The Best Negotiation Advice I’ve Ever Received

When it comes to negotiation advice “Never [Splitting] the Difference” never worked for me. “Getting to Yes” has taken more than a few tries. But there’s one unassuming humble source that made everything click.

In the following post you will learn the most effective negotiation strategies you can use to increase your salary or contract price, deal with difficult people, and come away from the table with more win-win solutions.

The Background

I have never written more notes than I have while studying negotiation tactics. It’s reminiscent of when I read 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene for the first time. I felt as though I’d discovered a well guarded secret that would self destruct any minute! Yet there are still people who have never read it?!

*moment of silence for them*

5 books and a dozen summaries later I realized a pattern. Most negotiators use these 7 fundamental tactics:

  1. Start with an honorable yet flexible goal
  2. Manage your emotions
  3. Match your body to your voice (and theirs)
  4. Incorporate justice and fairness
  5. Test assumptions with questions
  6. Control the optics
  7. Have concessions ready

After recognizing that pattern, I hunted for the most comprehensive guide to master them all.

The Gist

Negotiation is an art. Art is subjective, but it can be taught, critiqued and improved in objective ways.

To critique art, educator Edmund Feldman (1970) suggested we first observe the art, then follow 4 steps: Describe, Analyze, Interpret, Evaluate.

Thus we will use these steps to understand and improve our negotiation skills. Sound like a plan? Not so fast.

As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The same applies when negotiating. So what goes into preparing for a negotiation?

Preparing to Negotiate

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis approach has been a tried and true method used to prep for all kinds of business activities. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – the ‘S’ and ‘W’ representing internal factors, and the ‘O’ and ‘T’ representing external factors, all working for or against your aims.

A step towards capitalizing on your strengths would be to understand the types of power you posses going into the meeting.

Types of Negotiating Power

For negotiating purposes, consider the following sources of power and incorporate them into your preparation. Power of Information, Position, Resources, Relationships.

Power of Information (POI)

Facts & data, by memory or nearby, that support your desired outcome.

POI Thoughts

“I know how to actively listen and will collect intelligence as I can from my opponent.”

“I am the only one who can present certain key information.”

“I am an expert in my field, or I’m brining an expert with me.”

Power of Position (POP)

Hierarchy based power which comes from being high enough in rank to garner respect.

POP Thoughts

“I have achieved status due to awards for my accomplishments.”

“I have formal authority within my company to control certain activities.”

“I can expect to benefit from reciprocity for value already given.”

“I have responsibility for the outcome of this deal. It cannot be done without my approval.”

For more on this power type (including comments on familial, elected office, and equity ownership) and the others listed here see Your Own Terms by Yasmin Davidds, PsyD with Ann Bidou.

Power of Resources (POR)

Control of the type, rate, and amount of people, goods, services, and tools that get the job done.

POR Thoughts

“I control and dispense money, supplies, human resources, time, equipment, critical services, support, etc.”

“I manage a stockpile of needed resources.”

“I have other resources to which I can go if I need to walk away from this deal.”

Power of Relationships (PORel)

Existing partnerships, emotional intelligence and supportive pre-dispositions that support your desired outcome.

PORel Thoughts

“I have much in common with my counterparts, increasing my persuasive ability over them.”

“My network of relationships impacts who gets to know what information, or who receives goods and services promptly.”

“My network of relationships could provide valuable contacts to my counterpart.”

“I have strong and/or lengthy relationships with important parties to this negotiation.”

So far, you’ve identified your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and sources of power. These should help quell any thoughts of being an imposter, but in case you need additional gassing up I have one more tool to emphasize.

Another tool is a map of all the relationships, sources of power, styles, and barriers in the situation at hand. In project management, we call this a Power Interest Grid. An extended version of this activity is called Backward Mapping. It’s just like it sounds, you begin with a goal, and work your way backwards (chronologically or by rank of concerns) to:

  1. Identify Stakeholders
  2. Identify the Key Issues
  3. Choose the Right Time and Approach
  4. Focus on the Most Difficult or Influential Players
  5. Identify and Prioritize Risks and Barriers

By doing so you reveal hidden motivations, blind spots and have a more thorough approach you can be confident behind.

In a previous post, I shared some amazing free tools to get even deeper with your research.

Check it out here. Now let’s head to the negotiation table.


To describe art, you should take a close look at what is concrete and observable.

In the art of negotiation, it can include detailing current factors or historical information.

To describe yourself, your surroundings, and your opponent, try answering the following questions.

  • Does my body feel calm, or nervous?
  • Am I taking up more space, or less?
  • What objects am I holding?
  • Where am I sitting?
  • Are there accommodations such as water, comfortable lighting, food, etc.?
  • What pace am I using when I speak?
  • Am I interrupting, nodding excessively, or tight lipped?
  • …what about my opponent?

The answers to these questions can point to what authors Yasmin Davidds and Ann Bidou describe as “Outward Sabotage” by you or your opponent.

Best-selling author, researcher and speaker Vanessa Van Edwards of suggests spreading out instead of physically condensing yourself. For example,

  • Use your chair arm rests
  • Spread out your documents
  • Don’t be overly accommodating when making space for others

In addition to shrinking, avoid these common blunders:

Instead of…Try this
Nodding too muchBlink
Raise an eyebrow
Lift your chin
Just say “yes” or “ok”
Waiting your turnInterrupt appropriately
Allowing others to limit or define youAdd additional comments to show you control your story, time, voice, and ideas
Having a delicate handshakeBe serious, use firm handshakes only


Even in unique hostage settings, negotiators are taught in advance common pain points and motivators of the parties involved.

This is the part when you determine what relationships and patterns you can decipher from the conversation so far.

Create a guide of typical pain points, and past agreements for quick reference during the meeting. I use a technique where I write important words or concepts and circle each time it’s repeated.

Look back at your power interest grid, do you need to add a surprise player? You’ll learn how to decide the meaning from all of these patterns next.


Now onto interpreting the magnitude and impact of the patterns you noticed.

Further, when you interpret a sporting game call, you consider two perspectives: offense and defensive.

In contrast with the game of softball, the term “hardball” is synonymous with baseball. The concept is now commonly meant to describe aggressive, ruthless and unapologetic business moves, or games.

Offensive Negotiation

Hardball Tactics

  • Deferring to a Higher Authority
  • Name-Dropping
  • Being Noncommittal
  • Using Precedents
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop
  • Delay & Stall
  • Extreme Claims with Slow Concessions
  • Take it or Leave it
  • Personal Insults
  • False Anger/Temper
  • Big Preconditions
  • Agreement…If

NOTE: DO NOT try hardball with your boss. Even if they initiate such tactics. You will face fall out later. Deflect and return the bad serve with reminders of facts and importance to the company. Set deadlines or start adding in others who are above or horizontal to them in rank. Return to the describe and analyze phase if needed.

Again, Dr. Davidds did a fantastic job of addressing defense tactics to these, but the one I’d like to highlight is how to handle personal insults. It’s meant to draw out an emotional response, and embarrass you – draining your confidence in the process.

When someone deploys the personal insults tactic smile or chuckle to show how silly it is, then call it out as a lack of professionalism. Remind them that you are there to negotiate the issues, not pick at people!

Defensive Negotiation

Defensive Tactics

  • Rely on your extensive research
  • Ask for details, documentation, and other sources to verify their statements
  • Give your counterpart an out (aka the benefit of the doubt)
  • Set deadlines
  • Flesh out next steps at the table
  • Lean back on fairness and reasonability


Finally, you are well equipped to determine if the negotiation met its perceived goals. To evaluate your success, failure or indifference, ask the following questions.

  • What qualities of the work make you feel it is a success or failure?
  • What criteria can you list to help others judge this outcome?
  • How unique is the situation or outcome?
  • Why do you feel this work is unique or not?

Closing Arguments

I have so much more to share on this subject, if you’re interested in learning more comment below or send me an email and let me know what resonates. In fact, I’ll start working on part 2 now.

Until then good luck with your negotiations!

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