Habits are notoriously hard to break.  It’s human nature to settle into comfortable patterns of behavior and continue doing things as we’ve always done them.  Our approach to negotiation, whether in our personal and professional lives, is no different.  The hard bargainers come roaring into every negotiation trying to be bigger and brasher than everyone else, regardless of the issue or the stakes.  The avoiders routinely give away the store in their desire to get in and get out.  Most of us fall somewhere in between, bringing the same phrases, faces, and techniques from one negotiation to the next.

Consistency can be a good thing.  I bring techniques that work for me – for example, attentively listening, then paraphrasing the other side’s viewpoint back to them to make sure I understand it – to every negotiation table.  But if your toolbox is weighed down with more old habits than actual techniques, it’s time to declutter.

Here, five habits to leave behind – and for additional reading on this subject, I highly recommend Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes by Robert H. Mnookin, Scott R. Peppet, and Andrew S. Tulumello (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

  1. Tuning out. Negotiators often spend the whole time their adversary is speaking thinking of what they’ll say next or letting their minds wander.  Negotiation is a back and forth volley of ideas – so if you’re not listening to the other side, you’re just spinning your wheels.  Don’t waste the opportunity to learn what makes your opponent tick.
  2. Making unreasonable demands, then making small concessions at a snail’s pace. This tactic is so common that some negotiators automatically assume the first demand isn’t remotely serious.  As a result, negotiations are drawn out or even bust unnecessarily.  You don’t have to start with your final position, but starting miles away from it won’t help.
  3. Making threats. Except in extreme circumstances, threatening the other side with dire consequences if they don’t give you everything you want is just not worth the risk.  You’ll lose credibility, alienate them, and quash their interest in making the deal work.
  4. Insulting. Think very carefully before making things personal. I’ve seen deals nearing the finish line implode because someone angrily tossed an insult.  Is the satisfaction of making a snide comment worth throwing out the whole deal?
  5. Overestimating what your opponent knows. If you assume your adversary knows all the weaknesses of your position, you might unintentionally give those weaknesses away. Negotiate according to your playbook – not theirs.