It’s not ‘hired or fired’ that makes good negotiators

Frequently in my professional work as a negotiator and trainer, I see people who have approached negotiation with a default style of being a “tough negotiator”.  They will turn up attempting to bluff through with an attitude based on what they’ve seen on TV and what they assume a strong negotiator is.  They like to “cut to the chase”, go straight in with final offers, present dramatic “either-ors” (the “hired or fired” style) and generally act as though the negotiation is a competition of perceived toughness, with the victor being the party who has the strongest poker face.

The problem is that in real life, unlike TV, negotiation doesn’t work like this.  Whilst so-called “tough” negotiators (another word for tough here may be “bullying”) may get some easy victories and gain plaudits from others who also, mistakenly, think it’s all about being “tough”, they tend to struggle against even a fairly competent opponent and rarely, if ever, achieve win-win solutions.   When boiled down, being a “tough negotiator” is essentially just demanding what you want, frequently quite poorly.  If the other side won’t give you what you’re demanding, however, then you have made no progress.

In the real world, very good negotiators realise that it’s not just about demanding your way.  They strategise, plan effectively, and adapt their language and style to the negotiation. The best negotiators are thoughtful and openly think and reflect during negotiation sessions.  They use time effectively, and work with the other party to get the best deal.  These negotiators have an inner, not an outer, toughness.

The following are 5 tips for making yourself the best negotiator in real-life and moving from an outer to an inner toughness

1.     Get training as a negotiator and take time to reflect on your performance

If you negotiate regularly, and have not attended training, you need to ask yourself why not?  Negotiation is not obvious and there are skills that can be learnt to make yourself better.  Purely instinctive negotiators only get so far.  The best negotiators are highly trained.

If you negotiate in a team, did you take time after your last negotiation to review how the negotiation itself went and what worked and what didn’t?  Team debriefs on process of the negotiation are vital.  Who did what? How did that phrase land?  How could we do this better in the future?

Additionally, are you personally reflecting on your performance and skills?  If you are not, you are missing a trick that the best negotiators are doing.

2. Plan, plan, plan

Most people do not give enough time to planning for a negotiation.  This means not only thinking about what you want, but planning options, and recognising the information that you don’t have.  You need to effectively think about what the other party want and need as well. The best negotiators will think about language choice and the other party’s style before a negotiation

3. Lose the tough talk

Tough talk only gets you so far.  Unless you can get immediate acquiescence (unlikely from all but the weakest negotiator), tough talk only normally generates similar tough talk in return.  Rather, the object of a negotiation is to persuade, not to demand agreement.  Focus on this.

4. Spend time during a negotiation exploring options.

A good negotiator listens as much, if not more, than they speak.  Avoid those niggling doubts afterwards that you could have got a better deal, by making sure that you are exploring these options during a negotiation.  If you find you don’t have time for this, consider whether you are giving yourself artificial time constraints – did you set yourself enough time for this negotiation, or are you (or your counterpart) trying to fit it in with other work?  The best negotiators recognise the importance of having time, and use it wisely.  Time pressure is a crude stick to generate agreement.

5. Know what a good deal is and when you are being made a good, solid offer

This is perhaps one of the most important skills during a negotiation but surprisingly it is one that many people do not actively think about.  Many negotiators do not know truly what their most important items are and what it is that they need as opposed to what they want, what would be nice to have and what would be windfalls.  Do not be dazzled by fripperies. You need to let the other party know what it is that you need for a deal and influence them to give you these.

If you wish to learn more, or further your professional negotiation skills, CEDR’s Advanced Negotiation Skills Training Course is now taking bookings.

More information about the course can be found at the following link : Advanced Negotiation Skills

Alternatively, you can contact me at

By Frederick Way

Frederick joined the CEDR Foundation in September 2012. As research manager, Frederick is in charge of the development of all of the Foundation’s projects and activities, both carrying out his own research as well as supporting other staff members in their specific Foundation-based projects. Frederick is the primary point of contact for all of CEDR’s Foundation training bursaries and ADR internships.