotiation is a process. In the majority of business dealings, the parties rarely only negotiate once. There is often an element of continuity in their negotiation e.g. when they appraise staff performance, enter into future contracts, negotiate salaries and wages etc. What this means is that negotiators should consistently be aware that they should always negotiate in a way that will not negatively affect future negotiations. Although in a particular negotiation it may appear quite beneficial to victimise the other party, it must be borne in mind that this party will then be highly likely to seek revenge at the next negotiation. The gain achieved by ignoring the fact that the parties will negotiate again in the future rapidly becomes a liability.

For genuine Win More! Negotiation to take place it is crucial that negotiators always remain aware of the impact their negotiation strategies and tactics have on the relationship between the negotiating parties. This prevents negotiators from harming the other party, as they then appreciate that such an action may likely result in the counter party distrusting them. Otherwise, they might become an aggressor in future so as to reclaim that taken from them unfairly .


  • Most negotiations are a process and should be treated as such.
  • Victims become aggressors
  • Regularly ask the following key question to avoid victimisation, "What can WE become TOGETHER ?"
  • Negotiation is not about the past or present, it is about how and where the parties will in future work together to create added value.


The more information a negotiator possesses about the issue at hand and the parties with whom they will be negotiating, the more powerful the power base of that negotiator. There is a meaningful correlation between the availability of good information and negotiating power. To begin a negotiation without having done the necessary research is unwise.

Research has clearly demonstrated that 75 percent of the utterances of good negotiators are in the form of questions that are focused on obtaining information. The thinking behind these negotiators is that questions invite participation, involve the other party and obtain information. In contrast, a statement often achieves the very opposite. Additionally, questions reveal a willingness to listen to the other party's views. The result is to create a climate where the other party feels sufficiently secure to share its interests and be attentive to the interests of its counterpart.


  • Information is power in any negotiation!
  • Negotiators who take the time to research the information they will likely need in a negotiation can approach a negotiation far more confidently than when they try to obtain key information on the fly.
  • Questioning is the key to discover crucial information. It demonstrates a willingness to interact.
  • Adopting a questioning approach prevents a narrow minded approach and challenges assumptions that may exist.
  • A question identifies and establishes the common ground that exists between the parties.
  • Questions are the most effective tools to move negotiation forward.
  • If it is not possible to ask a question, remain quiet and wait for the other party to fill this uncomfortable silence.
  • Immediately use questions to follow up observations and assertions.


Negotiators should note that decision-makers are apt to treat the prospect of gains differently from the prospect of losses . When asked to consider potential gains they are likely to be risk-averse, and opt for a guaranteed outcome. Contrarily, they lean towards risk-seeking when weighing potential losses. The manner in how negotiators frame their questions is therefore vital, as significant losses tend to appear much larger than significant gains.

What this means in practice is that negotiators must be very sensitive to the possibility that a negative frame (potential loss) could promote risky/destructive behaviour by the other party. Likewise, a positive frame (potential gain) could motivate the other party to opt for a mutually beneficial outcome. This is, however, unfortunately not as simple as it might appear, as there is a large body of evidence to indicate that most people are likely to be more strongly motivated by loss than by gain. Negotiators would be rash if they did not only tell the other party what it stands to gain by cooperating, but also what it stands to lose.


  • Framing a negotiation in terms of gain lessens the possibility of the other party embarking on risky and potentially destructive behaviour (think of wage negotiations).
  • Getting the other party to stand in your shoes will motivate them to see the negotiation trough your frame (lens) and could influence their attitude.
  • Questions are an excellent tool to achieve a common frame for the negotiation.
  • Counter negative frames by providing multiple options for the other party to consider, thereby moving that party from decision-making towards choosing between suggested alternatives.
  • Be very cautious not to over-react to negatively framed objectives in the early stages of a negotiation. Focus on recognising and rewarding positive behaviour as a means to counter negatively framed objectives.


In our increasingly hectic business world, negotiators often forget that importance of establishing their credibility and nurturing a trusting relationship. They lean towards being heavily content orientated and thus pay little attention to the contextual aspects of a negotiation. Their immediate aim is to get their teeth into the meat of the negotiation, forgetting that this is only appreciably possible within a climate of trust that inspires the other party to cooperate.

For a negotiation to meet the acid test of any negotiation, the agreement must be able to survive. It is essential that negotiators begin by establishing their credibility. Then, they should build the relationship, and only thereafter get into the nuts and bolts of the negotiation. This creates a framework where the other party will feel sufficiently secure to step out of its position and open itself to a joint opportunity finding interaction.

When parties suspect each other's credibility and do not trust each other, they will not tolerate the inevitable degree of exposure that creative negotiation necessitates. They will then lean towards becoming heavily loss orientated, very defensive and prone to thought closure.

The basic human rule of reciprocity decrees that negotiators who desire to move the other party from its preconceived position must first convince that party they are willing to expose their position. This will establish the trust required for that party to move outside its stated position.


  • Trust involves saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
  • Trust eliminates the fear of being victimised.
  • Visibility creates trust.
  • Credibility is the basis of effective persuasion.
  • An up-front hard sell approach frequently provides the other party with a target to shoot at.

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Knowledge is power character is king - 2010 Sep 20
Commentator: Marcia Bowlds (United States - Massachusetts)

"Certainly we all need to understand the process of negotiating. In sales ones honesty and character are the foundation of sucess. In sales the challenge is to get past the sterotype and let your clients know you are working for them...when this happens compensation will naturally follow. Be an expert in your field...the expert people trust. Great article "

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