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Coaching your Negotiation Opponents

Ben Byth

Why I try to up-skill my opponent’s negotiating capability 


Anyone can negotiate effectively when they have a lot of power. Our mettle is truly tested when we have a difficult position to get over the line, such as needing an unreasonable discount when we don’t have the luxury of being able to simply throw our weight around. Maybe we don’t have a lot of power, or perhaps we do but we value the ongoing relationship more highly than the transaction. 


If you are in this position and your counterparty is a highly skilled negotiator, great news for you! I would prefer a skilled negotiator counterpart because an unskilled counterpart would be more likely to: 


  • Get caught up in emotional arguments rather than constructive exploration of interests/constraints/etc  
  • Keep their cards close to their chest and withhold information  
  • Define ‘winning’ as denying me what I want 


Unfortunately, we often find ourselves sitting across the table with poor negotiating skill, because much of what makes a good negotiator good is counter-intuitive. A good negotiator is happy to unemotionally explore interests/constraints, share information, and tries their hardest to enable rather than deny requests.  


So, if you do find yourself with a difficult position to get over the line sitting across the table from an unskilled counterparty, it is in your interest to help them lift their game! Model good behaviour and coach them to be a better negotiator: 


  • Bring them inside your tent and spend time explaining the background to your request so that they understand why it is important, their role in your success, and why you are not going to be flexible.   
  • However, make sure they understand what areas you *can* be flexible with. Be specific rather than vague. You may even consider handing them a list of things they might ask for from you. Ask them if there are other areas where they would like you to be flexible which haven’t been discussed.  
  • Listen to their concerns and summarise so that they feel heard and your understanding is tested. Reassure them you will be flexible in other areas.  
  • Ask them to take an adjournment and think about how they could make it work with your areas of flexibility and inflexibility. I would even encourage them to come back with a counter-proposal   


Happy negotiating!

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