The Secret of Negotiation

I'm often called upon by my clients to negotiate on their behalf. Sometimes, it's a straightforward process--they have a basic understanding of a "deal" with a client, and they need someone to negotiate and define the finer points in an agreement. Altogether too often, I'm called in because my client fears that they're facing an aggressive negotiator on the other side of the table, and they ask me to "be their bulldog." Quite often, these clients are surprised by my response and the results.

First, my clients are surprised when I respond to an aggressive negotiator in a seemingly passive fashion. Quite often, the best response to an aggressive negotiator is not to fire back with alpha hostility...but rather to calmly weather their aggression and respond with a carefully crafted cocktail of silence, questions and mirroring.

Second, my clients are surprised (even more) when this non-aggressive approach works, and the client's outcome is better than they expected. But that's not the secret of negotiation. I'll tell you what the secret is, though...


The secret to good negotiation is preparation. No, that's not a cliche. We have to think carefully about what we are negotiating for, and what our best outcomes are. We have to gather information about the costs we are looking at, and what our other options (and their respective costs) may be. We have to gather information about the party we are negotiating with, their interests, their personality and their likely negotiating style. We have to consider our past transactions and their successes and failures.

We have to think about our negotiating strategy. Is price a big negotiating factor? If yes, do we throw out the first offer, or do we let the other party?

If we're making the first offer, do we use an extreme number to try to set a mental anchor in our counterpart's mind? Or will an extreme number make our counterpart walk away?

Is the negotiation time sensitive? Are the deadlines real, or are they self-imposed? Can we leverage a deadline to our advantage?

Is this a one-time negotiation where maximizing our personal gain is most important, or is this a negotiation that will be used to build a long-term relationship, where establishing mutual trust is critical? In that latter case, is there an opportunity to "tip our cards" a bit, to show how fair and reasonable we are being?

If the negotiation takes an unexpected turn, how do we pivot and address the changing circumstances? What additional information or resources do we need to have available at the bargaining table?

Should we negotiate at all?

With contracts, I work to explain to my clients that spending the extra time up-front and preparing a good agreement is an incredibly good investment, because it will save much more time and expense on the backside of a deal (as compared to a bad contract that doesn't protect their interests).

With negotiation, that same concept applies. The time that you spend preparing for a negotiation is always time well spent. It will save you time at the negotiating table, and will pay dividends in enhancing your transaction.

In addition to being an attorney, I'm a teacher. I serve as an Adjunct Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Values at North Central College, teaching Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Through that work, I stay in touch with the latest strategies in negotiation--and I also continuously work to hone my skills in the best tactics. I bring those skills to bear on behalf of my clients, whether I'm preparing them for negotiation, or negotiating directly on their behalf.

I bring a host of non-traditional skills to benefit my clients. Yes, if you need a bulldog, I can be a bulldog. But far more often than not, you need nuance more than you need bite. Just like a good contract can save you money in the long-run, good negotiations can build better relationships and better "deals" for all involved.

Contact me today to talk about how my negotiation skill can benefit you. 630/292-4023 or

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