The Most-Often-Made Negotiation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By Nicole Schapiro

When I was ten, I learned to dance by standing on my grandpa’s feet, eventually graduating to the floor, depending on my own two feet. I was thrilled to learn with Grandpa even when I made mistakes. He used to say “It’s okay little one, mistakes are gifts. They are to let you know you must do it differently.”

Henry Kissenger, Bill Gates and Madeline Albright, have all made mistakes in their negotiations. Even Hilary Clinton said recently “I should have, I could have, but didn’t.” Clearly, much of my and others’ successes have come from mistakes made and the lessons learned from them. However, in my 27-plus years of training, coaching, facilitating and speaking, I’ve learned to prepare and anticipate avoidable mistakes (but this does not take away my willingness to go for it, take risks, and walk the edge).

The following list comes from the research that we conducted for my New York Times best selling book, “Negotiating for Your Life” and recent interviews with some of our clients and “ace” negotiators (they, too make mistakes).

  • When you forget that you are the only element in the negotiation over which you have control. Prepare strategies to influence others. Don’t expect that you can control them nor should they think you did control them — they will never forgive you. Concentrate on self knowledge, self understanding before and during the negotiation process. Know your hot buttons, body language, core values, non-negotiables, etc.)
  • When you forget to pay attention to the cost; ask yourself up front what do you want, and what are you willing to pay to get for what you want. Ask and listen to yourself, and factor in up front how much time, energy, money, and “connection chips” your expected result is worth. Be realistic and don’t romanticize your goal or benefit (salary raise, new project, new house, new car, that “special relationship”).
  • Rushing the process — being impatient. Ask yourself “How soon do I really need to get to resolution?” Summarize agreements already made and celebrate small wins. This slows you down which actually speeds up the process.
  • Pitching/negotiating to the wrong person. Find out up front who the real decision maker is and if you can’t negotiate with the real decision maker, make the “wrong person” the right messenger on how to negotiate for you. Alternatively, teach them how to deliver your message, or negotiate to be present with them during the negotiation process.
  • Personalizing/emotionalizing the negotiation process. Repeat in your silent voice “it’s not about me,” observe behavior and be sure that during your preparation you concentrate on facts, rather than emotions, about their possible objections. Don’t personalize, but do humanize the negotiation process.
  • Wanting/caring too much. Solution: You want to care, but not that much. Be willing to walk away and keep remembering there is always another deal, there is always another “date,” there is always another project.
  • Breaking the silence. Pack up and leave after the deal is made. Don’t over-negotiate/sell. (We could also throw in the boat cover, I can work on weekends also, etc.)
  • Using the “one option” negotiation. Always have two to five options prepared to empower your negotiating “partner” and give them an opportunity to reject some things. When dealing with an analyzer who solely depends on information, do not give more than two options or the negotiation will bog down with their silent mantra “on the other hand, …“ When dealing with the steamroller/bottom-liners, give four to five options but your favorite desired outcome in third position.
  • Giving away too much too soon without a plan. Remember information is power, and for each concession you must get a concession. Keep count of your concessions and summarize them often, especially when the negotiation seems to move towards a stalemate. Plan what is the first sizable concession to “hook” them on. Influence them to be the first to make a concession.
  • Negotiating positions before building the relationship and understanding the needs of the other side. To build trusting relationships and get to “yes” faster you must take care of their needs first. Focus on how to make the other side feel safe, respected, included, and in control (this is part of your preparation). Then agreements on positions and closing the deal will be easily achieved. Even though people will tend to object about positions (such as price, delivery date, discounts, etc.) the real resistance has to do with unmet needs in the relationship.

Negotiation is like a dance. You must have skills to get on the floor, be willing to listen to the rhythm and hear it the same way as your partner, lead and follow, have the same goal and know when to get on and off the dance floor.