Have you seen all the new approaches to minimizing or eliminating price arguments from car buying? It's about time they remove the façade from this purchasing ritual that masquerades as negotiation!

Negotiation, in its sincerest form, is a communication between parties that respects the needs of both parties. Yes, there may be give and take, but this is not necessary for a true negotiation.

For most of us in business, our goals and objectives in negotiation must include the preservation of goodwill with the other party. Fail to accomplish this, and you will hurt your reputation, your company's name and/or deal with backlash the next time you or a colleague must deal with the same party. The stakes are even bigger for a labor negotiation or even nuclear disarmament.


While negotiation strategies come and go, the model espoused in Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury almost four decades ago is still the most elegant.

Part of the elegance of their "Getting to Yes" approach is that it is simple; part is that it's premised on being hard on problems while soft on people; part because it does not rely on misdirection or subterfuge and is instead transparent.

Their four steps are:

  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on using objective criteria

From our perspective, their first point is critical and requires excellent communication skills.


How does one separate people from the problem in a negotiation? Start by thinking of the two parties as joint problem solvers. Discuss ideas, processes or preferences for the brainstorming that typifies problem solving. Confirm out loud that the goal is a wise and efficient decision for all concerned.

Verbally put yourself in their shoes so they can concur or correct your perception. Communicating out loud what the other side wants to hear can be one of the best investments to make in a negotiation. Remember, confirming understanding is not agreeing. It is clarifying information for both parties.

If possible, structure your discussion as a shoulder to shoulder affair – not adversarial across the table. Reinforce joint problem-solving. Grandpa used to say you can accomplish most anything in life if you are willing to let others take some credit, so let the other party own ideas that spring from mutual understanding – even if you first suggest it.

Use the simple yet boring technique of summarizing as you progress. It helps to avoid misunderstandings and forge a sense of commonality as the discussion progresses.

Finally, check your reactions and touchiness at the door. There isn't an occasion when what should have been a problem-solving session with a loved one was not deeply regretted because it turned into an argument or got emotional.

Remember, whether it's a friend or colleague, neighbor or vendor, negotiations occur with a party whom you want to continue to have a relationship. While you may not love them, they do hold some of your reputation in their hands. So refine the communication skills that help you help the problem solving process.