by Bob MacKenzie

Conducting negotiations (during)

There are four recognisable stages for you to notice during successful negotiations:

  1. Engaging
  2. Suggesting
  3. Bargaining
  4. Agreeing.

Of course, these stages don’t always follow each other neatly and sequentially, so you’ll need to be prepared to go back over ground that you thought you’d already covered.

1. Engaging

  • Building trust
  • Reviewing the history
  • Agreeing the process and negotiating ground rules
  • Mapping out the issues and context of the negotiations
  • Setting the agenda.

2. Suggesting

Making speculative opening negotiating gambits:

  • If you... we might be prepared to...

...perceptions are all that matter when it comes to deciding whether or not to accept an agreement.

Brad Spangler

3. Bargaining

Making a firm provisional offer:

  • If you... , we will...

4. Agreeing and closing

  • Agreeing the outcomes
  • Summarising your agreement or contract in writing (the parties exchange drafts, check, and confirm the final written agreement or settlement)
  • Setting the scene for next time you want to negotiate with each other.
  • Shaking hands (if that is culturally acceptable) and celebrating a mutually beneficial outcome!


If you cannot agree at this stage, which would constitute a ‘win-win or no deal’ situation, and if you still wish to achieve a negotiated outcome, then you might try either to look for some sort of mediation or arbitration, or agree to make contact at some later stage.

What are the possible outcomes of negotiation?

Whatever the specific issue that is under negotiation, in terms of Stephen Covey’s paradigms of human interaction, there are only five possible outcomes, of which the win-win outcome is the one to aim for.

Win Win
Win (no deal) Win (no deal)
Win Lose
Lose Win
Lose Lose

If you think you might want to negotiate with each other again in future, it is essential to reach some form of win-win or win (no deal)-win (no deal) outcome, even if there are differential gains for the different parties involved (see From win-win to lose-lose).

How can you overcome an impasse?

An impasse occurs in a situation where the respective parties become locked into seemingly-fixed positions from which they are not prepared to budge.

How can you seek to overcome apparent obstacles to reaching a negotiated agreement? You can use a combination of the following four methods.

  1. Carry out a reality check – how strong is each party’s negotiating position?
  2. Create BATNAs, EATNAs and WATNAs (best-case, estimated and worst-case scenarios). Discuss these openly in order to determine possible options outside the negotiations.
  3. Foster a greater understanding of the other party’s views and feelings, in order to help them to overcome their unwillingness to negotiate with you. For example, sometimes you may need to help the other party to change their perception that your negotiating position is too strong or too weak.
  4. Enlist the services of a mutually-acceptable third party to help you to break the deadlock.

Time out

We need to find opportunities to assess the situation, and choose an appropriate set of negotiating behaviours accordingly. Too often, people tend to adopt a fixed set of behaviours in every set of negotiations in which they’re involved. Especially if strong feelings are aroused, this reflex reaction can prejudice the achievement of a satisfactory outcome. In other words, you may need a cooling-off period.

If you feel that you or the other party are becoming angry, frightened, frustrated or excited, that’s often a good occasion to call for time out, so that you can decide what to do next.

You might call time out for a number of possible reasons:

  • When you feel you have reached an impasse
  • To regain control, if the discussion has become heated
  • To generate ideas by asking ‘what if’ questions
  • To run some reality checks
  • To rehearse some possible dialogues
  • To try to identify potential areas of agreement.

Arriving at a negotiated agreement

Especially if the matter under negotiation is a business deal, a critical moment will probably arrive at which you need to make the transition from an oral to a written agreement. What are the factors that you must take into account? Some of the most important are listed below, but there may be others that are case specific.

  • Be sure you know who has the authority to sanction and sign the final agreement. Is it you, your boss or someone else?
  • The agreement should cover the all the Kipling Questions, plus ‘How much?’

The Kipling questions

I keep six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling, Just-So Stories, following ‘The Elephant’s Child’
  • Include explicit monitoring and enforcement arrangements for ensuring compliance with the agreement
  • Address any issues of confidentiality. (There might be some secret information or clauses, or classified business information that the parties agree must be kept securely under restricted access.)

What if you cannot reach a negotiated settlement?

Even if you decide to close the negotiations without an agreement (a win-win or no deal outcome), it’s generally worth:

  1. Declaring an impasse
  2. Emphasising the positive aspects of the experience
  3. Holding open the possibility of future talks.