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Up Your Negotiation Game

8 steps to prepare for a negotiation

If the adage of how to get to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice, then the motto for being a better negotiator should be prepare, prepare, prepare. Yes, we may know the other party and yes we may know the topic, but there are many unknowns in the course of a negotiation. What we do not know are the particulars: how this particular negotiation at this particular time with this particular person on this particular topic will go. Of course, we cannot fully predict all the twists and turns. However, the more fully equipped we are with options, the more agile we can be in the moment to pivot and proceed as smoothly as possible.

The reality is we negotiate everyday. If we know the other negotiator or the topic, we probably feel we do not need to spend much time (or any for that matter) preparing. Once we are in the room and the negotiation does not go according to how we anticipated, we feel like a deer in headlights. It is a terrible feeling to be in a high stakes negotiation and realize we are way out of our comfort zone. Being in those uncomfortable moments can cause us to be overwhelmed, feel inadequate and feel like a negotiator impostor. Once self-doubt and panic set in we are even less prepared to proceed effectively because the stress causes a whole new host of brainwaves and chemicals to take over our emotional well-being.

Much of this can be avoided and a sense of confidence coming from feeling prepared can prevail. Athletes use mental training to break through barriers that prevent them from performing to the best of their ability. We can think of being a prepared negotiator as being a prepared athlete. We need to develop our negotiation muscles. This template of eight components has been useful in preparing for negotiations. Each component is explored through the use of provocative questions to guide planning in that area. Here are some examples:

  1. Goals: What are my goals for this negotiation and how do they fit into my overall strategy?
  2. Stakeholder: Who is directly and indirectly involved in this negotiation?
  3. Relationship: What is the nature of my current relationship and what type of relationship do I want to build?
  4. Framing: How do I frame this negotiation to make it a win-win?
  5. Create the Need: What are the motivating factors for all relevant parties to engage in this negotiation?
  6. Communication: What do I want to other parties to hear and how will I communicate it to them?
  7. Scenario Planning: What are some possible reactions they may have to my proposals?
  8. Agility & Resilience: What is my BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)?

Reviewing this guide and spending the time up front in preparation increases the possibility the negotiation will go according to plan or at least lead to more favorable outcomes than not having prepared and being caught off guard. Being prepared can lead to being more centered and even content during the negotiation process and with the outcomes attained. It allows us to reframe negotiation as an insurmountable hurdle to an opportunity to strengthen our negotiation muscles.


Fisher-Yoshida, B. & Yoshida, R. (2015). International negotiation. In J. M. Bennett (Ed.) The Sage encyclopedia of intercultural competence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ury, W. (1993). Getting past no: Negotiating in difficult situations. New York: Random House.