Home Professionalisms Five Powerful Tools For Tough Negotiations

Five Powerful Tools For Tough Negotiations


By Prof. Deepak Malhotra, author of the bestselling book “Negotiating the Impossible

Business Meeting

When heads are hot, positions are entrenched and negotiations are hopelessly stuck, how do you effectively seal a winning deal?

Whether you’re executing a high-stakes business deal, hammering out the terms of a job offer, or navigating an emotional conflict, these five tips will keep negotiations from getting derailed.

1. Negotiate process first.

After negotiating for months. Just when you think the deal is done, the other side says it needs another six months, or approval from the boss. You can avoid such frustrations by negotiating process before substance.  Before getting deep into the deal, get clarity and commitment on how you will get to the finish line.  How long does it take their organization to do a deal like this? Who needs to be on board? How will progress be tracked?  Negotiating process at the outset helps you avoid substance mistakes later.

2. Shift from “what?” to “why?”.

The right questions can help avert deadlock.  A simple rule of thumb: Asking why is more important than asking what. Asking “what” focuses on their positions (e.g., we need exclusivity). Asking “why” helps you understand their underlying interests (e.g., I am worried about Competitor X having access to your technology). Positions are sometimes incompatible, even when interests are reconcilable.  For example, you might not be able to grant exclusivity, but you could carve out an exception for Competitor X.

3. Normalize the process.

Effective mediators, especially in potentially emotional disputes, often start by telling clients something like this: “You think you hate each other today?  Well, half way through this process you will probably hate each other even more. When that happens, I just want you to remember: that’s normal.” Saying this makes it less likely they will quit when emotions run high.  Great negotiators also “normalize the process”. When you forewarn the other side about common delays and disruptions, it keeps people from assuming the worst when inevitable problems emerge.

negotiating the impossible book

4. Make multiple offers.

Sometimes people reject proposals because their hands are truly tied.  The sooner you can figure out where flexibility exists, the more likely you can structure a deal that works for both sides. Offering multiple proposals or solutions not only signals flexibility, it makes it less likely that their legitimate constraints will create an impasse.  Remember: The more currencies you allow someone to pay you in, the more likely you are to get paid.

5. Ignore ultimatums.

When the other side issues ultimatums the best response is usually the simplest: Ignore them. Don’t ask people to repeat or clarify ultimatums, and don’t get into lengthy discussions about them. Why? Many ultimatums are not true deal-breakers. Sometimes people are just emotional, or trying to assert control or gain advantage.

Later, they might realize it is actually in their best interest to do what they said they never would. If you’ve ignored the ultimatum, it will be easier for them to back down without losing face.


Deepak Malhotra

Deepak Malhotra is the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. A bestselling author, his new book, “Negotiating the Impossible” (Berrett-Koehler 2016) offers principles to apply in everyday life, whether negotiating job offers, resolving business disputes, or tackling obstacles in personal relationships. 



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