Your 3 Best Friends in a Negotiation

Unless you live alone on a mountain top, you are involved in negotiations every single day. (And even hermits have to drive a ruthless bargain with themselves every once in a while – yes, negotiations can be intrapersonal too).

Even though the term sounds fancy, each time you try to persuade another person to do as you please (or someone is attempting this on you), you’re negotiating something: the best route to your destination, your mortgage payments, the kids’ bedtime.

Depending on your personality, negotiations can be exciting or scary. People tend to get competitive about them, even though cooperative communication is definitely preferable if you’re aiming for a long-term relationship or both parties are of equal status and strength. 

In preparing for an important negotiation, you have collected enough information on the opposite party, know your BATNA, are aware of strengths and weaknesses on each part. Yet, in the heat of the argument, a lot of things can go wrong and it feels like you’re moving farther and farther away from your intended target. 

Or perhaps you’re only trying to get your neighbor to stop making those loud noised during the night… 😉

What resources and techniques can you draw on to increase your chances of success? Here are three:


It has become somewhat of a truism that the person asking the questions is controlling the conversation. When faced with a question, people scramble to answer and often feel on the defensive (so don’t overdo it!). But questions are useful even when used in perfectly good faith. They help you gather information, observe the other person’s reaction, understand their state of mind and the value they place on things. Questions generate knowledge, and the more knowledge you have, the better your decisions can be.


Listening actively and then repeating what you have understood back to the person makes them feel heard and see things from your perspective. It also helps eliminate ambiguity and clarify vague statements. ‘So, are you saying that…. (repeat their own argument or suggestion in your own words). It can also give you time to think about how to counter said argument or suggestion. It allows you to dismantle the other side’s objection on their own terms. Paraphrasing is like going: ‘I heard you say this, here’s how I understand what you’ve just said, and this is my take on it. Am I understanding you right? Is there something we can do about this issue that would bring our interests closer together?‘ Mirroring can also involve adjusting your posture or tone of voice to match your counterpart, which hopefully results in them liking you more (affinity).


Emotions can often get out of hand. When you’re being mocked and slighted, should you immediately react or become inflamed? If the insult is too subtle for others to notice and it does not inexorably chip away at your authority (or unless it is a vicious ad hominem attack), researchers suggest you let it go and address it later in private. Showing self-restraint can even improve your standing. But sometimes, you simply can’t let it go. It keeps happening. To get it out of the way, you need to address it on the meta-communication level – i.e. communicate about the way they communicate: ‘I’m sorry, but I am sensing a lot of anger in your voice and I don’t know where it is coming from.‘ ‘For me that sounds disparaging and I would rather we not use that tone of voice.‘ Or something similar. Make them see you see it, but in a tactful way that saves face. Always speak in the first person, don’t play the blame game.

Of course, in high-stakes negotiations there are never any guarantees that things will run smoothly, even if you seem to be doing everything right. But try these techniques in your daily life to train yourself. I’d love to hear back from you on the difference they make (or don’t make). 

If your negotiations have reached an impasse and they seem helplessly stuck, it could be one of these reasons: negotiating positions instead of interests, judgment distorted by strong emotions, biases, lack of communication, assigning blame, antipathy, incompatible conflict management styles, divisiveness (people have been pushed into a corner). What leads to impasses and how to solve them, in a later post! Stay tuned!

P.S. And if you need a competent interpreter in a business negotiation, do not hesitate to call!

#communication #coaching #negotiations #interculturalcommunication #interpreting #transcreation