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Negotiating - seven tips from practice

We all do it. Be it with business partners, children and other tormentors. But what does negotiating actually depend on? Seven things to remember.
Ace in the hole: Most of the time you don't have one in negotiations.
Anyone who thinks that a few rules of thumb will now allow them to decide every negotiation in their favour can stop reading here. Negotiations usually only take place when an amicable agreement is not in sight. Mutually agreeable, constructive solutions and win-win situations, as suggested by the Harvard model, are rare in everyday life, as most people know from their own experience.

1. prepare, prepare, prepare
Negotiating is a zero-sum game. Therefore, it is crucial to be well prepared. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. And it is crucial to recognise whether you have an alternative to a possible negotiated agreement and what it looks like. In technical language, there is talk of BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement) and WATNA (Worst Alternative To Negotiated Agreement). No one can be asked to agree to an agreement for which there is a better alternative.

2. mirror the behaviour of the other party
Secondly, derived from Robert Selman's model of "interpersonal negotiation strategies", negotiation can only be level-appropriate. If one is confronted with strategies of unreflective violence used to achieve individual goals, then one can only strike back. Appeals to the better self of the other are useless. Turning the cheek may be morally sublime, but it is not a successful negotiating tactic. In game theory, this insight is known as the "tit for tat"-strategy. Mirror the behaviour of the other party at all times - for better or for worse.

3. do not provoke a defiant reaction
It is important to generate little reactance. Wikipedia says: "The person may have previously been completely unconcerned about the affected action. In extreme cases, the person has never made use of this possibility of action before the restriction occurred. Reactive behaviour consists of carrying out such actions all the more now." A little less convoluted - do not provoke a defiant reaction.

4. keep it real
Lying will get you nowhere. Full stop.

5. take breaks
Eat a Snickers. Breaks are very important when negotiating. When things are not going well, it is useful to pause the talks. This can help both parties to be clearer about their own position and open up to reaching an agreement or not.

6 starting with common interests
Negotiation is on the one hand a togetherness (common interests) and an opposition (particular interests). Interests cannot be argued, but they can be coordinated. A distinction must be made here as to whether there is an argumentation consensus, a result consensus or a background consensus. The importance of rational arguments is usually massively overestimated in negotiations. The achievement of a negotiated agreement hardly depends on the quality of the arguments brought forward, but on whether there are common interests. And if the common interests are assumed, then the differences immediately become apparent. The reverse is not true.

7. stay fit
Finally, the following: Physical and mental fitness are crucial to remain persistent towards the end of a protracted negotiation. The former is more important. Stamina and strength training therefore also have a positive effect on negotiation situations.

Those who want to deal more intensively with negotiation theory and practice are advised to attend a course at the University of Fribourg. The lecturer Prof. Dr. Roland Reichenbach leads through the two-days with verve and esprit.
Published on 10. February 2023 by Peter Manhart