This is a publication about how to become decisive in negotiations.

For those who are a bit familiar with “negotiation literature”, the above title is deliberately provocative.

  • If you already understand the underlying joke and references … cool!
  • If not, no worries, I will explain everything here below.

Getting to yes?

Image result for image getting to yes book

“Getting to yes”, by Ury and Fisher, is the mother of all negotiation books. 40 years ago, this book established a structured and rationalized path to get negotiation results. This, in a fundamentally different way than through intuitive bargaining strategies (based on power, bluffing, hiding information etc). The latter were – and unfortunately still are today – the most common ways to approach negotiations.

“Getting to yes” is a brilliant book that I can still recommend today. However, just by reading it, you will probably not improve your negotiation skills. You will have difficulties to apply it in your day-to-day life and be decisive in negotiations. Therefore, you may start to forget the recommendations and will go back to your old strategies.

Splitting the difference?

Image result for never split the difference

The book of Chris Voss, “Never split the difference”, initially may seem an entirely different negotiation approach. It is based on FBI tactics used during hostage negotiations.

In fact, while “Getting to yes” has a macroscopic view on negotiations, “Never split the difference” brings you practical advice on how to steer the negotiation in the right direction, considering the emotional path that your counterpart needs to walk to get there.

The “slightly provocative” recommendation to “never split the difference” is there to remind negotiators not to go too easily for a middle-ground solution. They should rather use creativity to find a really satisfactory solution for all parties. And this solution – more often than we woud be willing to admit – is linked to emotions rather than rationality.

Now that you know the two elements of the title, you can see that I am counter-provoking in order to push negotiators to conclude. In the Project Businesses, many competent people are sent out to negotiate… but they are not at all professional negotiators and are often completely lost.

Lack of decisiveness is one problem negotiators are facing. We should therefore have a look at the reasons why so many negotiators are not decisive enough.

Categories of indecisiveness in negotiations

Blocked by internal recommendations and instructions?

Many reasons can block people to be decisive in negotiations :

  • Giving priority to their internal careers therefore preferring not to go against any internal request or recommendation. Those negotiators are preferring to be hard on external partners and soft on internal stakeholders.
  • Too strong validation processes in place in the company that make it impracticable or impossible to obtain approvals for alternative solutions.
  • Too much internal Subject Matter Expert advice. These SME’s obviously provide information on the ideal outcomes and may be unwilling to put “water in the wine” to avoid creating a precedent of less than best-practices.
  • Strong reliance an external support, like law firms, that are often more interested in long, protracted negotiations.
  • Inexperience, not acknowledging the flexibility that unavoidably exists in a negotiation.
  • Not obtaining any, or enough, negotiation margin from management before starting a negotiation.
  • Not being properly empowered.
  • Too much dependence on the coaching from a back-office manager. This person, being disconnected from the actual negotiations, probably lacks information, signals, vibes to establish the right approach.

Careful! I am not saying that you shouldn’t be coached or supported, should have total empowerment etc. All above-mentioned internal stakeholders are essential. But the issue is to determine how they affect your ability to be decisive in negotiation. And then, once the impact is identified, to address the issue.

Not willing or capable of formulating a proposal?

Negotiation is a creative process. Top Negotiators are people that can understand the concerns of their counterpart through active listening. Based on the information gathered, they are able to generate alternatives to satisfy the needs of all parties.

That is not an easy job! Some of the obstacles are:

  • Not “actively listening” and therefore not bringing to light the interests of the parties. Many negotiators are stuck in the “beauty of argumentation”. Without any intention to stigmatize, lawyers often suffer from this.
  • Not enough creativity: a creative atmosphere is more easily achieved by a group than by an individual. Brainstorming is an example of this. Surround yourself by people that can help with the generation of ideas. The individual negotiator deciding everything on her/his own is not in the best position.
  • No ability to make a synthesis of the information gathered through active listening and idea generation.
  • Generally reluctant to formulate proposals. This happens if you are more a reactive than a pro-active type of person.

The issue here is to stimulate your active listening and generation of ideas. And then to be able to transform this into action: proposals. To improve your negotiation capabilities, you need to identify your weak points and work on that through self-consciousness, training, mentoring, coaching etc.

Positional negotiator?

Many … many … people – much more than we image or are willing to admit – are in fact positional negotiators. Typically, we try to convince ourselves that this is a good thing:

  • With me, you always know what to expect.
  • I am giving my position / bottom line and basta! Negotiation is something unpleasant for me.
  • I am a honest / integer / straightforward person; no politics, nothing to hide.

But in the reality, it transform the negotiation in a static / blocked situation. Obviously, the counterparty also has its position… and it rarely fits exactly with what you want.

If you are of this type, two simple solutions:

  • Leave negotiations to others. Sad! You don’t know what you are missing. You are definitely harming your professional (and personal) career because negotiation is a “top 5” essential skill.
  • Get convinced about the principles of proper negotiation. Read all the good books you can find on the subject. Get proper training and coaching. Practice in real life. Transform yourself out of your positional-bargaining-conviction into a real negotiator.

Hard bargainer?

Another myth about negotiations is that, to be a Top Negotiator, one should be a hard bargainer. Always pressing the lemon a bit further.

The problems with hard bargainers is that:

  • They have a hard time to recognize a good deal and can’t stop at the right time.
  • They focus too much on their own position and not enough on a mutually acceptable win-win solution. If you have a moment, you can learn from my kids 😉
  • Often, they lack the active listening capabilities being too focused on personal gain.
  • They create a cry-for-revenge within their counterparts.

The problem is that hard bargainers may obtain short time gains. As a casino player, these gains are blinding and lead to long term losses.

Conclusions on being decisive in negotiations

No doubt, it is possible to write an entire book on the subject of being decisive in negotiation. Still the 2 min reading above, and another 5 min of thinking about yourself, will help you establish YOUR roadblocks for being decisive in negotiations. Reflect on where YOU could block!

A lot of negotiation advisers will promote dirty tactics. Or, they will advice you to leave the initiative to the other party: To never make the first proposal or always anchor excessively high.

In the reality, the first step to becoming a successful negotiator is to become decisive in negotiations. To find a path towards solutions, conclusions, agreements together with, and in harmony with, you counterpart.

About AfiTaC is the blog on commercial and contractual subjects for the Project Businesses (Construction, Infrastructure, Oil & Gas, Power & Renewable, Water Supply & Sanitation, etc). Its objective is to stimulate reflection, learning, convergence to balanced contracts and positive dispute resolution. You can subscribe to our newsletter by writing to “”. You can also connect to our LinkedIn page. Engagement with the readers is what keeps us going. So, don’t hesitate to exchange with us by commenting here below, liking our publication on LinkedIn and writing to us “”. 

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