7 Basic Rules Successful Negotiators Follow

Becoming a master negotiator involves a deep understanding of the negotiation process, as well as a tremendous amount of practice in developing a negotiation style. It is not something that happens overnight, nor is it an easy feat. You may not become an expert negotiator right away, but the chances of your success will improve if you follow a few basic rules. These seven rules constitute the most important guidelines for what to do in order to reach a  win/win negotiation. 

Rule 1: Be Prepared

Perhaps the most important rule in negotiations is simply being prepared. No amount of skill, strategy, or persuasive technique can compensate for lack of preparation. Preparation starts with knowing about the party that you will be negotiating with and what is motivating them. You want to learn as much as you can about their needs and goals so you can come up with a plan to meet their needs. Furthermore, you want to find out about their strengths and weaknesses as well as familiarize yourself with your competitors so you can look for an advantage. Finally, you want to be sure you are dealing directly with the decision maker. The last thing you want is to find yourself in a situation where you are about to close the deal only to find that they need to get approval from someone higher in authority. 

Rule 2: Know What You Want

It sounds obvious but too many people enter into a negotiation without having a clear understanding of what they really want. It’s important to define your goals right from the start. Otherwise, you may end up accepting an offer you don’t really want. 

Rule 3: Be Honest and Fair

No one wants to deal with someone who is deceitful. After all, what goes around comes around. The goal in a negotiation is to seek mutual benefit so it’s also important to do whatever it takes to reach a win/win outcome. This involves being honest with your counterpart and also being willing to compromise and make fair concessions. 

Rule 4: Never Accept the First Offer

It’s common for people to make an offer that they expect you to refuse, because they want to see just how firm you will be on your stance. Therefore, never accept the first offer, but rather use it to leverage what you really want. Chances are, if you accept the first offer, you will be leaving money on the table. 


Rule 5: Concede Slowly

Successful negotiation is all about give and take. For this reason, you should always have an idea of what you are willing to concede before you sit down at the negotiating table. In fact, you should prioritize your concessions in order of which is most important and least important to you. As you progress through the negotiation, you want to concede slowly. Giving up too much too fast can make you appear weak and can lead your counterpart to push you even harder. Instead, be cautious with the concessions you make and only concede when necessary. You also want to keep in mind that anytime you concede, you should get something in return. 

Rule 6: Be Cooperative and Friendly

It’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you, especially when you are dealing with tough negotiators. However, it is important to maintain your composure and try to remain cooperative and friendly at all times. Always treat your counterpart with respect, even if things are getting heated. If necessary, stop and take a break and resume negotiations when everyone has calmed down. You are far more likely to make good decisions when you are calm and thinking clearly. 

Rule 7: Know When to Walk Away

Though the goal of any negotiation is to reach an agreement, the reality is that this doesn’t always happen. Before the negotiation begins, know your walk away point and stick to it. Deadlock cannot always be avoided and the best negotiators aren’t afraid to walk away from a bad deal.