Artful Negotiation

Marvellous Skill # 3 for Product Managers

Animesh Panda
7 min readApr 15, 2023
Artful Negotiation: How to Achieve Win-Win Outcomes in Product Development

As product managers, product owners or product practitioners, we already know how important it is to align our stakeholders on our product’s vision, goals and priorities. We also know how challenging it can be to navigate the different opinions, interests and expectations of our customers, users, executives, developers and collaborators. We find ourselves negotiating day in and day out.

  • We have to negotiate with various stakeholders, such as customers, users, executives, developers, designers, marketers, etc.
  • We have to negotiate on our product’s scope, timeline, budget, quality and value.
  • We have to negotiate on our product’s trade-offs, priorities, risks and dependencies.
  • We have to negotiate the feedback, requirements, expectations and satisfaction of our product.

But how can we negotiate effectively? How do we balance the needs and wants of everyone involved without compromising the quality and value of our product? How do we avoid conflicts, misunderstandings and resentment? How do we create alignment, collaboration and trust? How do we achieve win-win outcomes that benefit both parties and the product?

This is where artful negotiation comes in.

What is Artful Negotiation?

Artful negotiation is finding creative solutions that satisfy all parties in a conflict or disagreement. It is about finding a mutually beneficial solution that satisfies the needs and interests of both parties. It is about creating value for the product and the stakeholders. It is about being assertive and empathetic. It is about being creative and flexible.

It is not about manipulating or dominating others but understanding their perspectives, empathising with their emotions and collaborating to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

Artful negotiation is especially relevant for product development, where we often deal with complex problems, uncertain environments and diverse stakeholders. By applying artful negotiation techniques, we can:

  • Build trust and rapport with our stakeholders
  • Communicate effectively and persuasively
  • Resolve conflicts and overcome objections
  • Influence decisions and actions
  • Foster collaboration and innovation
  • Deliver value and impact

How to Practice Artful Negotiation?

Below are some tips and best practices on how to master artful negotiation in product development. This guides how artful negotiation can help us achieve win-win outcomes in different situations.

Tip #1: Prepare ourselves

Before we enter any negotiation, we must mentally and emotionally prepare ourselves. This means:

  • Clarifying our own goals and interests: What do we want to achieve from the negotiation? What are our main concerns and priorities? What are our alternatives if the negotiation fails?
  • Researching our counterparts: Who are they? What are their goals and interests? What are their motivations and pain points? What are their alternatives if the negotiation fails?
  • Identifying the common ground: What are the shared goals and interests between us and our counterparts? What are the areas of agreement and alignment? What are the potential benefits of working together?
  • Anticipating the challenges: What are the possible sources of conflict or disagreement between us and our counterparts? How might they react or respond to our proposals or requests? How will we handle their objections or concerns?
  • The context and constraints. What is the background and history of the issue? What are the external factors that may influence the negotiation? What are the time and resource limitations?

By preparing ourselves in advance, we can increase our confidence and credibility and reduce the chances of being caught off guard or surprised by unexpected issues.

Tip #2: Listen actively

Listening is not only about hearing what the other party says, but also about understanding their perspective, emotions, and motivations. Listening actively involves:

  • Paying attention to what they say and how they say it: What are their main points and arguments? How do they express their emotions and feelings? What are their verbal and non-verbal cues? Reflecting back on the emotions the other party expresses to empathise with their feelings and concerns.
  • Asking open-ended questions that invite the other party to share more information and insights: How can we probe deeper into their thoughts and opinions? How can we clarify their assumptions and expectations? How can we encourage them to share more information or insights?
  • Paraphrasing what the other party says to validate our understanding and demonstrate that we are paying attention: How can we show that we understand what they say? How can we check that we have captured their key messages correctly?
  • Summarizing the key points and areas of agreement and disagreement to clarify the situation and progress. How can we highlight the main points of agreement or disagreement?
  • Giving feedback: How can we acknowledge their perspectives and validate their emotions? How can we express our appreciation for their contributions or efforts? How can we provide constructive criticism or suggestions?

By listening actively to our counterparts, we can build trust and rapport and better understand their needs and wants.

Tip #3: Collaborate creatively

Collaboration is not only about finding a compromise or a middle ground but also creating a win-win solution that maximises value for both parties. Collaborating creatively involves:

  • Exploring multiple options and alternatives to address both parties’ needs and interests.
  • Generate creative options, ideas and suggestions to enhance or improve existing options or alternatives. How do we expand the range of possible solutions and increase the chances of finding a win-win outcome? How can we brainstorm as many options as possible without censoring or filtering them?
  • Evaluating the options and alternatives based on objective criteria such as feasibility, desirability, or impact. How can we avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about the other party’s wants or needs? How can we avoid using subjective preferences or opinions as criteria for evaluation? How can we concur on relevant, measurable and agreed-upon criteria by both parties?
  • Selecting the best option or alternative that meets or exceeds both parties’ expectations. Have we considered the pros and cons of each option and how they affect the product?

By collaborating creatively, we will expand the scope and potential of the negotiation. We will also be able to leverage the strengths and resources of both parties to create more options.

Tip #4: Communicate effectively

Communication is not only about expressing what we want but also about explaining why we want it and how it benefits both parties. Communicating effectively involves:

  • Using persuasive techniques such as framing, storytelling, or analogies that appeal to the other party’s logic, emotions, or values. How can we present our case in a way that appeals to the interests, values and goals of our counterparts? How can we highlight the benefits, advantages and opportunities of our solution?
  • Using positive and constructive language that avoids blaming, criticising, or threatening. How can we express our ideas, opinions and proposals in a respectful, polite and professional way? How can we avoid negative, aggressive or defensive words that might trigger resistance or hostility?
  • Providing evidence and examples. How can we support our claims and requests with facts, data and stories? How can we demonstrate our credibility, expertise and experience?
  • Seeking feedback and confirmation. How can we check if our message has been received and understood correctly? How can we invite questions, comments and suggestions from our counterparts?
  • Using clear and concise language that avoids jargon, ambiguity, or exaggeration.
  • Using assertive and confident body language that conveys our credibility and authority.

By communicating effectively, we can convey our message and value proposition compellingly. We will also be able to influence the other party’s perception and attitude towards us and our proposal. Effective communication will also help us overcome resistance and objections arising from different opinions or preferences.

Tip #5: Adapt flexibly

Adaptation is not only about changing our behaviour but also about responding to the changing dynamics, circumstances and expectations of the negotiation. Adaptation flexibly involves:

  • Observing and analysing. How is the negotiation progressing? What are the signals and indicators of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, agreement or disagreement, cooperation or competition?
  • Adjusting and improvising. How can we modify our strategy and tactics according to the feedback and reactions of our counterparts? How can we cope with unexpected events or situations that might arise?
  • Innovating and creating. How can we generate new ideas or solutions that might address the needs and concerns of both parties? How can we add value or create synergy through collaboration or co-creation?
  • Learning and improving. How can we evaluate our performance and outcomes after the negotiation? How can we identify our strengths and weaknesses? How can we apply our learnings to future negotiations?

By adapting flexibility, we can foster collaboration and innovation to maximise the value generated and the impact delivered by our product.

Bonus Tip: Speak assertively

When it is our turn to speak, we must speak assertively to our counterparts. This means:

  • Stating our goals and interests clearly: What do we want to achieve from the negotiation? What are our main concerns and priorities? Why are they important to us?
  • Explaining our reasoning and evidence: How did we develop our proposals or requests? What are the facts or data that support them? How do they address the problem or opportunity at hand?
  • Expressing our emotions respectfully: How do we feel about the situation or issue? How does it affect us personally or professionally? How do we cope with it?
  • Making requests or proposals confidently: What do we want our counterparts to do or agree to? How will it benefit them as well as ourselves? What are the consequences if they don’t comply or cooperate?

By speaking assertively to our counterparts, we can communicate effectively and persuasively and demonstrate our competence and professionalism.

In conclusion, negotiation is critical to every product practitioner’s job. Upgrading our negotiation skills to artful negotiation needs us to be mindful. By following these tips and techniques, we can become master negotiators and get the most out of every negotiating session. Remember, the art of negotiation is about understanding the other person’s needs and finding a solution that works for both parties.

I would also love to hear about your experiences with artful negotiation. How do you negotiate in your product role? What challenges have you faced? What strategies have you used? What results have you achieved?

Please share your stories and insights with the rest of the product community and me. Together, we can learn from each other and become better negotiators.