The hard truth about negotiating

In the first of a new series of articles, international negotiator, author and trainer, Derek Arden, offers some helpful hints and tips on how to successfully negotiate, either online or offline.

Never has there been a time when the ability to negotiate successfully has been more important. It’s a skill that has to be learnt if you want better outcomes in business and life. It is not as intuitive as people think.

There are more people in the world than ever. Instant communications have changed everything and now we are entering the ‘new normal’. Virtual media has become the norm and will form part of our negotiation armoury going forward. In this series of articles, I will discuss the 12 habits of highly effective negotiators which will get you better results.

Habit 1: Preparation, planning and positioning

Fail to Prepare - prepare to fail. As the old military adage goes, “Proper preparation prevents pretty poor performance”. It has been said that average negotiators spend ten minutes preparing for an important negotiation, whilst professional negotiators spend up to ten times more time.

So, what do I mean by preparation? Well, first up, it makes sense to research fully the issues, research the other side and research the market price. It’s a good idea to ‘mindmap’ and list all the known facts and a spot of brainstorming I always find it comes in handy to get a handle on how the other side historically negotiates. Then work out what our inexpensive variables are (items that cost us very little but are probably very valuable to the other party) and what they might be able to give us in return. It’s also worth thinking about how we might trade these inexpensive variables for higher value concessions.

For me, it’s a must to prepare and plan the strategy together with the team roles. Never go alone to an important negotiation. Four ears and four eyes can make a massive difference to your results. It’s also worth planning your questions in advance and the point when you will take a time out to discuss the next move with your colleague. 

In the digital world we all now inhabit, there’s no excuse for not examining the other side’s profiles on social media, particularly Linkedin. You’d be amazed by what you can find and you can use this to gather information to build rapport, see who you are going to be negotiating with and examine their history. 

It’s also important that you position yourself for success. Decide in advance what your best position might be (dream position), your target position (expected position) and most importantly, your walk-away position. If you do decide to walk away, what will be the alternative position? In other words, what will you do with the freed-up resources that won’t be handling the contract? 

Remember though, that these positions are flexible and dynamic, depending on what new information comes out during the negotiation. Keep drilling down until you have a real handle on where the other side is coming from.

It’s also worth deciding where to negotiate. Your office, their office, neutral ground or on Zoom. If on Zoom, make sure all the equipment is in good working order (Camera at eye level, tidy background, good And, don’t be on time, be early!

I always like to draft an agenda and ask the other side in the negotiations what they need to add to the agenda. Asking them to share their agenda is the best way to avoid nasty surprises during the negotiations. This is especially true if the people you are negotiating with have a reputation for hard-balling negotiations, or in an industry like construction and infrastructure where aggressive tactics can be prevalent.

Finally, make sure you have time for a briefing or rehearsal before you go to the meeting and don’t have any time constraints on you. Statistics show that 80% of the concessions tend to come in the last 20% of the time available. Lastly, make sure you debrief every negotiation to see, with the benefit of hindsight, how you can get even better at your negotiating next time.

And always remember, “When you keep learning – you keep earning!”

Derek Arden has been working for over 25 years as an international negotiator, author and trainer. Find out more at or contact him at