How to Lose a Negotiation

By Suzanne Kearns

3 min read

Negotiations are a key to business success, but many business owners unwittingly sabotage themselves in the process. We’ve all heard about the things that you should do in order to have a successful negotiation, but what about the things you shouldn’t do? Here are eight behaviors that could cause you to come out on the losing side of a negotiation.

Going in Unprepared

If you go into a negotiation without understanding the problems that need to be solved, you won’t know how to work towards a solution. In addition, you should never enter into a negotiation without knowing your ideal situation, which is called your target point. You should also have a firm idea of your minimum acceptance point. For instance, if you’re selling your business, what is the lowest offer you’re willing to accept? Keep in mind if you don’t go into the meeting with the facts, figures, and information necessary for a successful negotiation, you’ll have to stall or leave the meeting to get them, and that will only weaken your position.

Exhibiting Neediness

Don’t go into a negotiation acting needy or too eager, or your counterpart may gain the upper hand because he’ll perceive your neediness as a weakness. Instead, put on a face of neutrality and go into the meeting confident that what you bring to the table is valuable.

Doing All of the Talking

A key principle in effective negotiations is to understand what your opponent wants, and use that knowledge to find a solution that will benefit both of you. But when you do all the talking, it’s impossible to listen to his needs. What’s worse, by dominating the conversation, you give away your own strategy and help him figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your position. Instead, ask your opponent questions and gain knowledge about what he wants and expects from the deal. Then only speak when what you have to say will further your position or the negotiations.

Trying to Please Your Opponent

While it’s true that you should work toward a beneficial deal for both parties, it’s detrimental to your position if you go into the negotiation trying to overly please your counterpart. Doing this will impair your judgment and take your focus off getting the information you need to make the best deal. Instead, stay neutral and keep your focus on the negotiations — with one caveat. A study done by the Academy of Management shows that men who begin negotiations with a little small talk make more favorable impressions and get better results. (The study shows it has no effect for female negotiators.)

Assuming You Already Know What Your Opponent Wants

You should go into negotiations with an idea of what your opponent wants, but you should not begin to negotiate until you have asked enough questions of the other party to confirm your preconceived notions are correct. If you begin negotiations without a clear picture of what the other side wants, it can hinder, delay, or even stall the process.

Focusing on Just Your Needs

A successful negotiation should involve compromise and benefit both parties, but that’s impossible if you are only concerned about your needs. In addition, if the other party senses that you don’t care about his needs, he is likely to make the negotiations difficult. Instead, concentrate on how you can achieve your goals, and at the same time, help your counterpart solve their problems and meet their objectives.

Not Having a BATNA

If you don’t walk into a negotiation with a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), you won’t be prepared to analyze the proposed offer against your best option. A BATNA is the alternative action you will take should the negotiations fail. Once you have an offer on the table, you should compare it against your BATNA, and if the offer’s value is less, you should be prepared to reject it.

Not Being Able to Walk Away From the Deal

Many negotiators have won the battle but lost the war because walking out with a deal was more important to them than getting one that truly benefits them and their company. If you can’t walk away from a deal that is not in your best interest, you aren’t ready to negotiate. Make up your mind before the meeting begins that if the offer is below your minimum acceptance point, or your BATNA is a better deal, you will walk away.

If you want to learn more about negotiations, the University of Michigan offers a free online certified course called Successful Negotiation: Strategies and Skills.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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