Common Negotiation Mistakes

Negotiations are pressurised environments and often have a lot at stake. Whether it's the securing of a long-term million-pound deal or a short-term collaborative exposure project, there is always the risk of anxiety clouding your judgement, increasing the potential for mistakes that prevent you from reaching a successful outcome. On top of that, to make matters worse, hindsight is 20/20, and many negotiators don’t realise they’ve made any errors until it is too late.

So, how do you steer clear of the ten most common negotiation mistakes? In addition to a strong foundation of negotiation skills, the key is identifying the possible slip-ups you could make and knowing how to pre-empt them. The best defence is a good offence; studying the most prevalent mistakes below is a surefire way to improve your negotiation strategies and achieve more successful outcomes.

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Taking Shortcuts

Whether strapped for time or unprepared, the temptation to take a shortcut is always there and can involve deceptive tactics like lying or failing to do adequate research in pursuit of a quick resolution. The problem is that when you skip reading the fine print or build an agreement based on lies, you risk missing out on a more advantageous deal, damaging your reputation, and sometimes even breaking the law. In short, the cons far outweigh the benefits; reaching a quick agreement exposes you to exploitation, suppresses conflicts and causes future obstacles that should have been ironed out in the negotiation process leading to a loss of profits, time, and energy.

The solution is to recognise shortcuts for what they are: unnecessary risks. Taking the long way around might be a pain, but it protects your interests and guarantees a more successful outcome. To avoid this common negotiation mistake, you must ensure you properly prepare for every discussion, organise your time effectively and hold yourself accountable by not justifying dishonest behaviour.


Failure to Build Trust

Trust, by definition, is a person’s firm belief in the reliability, honesty or ability of something or someone. In business, all negotiations involve taking a leap of faith, and you must trust that the other party is honest and behaving with integrity. Without trust, a negotiator’s chances of securing a genuinely high-value deal are nil, as there will be no desire for innovative thinking, creative problem-solving or reasonable compromise. Dishonesty and deception damage not only the negotiator’s credibility but the reputation of their business.

Trust is at the foundation of all long-lasting relationships; to build it, you need to take the time to learn about their needs, goals, and motivations via small talk. By finding out about the other party and factoring this into your agreement, you make them feel heard and demonstrate that they can trust you to value their position and treat them with empathy.


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Lack of Preparation

Entering a negotiation without the proper preparation is a reckless mistake to make but an easy one to fix. Before every negotiation, you should:

  • Have prepared and practised your argument, including your opening offer.
  • Have researched the other party and analysed their position.
  • Know your and the opposition’s goals, motivations, needs and desires.
  • Know your BATNA (Best alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
  • Know your ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement)

By investing time into role-playing your pitch, researching your argument, and planning your alternatives, you boost your confidence, gain more control over the process and stand a better chance of building rapport with the other party.


Lack of Consideration

A lack of thought or consideration for your opposition is a great way to burn bridges and undermine current or future partnerships. Whether that looks like not brushing up on their country's business etiquette or taking time to make a connection at lunch, failing to consider the other party’s position, desires, background, and goals puts you at a disadvantage. If you’re looking to inspire generosity, innovation, and cooperation, you must make the other side feel valued.

A successful outcome requires negotiators to build relationships by actively listening to the other party, building rapport through small talk, and respecting and valuing their cultural backgrounds and differences. If you’ve given their wants, needs and motivations careful thought and created a welcoming and collaborative environment, you’re far more likely to engender a willingness to compromise and reach a win-win result.


Attempting to Win Dishonestly

The mindset of winning at all costs can be extremely detrimental to the success of your negotiations, especially when it involves using dishonesty. Whilst it might be tempting to occasionally utilise a little white lie or withhold critical information, the result will cast doubt on your character and the credibility of the entire company you are negotiating for. Ultimately, the saying “it will all come out in the wash” exists for a reason, and as it suggests, all dishonest behaviour will eventually come to light.

Changing your mindset and being honest, open, and upfront, even after the fact, is the only way to prevent this mistake from impacting your negotiations and outcomes. The best result you can achieve is a mutually beneficial one, as this lies at the heart of long-lasting business partnerships and future successes.


Refusal to Compromise

As mentioned above, approaching your negotiations with the mindset of competition over collaboration will create a hostile atmosphere increasing your chances of becoming embroiled in conflict and getting stuck in stalemates. Whilst your goals are important, being unwilling to compromise or make any concessions is unlikely to encourage the other party to do the same for you. It can also prevent you from exploring alternatives that could better serve your interests and have led to a more successful outcome.

However, you may be worried that compromising in the moment can lead to impulsive agreements that don’t benefit you. To avoid this common negotiation mistake, we recommend having a list of negotiable variables ranked by their importance to your respective parties. This allows you to make practical compromises. For example, if you know the finances of the agreement are essential to them, but your focus is more on the quality of the service, then you can have the grounds to make a fair exchange.


Failure to Walk Away

The last thing any negotiator wants is a long, drawn-out process that ultimately ends in a lose-lose outcome, and there’s an art to knowing when to walk away. Common mistakes that prevent negotiators from throwing in the towel include the following:

  • Forgetting to double-check that the opposing party has the authority to make final decisions.
  • Not utilising their BATNA and ZOPA effectively to identify when negotiations have reached a deadlock.
  • Not recognising their value and knowing when they are at risk of agreeing to a substandard deal.

Whilst walking away might sound counterintuitive, so is wasting your time negotiating in circles without a resolution when you could seek alternative partnerships or solutions. The reality is that it demonstrates to the other party your confidence in the value of your offer and that you’re standing by your convictions, leaving them with a more favourable impression than if you had stayed.

The key to knowing when to walk rests on having a list of your primary goals, desires, and breakpoints. Also known as your walk-away point, your breakpoint is any offer that prevents you from achieving your primary goals or desires. For example, financially, this might be the lowest price you are willing to go before the deal becomes unprofitable. Once an offer falls below that threshold, that’s the signal to walk away from the table. 


Emotions Get in the Way

Negotiations are bound to evoke many emotions, from frustration and anger to anxiety and hurt feelings, so telling someone to leave their feelings at the door is easier said than done. However, just because it's challenging doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. Storming out of the meeting room after hurling insults is never a good look and can cause irreparable damage to your business’s reputation and future partnerships. Allowing your emotions to overwhelm you can reduce the effectiveness of your negotiation skills, damage relationships, and cloud your judgement leading to impulsive decisions that are subjective, not objective.

Using mindfulness techniques, scheduling breaks, and other emotional regulation strategies can be a way to exercise control over how you are feeling. Asking for a short coffee break to regain composure is better than crying over the other party’s aggressive behaviour. Another way to help prevent emotions from impacting your ability to secure a successful deal is to role-play different scenarios and ask for feedback from colleagues about your response - having an answer or plan of action ready for such situations can help you to remain objective.

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