How to Win A Negotiation

How to Win A Negotiation

how to win a negotiation

From the Experts

By Ellie K. Vilendrer  All Articles

Corporate Counsel

It is counterintuitive in business negotiation that someone would agree to take a loss so you can take a gain. The key to getting your opponent to do something that is in your best interest is persuading your opponent that accepting your proposition is in their best interest. Your offer or demand, therefore, must be presented as a win-win. This is true no matter what you are negotiating.

The following guidelines will help you achieve your desired outcome, whether it is to settle a dispute or win a big contract for your company:


  • Calculate your bottom line by figuring out your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. This is the course of action you will take if agreement cannot be reached. Evaluate all costs and benefits of agreement and non-agreement, including non-monetary costs and benefits.
  • Prioritize your interests and identify your aspiration point (or goal). This should be reasonable in light of the strengths and weaknesses of your position.
  • When preparing to make a demand, think of different options or packages you can propose, if possible. You will want to present options that seek to achieve your opponent’s objectives in addition to your own.
  • Research your opponent if you are not familiar with them. Knowing their background and personality will give you more insight into how to frame your dialogue.


  • Consider what form of communication will be most conducive to achieving a favorable result. In-person negotiations are usually the most productive when stakes are high, whereas email communications are often the least productive (or even counter-productive). The less personable the communication, the greater the likelihood your opponent will be overly aggressive and reject your demand outright or make a ridiculous counter-offer. People have a much harder time acting aggressively face to face, and to a lesser extent on the telephone. Email can be an unproductive form of communication, particularly because tone is often misunderstood.
  • Spend time establishing a rapport and finding commonalities with your opponent. This will help foster a cooperative environment. If you research your opponent in advance you may be able to point out a  commonality during the introduction.


  • Make your opening position strong by demanding an amount that is as much more than your bottom line as you can fairly and reasonably justify. The negotiator who makes the first reasonable demand or offer will set the bargaining range for the entire negotiation.
  • Persuade your opponent that agreeing to your demands is in their best interest by highlighting the weaknesses of their case and    the strengths of yours. If confronted about your weaknesses, acknowledge them, but quickly follow up with your strongest point.
  • Give concessions slowly, but appropriately.
  • Although you are firm, be sure to maintain a friendly, collaborative tone. For example, you can say, “I am prepared to [fill in the blank] if this does not resolve the matter, but I am confident we can resolve this amicably.”


  • Demonstrate why your demand is reasonable by using objective criteria (such as figures or statistics) to justify your position. This will help you establish credibility.
  • Explain why your opponent’s position is unreasonable.


  • Probe your opponent to find out their interests. Ask questions of your opponent to expose the weaknesses in the reasoning offered to support their demands. Make sure that all of their demands are justified by reasonable objective criteria.
  • Ask your opponent to prioritize their interests.
  • Listen to your opponent instead of merely thinking about what you are going to say next.
  • Do not divulge information that is unnecessary and unproductive.


  • Show interest in your opponent’s interests. Your opponent will only accept your proposition if they believe it is in their best interest to do so.
  • Depending on the deal, you may be able to dovetail your and your opponent’s interests and create options for mutual gains. Think of some of these options in advance of the negotiation, but do not offer so many as to overwhelm them.
  • As the negotiation proceeds and each of you make concessions, acknowledge the progress that you are making to cultivate a positive, non-competitive atmosphere.
  • Do not create false issues. Creating false issues may be disruptive because you may not be able to demonstrate why the issues are important and how you are affected by them.


  • Many studies have shown that mirroring the aggressive and cooperative patterns of your opponent’s style in a negotiation is highly effective. Such reactions of reward and punishment, however, must be applied appropriately and consistently to be effective.
  • Just as you are consistent in your reactions, you should also be consistent in your actions. Being consistent makes your threats and demands credible.


  • Beware of non-verbal communication that may be sending your opponent the message that your position is weak (i.e., slouching, biting your lip, looking down, or speaking softly). Use positive body language to convey confidence (i.e., eye-contact, erect posture). Having adequately prepared will enhance your confidence naturally. Additionally, use positive body language to appear cooperative (i.e., nod your head to show you are listening). Studies have shown that women are naturally more inclined to non-verbally communicate that they are listening so men should pay even more attention to this.

Refine your skills as a negotiator by reflecting on your negotiations. No matter your personality style, you can be an effective negotiator. Just make your opponent an offer that is in their best interest and that is an offer they will not be able to refuse.

Reprinted with permission from the June 20, 2013 edition of the Corporate Counsel© 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382 or or visit