How to Conduct Principled Negotiation

Norb Slowikowski / February 2017

Negotiation is more art than science. It brings together many different abilities into one mindset of reaching an agreement in the most effective manner. As anyone in the business world can attest, this is not always the simplest of tasks. We need a series of guidelines to achieve unity of purpose in any productive discussion. The specific method to use for optimum give-and-take is that of “principled negotiation.”
So, in order to set up the best motivational climate in your workplace, a process needs to be followed. By using a step-by-step process that adheres to the tenets of motivation, we set our team up for success. What follows are the four main keys to providing effective motivation.
Principled negotiation is essentially negotiating on the merits. This method achieves success by being tough on the problem and soft on the person, which takes away the roadblocks to real communication. The essence of this method can be summarized in five points:

  1. Separate the person from the problem.
  2. Focus on underlying concerns, not stated positions.
  3. Generate a variety of solutions before deciding what to do.
  4. Base agreement on objective standards.
  5. Prepare in advance for what you’ll do if negotiation fails.

It is also important to remember that people are in a constant negotiation, frequently looking for an edge in obtaining the most efficient solution possible. During a negotiation, everything you want is owned or controlled by someone else. This knowledge helps us break our methods down further to the critical factors of power, information and time. Power in negotiation comes down to influence. Specifically, defining what makes one person able to influence another person. Information is the knowledge that can be used to influence the negotiation. The time element comes into play in how critical the negotiation is to either party’s ultimate success.
With all this in mind, let’s get more specific about effective negotiating skills. The “big three” in skilled negotiation include perception, emotion and communication. If you can master these three skills, every negotiation you engage in will create a success for both parties involved.
Ever heard the phrase, “perception is reality?” It holds just as true in the case of negotiation. Perception is having an understanding for how the other side thinks. As you negotiate, your perception can be enhanced by a few simple steps:

  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Don’t deduce their intentions from your fears.
  • Don’t blame them for your problem.
  • Discuss each other’s perceptions.
  • Look for opportunities to show them you’re not who they think you are; give them a reason to think you’re flexible.
  • Give them a stake in the outcome; have them participate in the process.
  • Make your proposals consistent with their values.

Another guideline that goes hand in hand with perception is emotion. By letting emotion affect your style of negotiation, you can be perceived in ways that hurt your bottom line. With this in mind, be aware of what you are feeling. The following are guidelines for dealing with emotions during persuading sessions:

  • Recognize and understand emotions—both yours and theirs.
  • Acknowledge emotions and make them a focus of discussion, if necessary.
  • Allow the other side to let off some steam.
  • Use symbolic gestures; invite the other side to join you for dinner or for a cup of coffee. Show them you care about them as people.
  • Don’t react in kind to emotional outbursts.

After harnessing your emotions and winning the game of perception, you can move on to more open, honest, two-way communication. Here are some proven psychological techniques to improve communication:

  • Speak to be understood, and reduce outside distractions by keeping confidence and communication in private.
  • Speak about yourself, not about them. Use first person.
  • Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.
  • Don’t simply react. Think before you speak, then speak with a purpose.

Even armed with these guidelines, you can still run into roadblocks on the way to success. Prepare in advance for what to do if the negotiation fails. In other words, know the best alternative. It’s always important to have a backup plan, so invent a list of actions you might take. Next, convert the most promising ones into realistic options, and then select your best option. This option becomes your “walk-away alternative.” Judge every offer against this alternative. While you’re at it, consider the other side’s best alternative as well. The more you understand the alternatives, the better prepared you will be for negotiation. Here’s how:

  • Don’t attack the other person’s position—look behind it.
  • Don’t defend your ideas. Instead, invite criticism and advice.
  • Recast an attack on you as an attack on the problem.
  • Ask questions, then pause. Silence can be very effective.

It’s important to use all of your options, whether it’s your top priority or your best alternative. Keep everything on the table without narrowing the negotiation down to only one item. One common mistake in negotiation is to make the whole discussion about price. If you narrow the give-and-take down to one issue and it is price, someone has to win, and someone has to lose. When you include every facet along with price in the negotiation, you have a real chance at an agreement that fosters communication in the future.
In the end, the art of win/win is to piece together the various elements. Once you master all the elements of effective negotiation, each party will walk away feeling they’ve made the ultimate agreement.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. To contact him, email