The 4 secrets of successful negotiation

Today I wanted to do a deal. Well sort of anyway. The topic is negotiation.

What does that mean? Well, it can be defined this way: a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. Of course in commercial and business terms, we are more interested in a deal, or a contract.

There is a lot to learn about the art and science of conducting good negotiation. However, I often been flabbergasted by how little training those who enter such premises have received. Myself, I have been invited to various deal discussions without even being asked if I had knowledge or experience of this sort of dancing exercise.

So, is it surprising if ultimately many, many of these glorified business deals that make the career of executives are indeed flawed, very badly conducted, possibly even damaging?

I do not intend here to give any form of education on negotiation techniques — nor would I ever pretend to be capable of such feast.

I will however give a few hints garnered throughout my own experience; because that is what I do!

1. Shut up!

Often, when silence lingers between 2 people, the first to break it say something they regret

Forgive the intrusion in any personal matters — but I would advise that tip to any man in a relationship with a woman. Trust me, it is an important tip…

Right, shut up is a strong word, but with an accurate meaning. I don’t mean never say a word. But don’t say too much. Strangely, whether we are nervous or actually feel confident, we may end up talking a lot. During negotiation, listen a lot and talk little. Do not commit to anything that is not asked. Do not volunteer information that is not demanded. Silence is your friend. Have you heard this saying? Often, when silence lingers between 2 people, the first to break it say something they regret.

When you say little you minimise the risk of saying what you should not. It’s logical isn’t it! And also, you can gather interesting intel on the others, what they want, what they need, how they work, what makes them tick. Win-Win for you.

2. Homework

You may be a great speaker, used to improvise on a short brief. But negotiation is more of a scripted discussion. Do your research, understand your audience very well. Remember that overused iceberg analogy? The best negotiators complete 90–95% of their work before any talk begins. All is spent in research on the other parties, on what they can offer, on how they can discuss, what to propose.

And if you are not convinced then ponder on this: they will have their research on you.

3. Respect

In the negotiation room, the other person is the most important in the world. Just accept it. It may only last 10 minutes or a few weeks. But during that time, respect them deeply, listen (again with that word, wonder if it is an important one then…), engage with them. And you know what? if it helps, fraternise, get close enough to have a common understanding, yet not too close, you are not friends after all (and definitely not anything more! laugh all you want I am pretty certain such things happen…)

The biggest mistake that negotiators of all sorts make is to believe the whole exercise is to be contained

4 it doesn’t stop there.

The biggest mistake that negotiators of all sorts make is to believe the whole exercise is to be contained. You get at the negotiation table, obtain whatever you need and then move on. Job done, it’s over. I beg to differ.

In all my life I have ever only seen 1 negotiator who could actually work on this mission-centric model. It was actually advisable that she did, for her sake and her mental health. She was part a very special unit within French Gendarmerie, and most of her negotiations were with seriously dangerous criminals in hostage situations. For her, once the guy was arrested she had to move away from it all, almost forget the details of it to recover her normal life.

This is an unique situation. In many aspects of business negotiation, do not move on but rather keep the relationship open. Ensure that what was agreed gets delivered as planned. Anticipate that there will likely be more negotiation situations with the same people in the future. Once you start a relationship, be careful about not closing the door.

These are pretty common sense, very standard tips. But yet we forget them in the heat of the action. I hope you can find this a useful reminder.

Feel free to comment and share. Press the heart if you like. And please join me next Thursday for a new article.


Seb Giroux is a consultant, author and entrepreneur who has run a variety of IT services and departments for 20 years. His latest book, The IT Leader’s Manual (Dux Publishing, 2016), provides hands-on tips and a personal framework for IT leaders.

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