How to Win at Negotiation

What will you say ‘No’ to?

I’m currently a guinea pig for an online MIT course on Negotiation. We negotiate everyday, from small decisions like where to eat, to big decisions like managing cost & schedule for a project. But, how often do we take the time to think through our thought process?

This post will focus on each step of the negotiation and you won’t believe how much “winning” you’ll be doing!

PREPARE for Negotiation
BATNA stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. So, before you go into the “negotiation,” ask yourself, “what will you say ‘No’ to?” In other words, what will you be willing to walk away from? Most of the time we realize our limit during the conversation and that’s just too late.

Next, ask yourself, “what is the other person’s BATNA? What will they definitely say ‘No’ to?”

Prepared with just those two data points, you can offer something that they won’t say no to and get what you want.

“Negotiations are won or lost before you even sit down.”

PRO TIP – If you learn the other person’s lowest position (i.e. BATNA), why would you ever offer anything higher?!
Don’t be so pushy in a Negotiation

Strive for a cooperative mood


Step 2 in a negotiation, create value by creating the right mood – which is cooperative, brainstorming, being at ease.

During a recent mock negotiation exercise, I threw out on the table that part of what I’m offering is not spoiling anything from Game of Thrones! The humor immediately broke the ice and made us all more relatable to each other.

Get the right mood going and you’ll be amazed at what other people are willing to work with.


That’s right, there’s a Holy Grail in negotiation that isn’t simply compromise, where everybody leaves the table barely with what they want and grumbling. There’s a potential for creating something new, perhaps something that no one has even thought of or realized was a possibility.

Start by asking questions and listening. This info will validate them and what you initially thought.

Then “negotiate how you will negotiate.” Establish some process, like suggesting, “let’s spend xx time just hearing from everybody, then xx time to breakout and think about it, and then xx time to get creative with far reaching ideas.”

Whatever you do, don’t be a prick. When have you ever let a prick win?!

Write their victory speech


Step 3 in a negotiation is being so good that you can envision the other person going back home (to their boss or whoever will judge them) and declaring victory! You want the other person to be able to hold their head up high when they return home, because if you can envision that, then you can propose a deal that they can’t say no to.

In day to day practice, I do this by simply asking, “what does the other person want in this interaction.” Most of the time, they just want to be heard and felt understood. Achieve that then the rest is easy.


In other words, during the negotiation, make proposals and deals that allow everybody to “gain” something and be able to go back and “claim” they won.

PRO TIP – Make the proposal conditional. If you think the most likely outcome is this but they think it’s something else, then state in the agreement that if your outcome happens, you get A and they get B. But if their outcome happens (which you don’t think is true anyways), then they get X and you get Y. The beauty here is you both walk away thinking you won!

Predictable Surprises

Most think negotiations end after signing the agreement


The last step in a negotiation is what happens after you sign the agreement and go back home, and undoubtedly, the condition changes.

For example, when you agree to marry someone. You did all the negotiation up front to learn about who they are and how the marriage should work, but then you get married all hell breaks loose. “Who are you and what happened to the person I married?!” That’s why there’s such a thing as a prenup. 😉


The worst time to come up with ideas and solutions to resolve disagreements is, well, during fights! Yet, we know things will change after the negotiation – people will change it, laws or policies change, new competitors emerged etc. These are predictable changes and that why during the negotiation, we should build into it a dispute resolution process.

Venture Out Recommends

As Dinnar and Susskind show, learning to handle emotions, manage uncertainty, cope with technical complexity and build long-term relationships are equally or even more important. This book spotlights eight big mistakes that entrepreneurs often make and shows how most can be prevented with some forethought. It includes interviews with high-profile entrepreneurs about their own mistakes. It also covers gender biases, cultural challenges, and when to employ agents to negotiate on your behalf. (Amazon $22)

Drawing on their decades of training and consulting work, as well as a robust theory of negotiation, the authors provide a step-by-step model for building organizational competence. A final chapter provides practical “how-to” tools to help you start your own organizational improvement process. (Amazon $20)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: