5 Tips for More Productive Negotiations

Negotiation Success

Imagine going into an important negotiation with the confidence you’ll be able to direct the conversation according to your plan – no matter how your counterparty acts – and drive the agenda to achieve the best possible results. To achieve this, you’ll need strong negotiations tactics as well as a keen understanding of human behavior. 

Commercial negotiations are more than just exchanging offers; they’re an opportunity to achieve mutually beneficial results while building stronger relationships with long-term partners. For purchasing teams, this means using a collaborative negotiation framework while applying advanced communication skills.  In this article, we’ll focus on the top five tips we’ve developed from behavioral science to ensure more productive negotiations. 

Behavioral Science 

Behavioral science is the scientific study of human behavior. It’s a field of knowledge that allows us to predict and influence how people will behave through a better understanding of how we all make decisions and interpret & respond to communications. Simply put, it gives us an “operations manual” for human behavior.

Interested in learning how Behavioral Science can help you improve your effectiveness in negotiations? Watch the free on-demand 30-minute webinar Adapting Communications for Better Negotiations

We’ll skip the many lessons from anthropology, psychology, and sociology that contribute to behavioral science and get right to the five tips that will make you a more successful negotiator. 

1. Establish an Upper Edge at the Start  

Both sides come to a negotiation with their own goals and plans for how to drive the discussion to attain the upper hand. The typical approach is to try to control the agenda by being very assertive to start the meeting. But psychologically, this just hardens the other side’s resolve. A better way to influence the outcome of a meeting is to be openly transparent on what is happening. Start every interaction by reviewing expectations and asking the other party to confirm. A simple formula for this is PTAP

  • Purpose – State the purpose of the meeting.  Something like “The purpose of today’s call is to discuss your response to our RFQ.” 
  • Time – Be explicit about how much time you have available and confirm they also have the time. An example would be “We had planned to meet for an hour – I can go longer if needed, but I have a hard stop at 10:30. How does your schedule look?” 
  • Agenda – Review the agenda, for instance “I’ve got some questions to clarify my understanding of your quote. Also, I have a list of questions that we’re asking all suppliers quoting on this package. Is there anything else you’d like to have on today’s agenda?” 
  • Potential Outcomes – Describe what the meeting is driving towards.  For example, “At the end of our call today, we’ll likely decide if you’re in the running for this program. My goal is to schedule the next step or to let you know that we’re not moving forward with you on this. It’s also possible you’ll need to research and provide additional information, that’s ok, we’ll just want to agree on timing so we can keep the process moving forward.” 

This level of transparency is surprisingly refreshing – even shocking – and usually leads to your counterparty quickly changing their perspective to a more collaborative approach. By simply stating the obvious (and following through on what you’ve laid out), you will enhance your credibility, the first step to building the trust needed to achieve win-win negotiations.  

2. Act, Don’t React to Maintain Composure 

We are all naturally wired to react to pressure by asserting control and defending our position. For some people, any pressure is perceived as an attack and they lose sight of their negotiation goals and end up creating a level of conflict that is unproductive.  The best thing you can do when you feel the inner urge to push back is to take a pause and reflect on why the other party is acting the way they are. Maybe they have been conditioned by interactions with other buyers, perhaps they have just got off a call with another customer that didn’t go well, maybe they were raised by wolves.  Whatever the reason, it’s probably has nothing to do with you. 

The most constructive thing you can do when your counterparty is overly assertive in their negotiating position is to take a breath and maintain your composure.  Recognize that they may be acting out because they feel pressured – even if you’ve done nothing to pressure them – and focus your attention on giving them space to regain their composure. Your goal is to give a constructive response, not to win the argument.  Stay calm, acknowledge what they say, ask questions, and attempt to turn the conversation to a more collaborative discussion. 

3. Show Them a Path Forward 

Recognizing that your counterparty is also wired to react to any positions you advocate with hardened resolve, how can you drive the agenda without triggering their defenses?  The answer lies in telling stories, specifically, third-party stories. 

Third-party stories are descriptions of past experiences that do not involve the other party. You simply describe a similar circumstance and share how it resolved, and ask them if they think that approach might be worth a discussion. They will not see themselves in the spotlight, and psychologically, are able to evaluate the options you are suggesting without feeling any pressure.   

Here’s an example: You’ve quoted several suppliers and one of the best cost suppliers didn’t fill out the required cost breakdowns. You might say, “Last year, we had a supplier who quoted very competitively but didn’t provide cost details with their quotes.  We wanted to include them in the next round, but they weren’t providing the level of transparency other suppliers were. Their suggestion was, if we identified the parts where they were the most competitive, they’d fill out the cost breakdown. Would that be something you’d want to explore?” In this case, you’re subtly suggesting the solution you want and letting them make the choice on how to proceed. If they say no to your “suggestion”, nothing is lost and you can make another suggestion, or you can ask them if they have any ideas. 

4. Give Out Lots of Cookies  

“Cookies” are a metaphor for things you can say and do to make the other person feel good about themselves. Psychologists recognize that everyone appreciates cookies, and it’s a given that cookies play a crucial role in building a positive meeting environment, motivating others, and reinforcing desired behaviors. This isn’t about being liked – negotiations are more productive when the counterparties genuinely want to achieve a win-win resolution. 

For some people, giving lots of cookies comes naturally (and everyone wants to work with them). For others, it’s against their nature and has to be a learned behavior. Look for opportunities to create a positive meeting atmosphere by: 

  • Giving positive, authentic compliments – for example, “You’ve come very well prepared” 
  • Providing reassuring statements – for instance, “That’s not unusual, a lot of people also . . . “ 
  • Expressing genuine appreciation – for example, “Thank you for taking the time to meet today” 

Giving out a lot of cookies requires you to recognize opportunities where you can be sincere. An insincere compliment is like giving someone with a nut allergy a peanut butter cookie – they’ll instantly identify that you have an agenda and will react accordingly. You’ll find there are many opportunities you’re missing to give out authentic, genuine cookies – just remember to look for them. 

5. Listen to Understand 

Most people talk too much when negotiating. They don’t listen closely to what the other party is saying because they are focusing on how they can best respond to assert their position. But collaborative negotiations require you listen and probe to understand the other party’s interest. Plus, you can better guide a conversation by asking questions (probing) than you can by making statements. 

Follow these rules to excel at negotiations through better listening and understanding: 

  • Give you undivided attention 
  • Demonstrate you’re listening 
  • Summarize what you hear 
  • Keep an open mind 
  • Respond with respect 

Check out the upcoming Advanced Negotiations Course to develop skills to adapt communications for better negotiations.
Live Online | April 11 & 18

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