Master the Three Phases of Negotiation

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

(Eliminate Fear, Foster Greater Collaboration, and Build Better, Lasting Deals)

Quick: What one word comes to mind when you think about negotiating? For many, negotiation is an unsettling and tricky undertaking. Some automatically assume negotiations will be laced with coercion, threats, manipulation, deceit and compromises. Others feel very vulnerable in the process.

Frequently, I observe inexperienced negotiators or people in leadership roles behaving deceitfully in negotiations. Their behaviors range from small white lies to outright falsehoods. Despite the variety of their dishonest conduct, the one thing they have in common is fear; they are apprehensive about what will happen if they tell the truth.

Negotiation, however, does not have to be based on fear and void of truthfulness. You can negotiate with respect, confidence and integrity. You can get what you want without compromising, feeling uncomfortable or threatened.

Negotiating effectively ensures that your efforts move forward. Doing so takes knowledge and training. Although it seems counter-intuitive, your odds of coming to a lasting agreement increase exponentially when you’re negotiating with an opponent who has had similar training to the system we teach at 88 Owls. With you and your adversary guided by the same principles, you will discover that being curious and sharing information freely, from a place of authenticity and respect, facilitates a more successful negotiation.

Most of us believe we have to act from a singular focus and leverage it to our advantage. The truth is that there is no need to take advantage of your counterpart during negotiations in order to walk away satisfied. As long as you can get your counterpart to feel safe and motivated to work with you, then you’re halfway to ensuring that the negotiation won’t fall apart. By creating the right environment, You will be able to work together to overcome the obstacles that prevent negotiations from moving forward. No one will conclude the negotiations feeling that they’ve been held hostage by the other. Rather, each party will invest in a plan that benefits both sides.

Successful negotiators understand and employ these behaviors and mindsets to ensure the best setting for negotiating.

In my work, I’ve seen nervous, self-conscious, contentious negotiators transform into calm, confident, respectful and collaborative leaders.

Utilize these three phases to maximize your dialogue and attain a successful outcome in any negotiation – personal, financial or professional:


Connect on a deeper level that fosters greater empathy and understanding, leading to discovery on both ends. In order to connect on a deeper level, you must identify the desired outcome. You wouldn’t board a plane without knowing your destination, how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel, etc. So, why would you enter a negotiation without understanding your desired outcome? Columbia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, told University of Virginia graduates in his commencement address, “If you know your port of destination, then every wind, tide, and current, whether good or bad, will serve to take you towards your destination.” As the country’s leader, he knows that the endgame will prepare one for any hiccups along the way. And when you understand what makes your counterpart tick, you’ll have greater clarity and willingness to ensure that both parties reach a satisfying outcome. Employing discovery methods (to uncover both party’s objectives, objections, etc.) can bring the desired result into focus. Remaining calm and in control will enhance the discovery process and lead to better, more creative solutions. Begin this process by breaking the ice. Starting off with small talk is a good way to set the stage for a more open, comfortable negotiation.

In tandem with identifying the desired outcome is evaluating your opponent’s “hand”. Poker players learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses (which can be achieved through connection). It’s known as the first quadrant of information in a technique called the Johari Window. Developed by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, in 1955, the tool also contains second and third quadrants, known solely to you and to your opponent, respectively. If the previous two quadrants are opened, then the fourth will unfold as well. This last quadrant, which contains hidden information and blind spots, requires vulnerability as well as the ability to engender safety and trust in order for others to open up. Respecting them and asking the right questions will lead to important discoveries, enabling the fourth window to open fully so both sides will have lightbulb or “aha” moments. It’s those moments that lead to a genuine sharing of information and collaboration to reach a satisfying solution.


Respect one another’s perspectives and objectives as well as the negotiation process itself. Once you’ve connected, make sure you exhibit respect for your counterpart. Doing so will help break down barriers, reveal any underlying issues that could impede negotiations, and create a feeling of safety that will establish a deeper trust between the two of you. Additionally, it will give your counterpart the option to divulge their deep, dark secrets to you. These nuggets will help move your negotiations forward quickly. Conversely, people who are dismissed or disrespected often react as if they’ve been physically threatened. What’s more, entering a room with a confrontational attitude will only put your counterpart on the defensive and make them less inclined to open up to you or worse, shut down altogether, setting up the negotiation for failure.

Another important aspect of respect that fosters trust is coming from an honest, authentic place. If you’re disingenuous or covert in your negotiations, your counterpart will not trust you nor will they be willing to collaborate towards, or commit to, a successful outcome.

A good approach to take is to anticipate how your counterpart may react and plan accordingly. The better connected you are to them and the more they trust you, the easier this process will be. Elite athletes don’t just envision themselves winning. They play out every possible obstacle beforehand. The marathoner asks, “What could possibly go wrong during my race and how would I handle it?” Then they practice playing out those scenarios. Come race day, they stand a better chance of overcoming them with preparation. The same is true before sitting down at the negotiating table. Consider all external, situational, and internal obstacles (not so obvious organizational or personnel issues that could resurface later). If you’re acquiring another company, will there be a staff reduction? If so, how will you address it during the negotiation and post-deal? Some issues might be critical, while others might just be peripheral. Focus on the former first. Consequently, you’ll find that many of the latter simply fall away.


Collaborate in such a way that all parties walk away feeling heard and recognized as well as in a way that facilitates the creation of a solution that satisfies both sides of the negotiating table. In this phase, trust is slowly established; thereby creating a deeper connection. This step is crucial because it fosters more effective collaboration, which ensures that deals are less likely to break down. It also will encourage the other party to offer suggestions for moving forward. Their participation and your collaboration will make them more likely to follow through on an idea that they developed or worked on rather than one that was thrust upon them.

Imagine this scenario: Mary is enthusiastic, genuine and truly interested in everyone’s perspective and suggestions on how to move the project forward. Also in the group is Joan. She is closed off, dismissive of others’ suggestions and hijacks the discussion with her ideas. Who would you be more inclined to listen to and work alongside?

Strong negotiators know how to create a synergy that lends itself to the collaborative process and energizes all parties to commit to a successful conclusion.

Integral to a successful collaboration is a clear understanding of the mission or endgame. They don’t allow themselves to be distracted or side tracked; instead, maintaining a focus on their purpose and efforts (what they need to accomplish, how they’ll do it and how to inspire others to see it to fruition).

Next, create and implement a plan of action. The process of discovery is only valuable if it is acted upon. In order to ensure that the plan is effective, two questions can be used as benchmarks:

  1. How will you know that you are delivering value on an ongoing basis? What steps will you take to ensure agreement continuity? Do all involved parties have the knowledge and tools to support the plan? Are there clear communication channels and a chain of command?

  2. How will you address issues that might crop up along the way? We’ve all experienced Murphy’s Law and “the best laid plans”. A negotiation is not immune to these speed bumps. Like the marathon analogy, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. Employ accountability from all players to address any problems. According to Tommy Koh, an ambassador to the UN and winner of the Great Negotiator Award from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation, that sometimes means adopting a “tough heart” and understanding your “responsibility to replace people who were not succeeding, whether due to a lack of knowledge, indecision, controversy, etc.”

Remember, your negotiations don’t stop once the plan has been implemented. Make sure you nurture the negotiation going forward too. Negotiation requires working together and continuing to foster that relationship. People change. Situations ebb and flow, for better or worse. Things change, possibly forcing you to revisit and tweak the original negotiation. A good leader will be proactive in this process – revisiting and addressing these issues as well as engaging in the rediscovery process internally and externally. When a married couple first enters in negotiation (coupledom and/or marriage), they’re likely on the same page. But over time, work, children, money and illness change the original negotiation parameters. The wife wants to address the imbalances of the original agreement, but her husband isn’t interested. Over time, resentments grow, and they drift apart. One day, she tells him she wants a divorce, because he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. If he’d been open to the rediscovery process, many of his wife’s concerns could have been addressed and/or renegotiated. This is true not only in marriages, but friendships, business partnerships and myriad relationships that can fall by the wayside without negotiation nurturing.

Strong negotiators know that discovery leads to better deals, faster and more efficiently. They embrace the no as an entry point to conversation and welcome the opportunity to develop and improve the negotiation relationship over the long term.

Your Turn…

Tell us about one of your successful negotiations? What were some of your takeaways? How did you work with your counterpart to overcome obstacles? What characteristics in yourself as well as your counterpart ensured the negotiation reached a good conclusion?

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