The free communication tool for negotiating fair outcomes, even in challenging situations
VoteFair Negotiation Tool: The free communication tool for negotiating fair outcomes, even in challenging situations

10 Negotiation Tips

These negotiation tips apply to any real-life negotiation
in which the participants prefer to collaborate rather than fight.

  1. Ask questions of other participants.  Choose questions that can prompt answers that will help you better understand their perspective.  (Don't waste time asking yes-or-no questions.)  With a better understanding of what's important to the other participants, you can design proposals that not only give you what you want most, but also give them what they want most.

    For example, if a participant strongly objects to what appears to be a reasonable proposal, ask “Why is this important to you?”  The answer is likely to surprise you—and reveal alternate ways to give that participant what he or she wants.
  2. To prevent participants from saying that everything they want is important, ask participants to rank proposals according to their preference, as done at  This approach quickly reveals what is really important.  It also reminds participants that something can have importance only to the extent that other things are less important.
  3. You won't get what you want if you don't ask for what you want.  Submit proposals!   Even if you can't think of a way to get what you want in a way that's acceptable to other participants, ask for what you want anyway.  Doing so communicates important information.  Also consider that another participant may be able to translate your desire into a reasonable proposal.
  4. If you dislike a proposal, create new proposals that split a disliked proposal into components you like (and that other participants also like) and components you don't like.  Ranking these separate proposals clarifies the underlying issues, and makes progress toward maximizing benefits for everyone.

    For example, if the issue were to allow or disallow divorces, one proposal can disallow divorce for marriages performed in religions (such as Catholicism) that disallow divorce, and another proposal can allow divorce for secular marriages and marriages performed in other religions (that do not ban divorce).
  5. Resolve ambiguity, or specify significant details.  An ambiguous proposal can be interpreted differently by different participants, which can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.  Details can be important in ways you may not anticipate.

    For example, consider a case in which one participant wants to erect a fence and another participant objects because, without saying so, they envision a fence that blocks sunshine.  To resolve the ambiguity, add a proposal for erecting a wrought-iron fence that doesn't block sunshine.

    As another example, if a buyer of real estate claims they will use the property for residential purposes, yet they might use it for commercial purposes, request a contingency clause such as: “if within the next seven years the real estate is used for commercial, rather than residential, purposes, an additional payment of one million dollars shall be paid to the seller.”
  6. Focus on maximizing gain instead of minimizing loss.  To do so, find hidden values and collaboration opportunities.  Identify such values and opportunities by considering the situation from the other person's perspective.

    For example, two non-competing businesses in the same industry can expand a contract to also specify that each business will include in their annual mailing a sales brochure from the other business.

    As another example, if a government agency insists on a penalty payment if the deadline is missed, the contractor can request a bonus if the project is completed ahead of schedule.
  7. Use creative-problem-solving techniques to create a solution that gives all the participants most of what they want.  To efficiently arrive at creative solutions, consult the book titled The Creative Problem Solver's Toolbox.

    As an example of a creative solution (recommended by Harvard professors James Sebenius and Michael Wheeler), avoid the shutdown of a business activity by putting profits into an escrow account and later deciding how the money will be split, with a specified charity getting the money if no agreement is reached by a specified date.
  8. Differentiate appropriately.  Instead of categorizing based on differences that are obvious or easily named, identify differences that are relevant, and propose appropriate ways to handle those differences.

    For example, if choosing which employees need to punch a time clock, avoid choosing based on easily named employee categories such as engineers, technicians, and administrative personnel.  Instead let the employees sort themselves into those who are reliably on time and those who are not.
  9. Avoid using judgmental words, abstract words, and abstract concepts.

    Judgmental words—such as irresponsible, crazy, and jerk—are biased opinions.  Avoid labeling people and ideas with your judgments.  Instead focus on facts, such as what someone has done (or not done), or what consequences you expect based on past experiences.  Let other people make their own judgments based on the facts.

    Abstract words—such as fair, justice, right, and wrong—oversimplify what isn't simple, and they deal with the past, which cannot be changed.  Instead focus on what specific actions can be done in the future.

    Abstract concepts—such as respect and saving face—are ambiguous and easily misunderstood.  Translate such concepts into actions.  For example, instead of talking about saving face, consider agreeing not to mention something in official press releases.
  10. When is the negotiation done?  When all the participants agree that the negotiated combination of approved proposals is better than each participant's other alternatives.  Those other alternatives may include taking the case to court, starting a fight (physical, legal, social, or otherwise), or otherwise abandoning negotiations.  (Other participants aren't likely to reveal their other alternatives, so take time to consider what they might be.)  Until all the participants agree that the negotiated contract (which is a combination of the approved proposals) is better than each participant's other alternatives, the negotiation process is not complete, no matter how long negotiations have been going on.

(Recommended additional resource:
Negotiation Genius by Deepak Malhotra & Max Bazerman)

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