Business Negotiation

Communication Class with Jessica Notini

Jessica Notini, negotiation coach, breaks down business negotiation into 3 functions: the process, relationship building and the negotiation/transaction. Too often, negotiators jump into negotiation mode without even having established some type of guard rails. The process sets the ground rules and sets expectations on how to work smoothly together, relationship building attends to an amicable working environment and development of trust, and the transaction knuckles down on the difficult discussions and substantive deal terms. 

Setting ground rules for the negotiation process is often critical. It prevents things from getting rocky, allowing for a cordial atmosphere. Because if everyone follows established guidelines, it’s easier to sort out differences and be courteous and diplomatic. Mutually agree upon the ground rules so each side follows them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Respectful and collaborative communication
  • Disagree without being disagreeable
  • Criticize but offer suggestions
  • Be concise, stay on agenda
  • Focus on goals
  • Avoid interrupting
  • Be conscious of balance in participation by group members

The next part is relationship building. Listening well and being empathetic benefit you in several ways. The best negotiators listen more. Listening builds rapport and relationship and will give you access to more information. Here are a few tips for listening well.

Start listening by using your eyes, body language, and small verbal acknowledgments. Once you receive enough information, summarize and paraphrase points at the end of each subject. Doing this helps you focus and check your accuracy on the key points for them. Last, ask gentle clarification questions. Here is what not to do. Don’t judge, criticize, evaluate, label, diagnose, moralize. Don’t advise, logically argue, or shift the topic to your story. And, by all means, don’t try to fix it! Just listen. 

From there develop empathy. Sympathy agrees with or aligns with the other; empathy does not. As a negotiator you are, in a sense, a mediator of your process, advocating for your own interests while seeking to understand those of the other parties involved.  Mediators are careful not to sympathize with either party, but still connect with them by demonstrating interest and willingness to take in their perspective. Empathy shows that you understand the feelings and situations of others. Letting the other person feel heard and acknowledging their position. Acknowledgment. If you do this right, when it’s problem-solving time, the other person will more likely listen to your ideas and show empathy. It’s a fine technique so here are some sentence starters. 

  • In your view
  • The way you see it
  • In your experience
  • I’m sensing why are you feeling that
  • Oh I can feel you are hurt
  • It sounds like
  • I hear you say
  • I’m sensing
  • That sounds really hard
  • So…you went and did…is that right?

If done well, empathy may open up more doors and a free flow of information. Finding out their real problem allows you to set the terms during the negotiation. That is what you want!

When working with Apple, it took us a long time to discover the real problem they wanted to solve. We thought we were helping them bring down the fees and convert more users, which we were. But the more critical problem was that a large number of their consumers had no payment attached to iTunes. That significantly reduced their ability to convert users. By having a phone number that could act like a payment instrument, i.e. credit card, over time they would convert more users. When we realized this, our deal strategy changed to focus on other markets and talk less about pricing because it was not the priority we had imagined.

Replete with information, you can knuckle down on the negotiation process and start crafting solutions. First, establish a framework in your head. Detect and confront problems quickly. Control reactions. Then learn how to reframe complaints, leading to a resolution. 

Learn to frame in your head a mutually beneficial purpose, help you improve so we can both work together. Keep in mind these points.

  • Be curious, not certain
  • Problem-solving and learning not punishment
  • Focus on mutually defined goals
  • Don’t make important decisions on the spot
  • Don’t talk about character – name the impact. Impact vs intention vs character
  • Seek meaning and perception or interpretation rather than claiming one “truth” (but don’t ignore verifiable data)
  • Discuss contributions to problems rather than fault and blame

Problems will arise inevitably in some negotiations. Someone may be pushy which leads to polarization. Solving problems too soon without enough information can lead to impasse or suboptimal solutions. Overgeneralizing a situation may lead to the other feeling inferior. What’s worse than the problem, however, is the reaction. Resistance. Anger, Indifference. When it gets really bad, you will have to play dumb, change the topic, or defer to a later time when the tempers cool. So how do we overcome these?

Balance your feelings and don’t waiver. Natural instincts in tense moments tend to evoke a fight or flight response. We don’t want that. Always remember the big picture and where you want to go. Ask yourself what’s going on that may be causing them to behave in an unproductive way. Bill Ury once said, “Don’t get mad, don’t get even, get what you want.” May also be aware of cultural differences in a negotiation. Once you feel you are in a good place to communicate, address the other person with an I statement. I feel…when…because…and I would like. Don’t say or imply a strong ‘wrongdoing by you’. Just let them know you feel a certain way as a result of something that happened. When you state the issue, keep it simple and diplomatic. But don’t over sanitize it. 

One of the keys to overcoming problems is in the art of editing or “reframing” a negative statement made by another negotiator into a positive or less damaging statement. Reflect back to them what they said the way you wish they’d said it.When in doubt about how to reframe, ask yourself a question such as:

  • What’s the need behind the complaint? Be curious.
  • What fear might they have that is leading to the negative expression?
  • What’s the purpose of asking the questions? Gather more information. 

Don’t run away from the complaint. When you reframe, you are to some extent stealing the negative material and editing or softening it. In order to balance this, it can help to make it clear that you take their issues seriously by using an emphatic tone of voice or word choices such as “very” or “seriously” or “significantly.”  

e.g. They say: “These delays are outrageous!  You can’t run a business like this and we’ll take ours elsewhere if this continues.”

Your reframe:  “It sounds like the delay have had serious impacts on your business and better adherence to the schedule it is very important to you in order to feel comfortable continuing to do business together.”

E.g. They say: “You just took over the whole project without consulting and made unilateral decisions every step of the way!”

Your reframe:  “So, you really wanted to be consulted and centrally involved in decision making, and you are upset because, in your view, I did not allow sufficiently for that.”

E.g. They say:  “I won’t accept less than $10K for this contract and your offer of $5K is insulting.”

Your reframe:  “So, you believe the contract is worth significantly more and our offer is not in the ballpark.  

After the reframe which is an attempt to detoxify the immediately negative statement, it is often wise to consider your follow up.  You may want to get curious and find out more about the issue or complaint. You may want to offer an explanation or acknowledgment.  All of these are more likely to be well received if you have first made it clear that you are trying to hear and understand them.

Once you’ve gotten over some key hurdles, then it’s time to find a resolution. Don’t make important decisions on the spot. Strive to seek information, understanding, interests, ideas, clarification, agreement, and solution. At the Zen Center in California, I learned the power of the right speech. It’s a good set of questions to remember. Is it kind, true, necessary, timely, and helpful? Another key idea is to find your partner’s language of love. Figure out what the person responds to. Get curious about what people care about like in Cialdini’s book Influence.

Consistency, Liking. Reciprocity. Scarcity. Social proof. Group inclusion. Authority, Relationships. Status.


Want to learn more about negotiation and communication. Take her class or read it in my book “Navigate to the lighthouse.”


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