You might read the title of this post, and say, “Duh…that’s obvious!”

Actually, I was hoping that would be your response. -:)

As we discussed previously, negotiating is a fact of life. It is something you do on a daily basis – with yourself and others – regarding matters large and small, simple and complex, easy and difficult. And, your goal is to get what you want.

Yet, sometimes what is “obvious” about what you want can be blinding. Because without even realizing it, what is “obvious” can cause you to operate on autopilot and under-value the importance of taking time to tune into what makes your current negotiation different.

When it comes to negotiating, the variables and the stakes are not always the same – even when the parties remain the same.

Is it really obvious?

In the world according to me, a basic fact about every negotiation is the presence of these elements:

  • Each party has a goal – or something they want
  • Each party agrees there is an ideal solution (or outcome)
  • There is a barrier between “here” and “there” (otherwise a negotiation wouldn’t be required)
  • It works best when you both agree there is more than one way to overcome the barrier and create a win-win
  • Each party has an emotional trigger

Along with the above elements, I should note a bias of mine: I believe it is helpful if all parties involved operate with an attitude and approach that the negotiation process is a joint problem-solving exercise. (Please note: I am not talking about adversarial negotiations. I’m referring to situations whereby each party is seeking the best result – where they are looking at the other party as a partner. Not someone to be conquered.)

Now, let’s look at why it’s important to understand both sides of each element in order to get more of what you want:


(1) What is your goal – what is it that you want? (2) As important, what makes this goal worth it to you? I would argue that your answer to the second question (the piece that is less obvious) is your true goal. That’s what you’re really negotiating for.

Just like your goal has layers, so too does the person with whom you are negotiating. Do you know the why behind their goal – aka, what makes the goal important to them? What, besides the obvious, is achieving this goal going to help them do? (And if you’re not negotiating with the ultimate decision maker, what are the goals of your point person and what are the goals of the decision maker?)

Not only do you need to have clarity about what you really want, it helps to have a sense of what that is for the other person, as well.

Ideal solution or outcome

What is the ideal solution or outcome? This may seem redundant, but it’s important to recognize that it may or may not be the same as your goal. Because your respective goal (noted above) may represent what you each want, but not what you each need. The best negotiations prioritize fulfilling the needs before the wants.

Take the speaking part of my business as an example: The goal is that I get booked as a speaker and the firm needing a speaker gets a speaker by booking me. But what happens if my rate exceeds their budget? It doesn’t mean the deal is dead. Instead, it means we, well…negotiate. Maybe instead of my full speaking package, I deliver parts of it. Maybe instead of multiple appearances, I do a one-off event. The dance in terms of our “give and take” is directly tied to our respective goals and what makes it important to us, respectively. It also reflects the difference between our respective needs and wants.

What’s standing in the way of a resounding “yes!?”

The barriers or obstacles that stand between your current situation and your ideal solution are as varied as the types of negotiations you find yourself navigating. However, the key is to know your own limits (what will you absolutely not agree to) and have an idea of what the other person’s limits might be. Everybody has a threshold that reflects a point at which they are willing to walk away from the literal or proverbial table. Best to know this as soon as possible.

Finally…getting to “yes!”

As with many things in life, there is rarely just one way to do something. That includes getting to a win-win you both feel awesome about. Moving beyond the obstacles may require creative thinking, but it will absolutely require that you understand what is at stake. In other words, what is the other party risking by saying, “yes?”

Knowing what’s at stake for you is certainly critical. Knowing what’s at stake for the person with whom you are negotiating…that can be priceless!

Those darn emotions

What happens during the period of silence, e.g., between email exchanges and phone calls, can trigger all sorts of emotions. Usually, this is when self-doubt rears its head. Or, maybe you question if you asked for too much or too little. Or, maybe you’re now thinking back to a past negotiation that didn’t end with win-win. That is a rabbit hole you want to skip over.

So, make sure that for each touch point of your negotiation process you are showing up emotionally, physically and spiritually strong and healthy, and not tired and worrisome.

And make sure you’re paying attention to the other person’s body language – even if you’re discerning that over the phone or email.

The end is the start

From the above, I hope you see that in order to “focus more on what you want to get,” you have to focus on ALL the elements that impact what you want to get! From both sides – yours and theirs.

And if you think what is outlined above only pertains to high-stakes negotiating, I am going to ask you to reconsider that stance. Sure it may be easier to notice when you feel intimidated, awkward or less confident when there’s more at stake. But I’d argue these elements are just as present when the stakes are low, too. In fact, I think you get better are managing these elements when the stakes are “high” because you have practiced noticing them when the stakes are “low.”

Speaking of…since last week’s post, have you been paying more attention to the multitude of times you negotiate? Do you embrace the process and experience? Or, do you acquiesce because you view it as a conflict you’d prefer to avoid? What are you using as your basis for defining “high” vs. “low” stakes?

Your assignment this week, should you choose to accept it: Observe yourself for a day and for each of your negotiations, whether you label them “high” or “low” stakes, dissect them in this manner:

  • Jot down your “real” goal and what you perceive to be the real goal of the other person;
  • Make note of the barriers (the obstacles to yes) – on your side as well as the other side;
  • Write what may be acceptable for you and what you presume may be the ideal and acceptable outcome for the other person; and
  • If a deal was reached, what did you each “give up” to reach the agreed upon outcome?

Very simply, negotiation is about getting to a solution or outcome you don’t yet have because there’s something you want to change about your present condition or situation. This is true whether the desired outcome is where to eat or where to go on vacation; what house to buy; getting a higher salary; or fine-tuning the details of a new client engagement, This is true for you and your counter-party.

Very simply, negotiation is between human beings. And that means it is always about perception, emotions and communication.

Remember this and you will avoid being blinded by what you believe to be “obvious;” you’ll also avoid the temptation to negotiate on autopilot. The advantage: You increase the likelihood of getting more of what you want to get.

p.s. The theme for this month’s dinner is: negotiation. In fact, I’ve dubbed this April #negotiationawarenessmonth. To join us at the table for “Lean In/Lean Out: Discover the Best Negotiating Strategy & Tactics For You,” click here to RSVP. It’s April 30th at 6:30pm,

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