Getting to Safety in Negotiations

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

I'm often asked to train and coach sales teams, or to work with business owners, founders and executives to help with critical negotiations – the type of back-and-forth that seals deals, forges partnerships or resolves thorny issues.

The foundation of what I teach is good communication. Negotiation is just a small slice of the communication spectrum, just as sales are just a small part of negotiation. All sales are negotiations, but not all negotiations are sales. Similarly, all negotiations are communication, but not all communication is negotiation. To gain mastery in negotiation, you also must be a good communicator.

No matter which of the following challenges you are facing, mastery of good communication and negotiation is, ironically, non-negotiable:

  • Resetting a business relationship gone bad

  • Winning back business

  • Growing sales

  • Building profitable relationships with suppliers

  • Getting teams and partnerships aligned and collaborating effectively or

  • Negotiating across cultural differences

The first step toward mastery is understanding one of the key drivers of successful negotiation – safety.

Why do we all negotiate? We negotiate to attain a position of safety or to get to a position that feels safer. Next, when our status quo is threatened we find ways to negotiate to maintain that. Finally if we've somehow over-exposed ourselves and found ourselves in danger we negotiate to regain that safety.

Of course, safety means different things to different people, whether it’s more money, more success, more time, more freedom, more business, or more respect.

Finding safety in negotiations

Getting to safety is a process that, with the proper strategy and guidance, can help you get what you want:

Visualize the negotiation:

Consider what the negotiation process will look like. What does safety mean for you and the other side? During this period of discovery, consider what mindsets (long-term goals and benefits), actions (body language), and words (to paint the picture) are needed during the negotiation. Think about the decision and action you want at every step of the negotiation. Create an atmosphere where people feel safe. This will increase your chances of success.

Negotiate with the right person at the right time:

Negotiation will be ineffective if you’re negotiating with the wrong person or if the other side is not in a frame of mind to negotiate. This is especially important in enterprise negotiations, because, unlike negotiating with a single individual, you will encounter influencers, blockers, and decision-makers of various kinds.

Uncover and address real problems:

To move your negotiation forward, you must be dedicated at every turn to solving the problems standing in the way of your efforts. You will need to identify the real problem causing pain. You’ll likely identify a number of problems during the discovery process, so you have to be willing and able to see reality. Inability to see the real challenge or issue will result in solving the wrong problem, ultimately leading to failure.

Three levels of Discovery:

To find the real problem, you will need to complete three levels of discovery:

  • Level One: Going into a negotiation there are things you both see, know and of which you are both aware. This is your starting point for a negotiation.

  • Level Two: After discovering what is known and/or can be seen, you need to find out what the other party can see but you cannot – the hidden stuff. They may or may not hide it from you on purpose. You must uncover the hidden stuff by making others feel safe enough to share it. Using great questions crafted in their world (i.e. focused on what is important to them) will help them feel calm and safe. Having a nurturing tone and body language also helps. An example of an effective question to help uncover hidden problems would be, “What’s the biggest challenge you face today?”

  • Level Three: Now that you have uncovered what is known and hidden, you need to address what you see but they do not – their blind spots. Your job here is to walk the other party through the discovery process, so they can see and realize blind spots themselves. The temptation is to tell them, make statements, and state your interest or positions. This is actually counter-productive. The most effective method is letting others recognize these problems themselves through questions. Developing tactical questions that will assist in discovery takes practice.

Ditching the baggage:

It’s important to address old baggage – the negative issues of the past.

Baggage is a symbol of problems. When negotiating with a party that has negative biases against you/your team/company/product, it’s wise to deal with it head on. If this is not addressed, your negotiation will stall or die on the vine. The other party might “go dark.”

Listen to build rapport and show respect:

Now that you’ve done your homework and prepared for negotiation, it’s time to listen as a way to build rapport and show respect to get to a safe place. There are a number of engaged listening techniques I’ll be happy to provide when you contact me.

Propose solutions and ideas:

This is a delicate stage of the negotiation. It’s filled with emotions on both sides. Make sure you release that pressure prior to your proposal, or that feeling of safety will go away. Coming up with solutions and recommendations, if done well, is a way to make people feel safe. During a negotiation ask for permission when first making a proposal. This makes it easier for the other side to go back into discovery and find other solutions if your proposal is not accepted, instead of shutting down. Nothing makes someone feel safer than having the power to say no and to explore as many options as possible.

Focus on results rather than relationships:

People often ask me about the importance of trust and relationships in negotiations. In sales, we have all heard that we should only do business with people we trust and like. That’s not always necessary. Instead, look to do business with individuals who have great character and are competent.

Negotiation is serious business. But by understanding the role of safety in negotiations, you can prepare for and execute your next negotiation to your advantage while conducting ethical and honest business that is truly reflective of you, your goals and your company.

To learn more about safety and negotiations, contact me and I’ll send you a whitepaper on this topic with more details: and

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