Negotiation – The Difference Between Good And Great

We all negotiate. Every day involves negotiations with our family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances – even complete strangers. Because of this constant practice, it wold be reasonable to assume that we become good negotiators – and many of us are. But there are very few great negotiators. What are the differences between good and great when it comes to negotiation?


Good negotiators focus on what they want. They have researched and analysed the possibilities, prioritised the issues and estimated their ability to compromise on each one. They put their offers powerfully and persuasively. Great negotiators focus on what the other side wants from the negotiation. They probe why each request is made and what the other side is trying to achieve in the negotiation. They realise that by looking deeper into their demands, you can often find ways that you can help them achieve their aims that you had never considered before. This allows you to bring additional value to the negotiation table.

First Contact

Good negotiators work hard to create a good first impression. They realise the importance of relationship building to the success of the negotiation. They know that the better each side understands each other, the more chance they have of reaching a mutually-beneficial agreement. Great negotiators realise the importance of the ‘pattern interrupter’. While they try to make a positive first impression, they recognise the power – and the danger – of patterned thinking. As negotiators, we are often the victims of the last person they negotiated with. If the last person they negotiated with was slippery, deceptive and manipulative it is likely that they will treat you the same. To create a positive attitude, you have to break this patterned thinking – make them realise that you are different and deserve a different approach.

Initial Stance

Good negotiators are prepared to start the bargaining either way. Like a well-trained football team, they are prepared to start the game by kicking-off or by receiving. The reality is, though, most would prefer the other side to make the first offer because that gives an insight into the other side’s expectations. Who knows? They may make an offer way higher than you expected. Great negotiators are more prepared to go first. They realise the power of ‘anchoring’. A first offer acts as an anchor – setting the frame and influencing what the final agreement will be. Research has shown that those who go first in a negotiation have a better than average chance of getting the best deal.


Good negotiators asses the value of their offer compared to what the other side is offering. They use whatever independent references are available to establish this value. Great negotiators recognise that they need to aim for the highest perceived value to the other side. They know that, in negotiation, perception is reality. For example, you may take the reliability of your supply as a given as you have never failed to deliver. But for a customer who has been disadvantaged by lack of supply in the past, reliability of supply has very high perceived value.


Good negotiators research the other side thoroughly. Great researches don’t just do their own homework. They do the homework of the other side. They research themselves just as the other side would. This makes sure there is little chance of them mentioning something that you didn’t know they knew. This will compromise your confidence in your research which will impact on how forcefully you can put your offer. Surprises diminish confidence.

Non-Committal Space

Good negotiators assess the other side’s reaction to their offer based not just on what they say, but on their non-verbal communication. They put an offer and watch the reaction of all members of the other negotiating team. Great negotiators are able to assess the other side’s reaction to an offer without actually putting their offer on the table. The trouble with the former approach is that you have to put the offer to get the reaction. And once it is on the table it cannot be withdrawn. Great negotiators create a safe ‘non-committal’ space for the other side with lines like”: “I’m not asking for any commitment, but what would you think if we incorporated this.”

Time Pressure

Good negotiators understand the power of time pressure. They know the side under the most time pressure will be most likely to compromise. Great negotiators pro-actively use time pressure. They know the power of deadlines in negotiation. Until the deadline is in sight, you won’t get the other side to put up their best offer. If they don’t know how long the negation will last, they will always hold something back because they don’t want to run out of bargaining chips before you do. Where possible, great negotiators time-limit their offers. In a world of great uncertainty, negotiation skills become more important.

Apply these lessons from great negotiators and create brilliant deals.

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