Opening Negotiations Effectively

Tips for opening negotitions effectively

Having planned the negotiation and set the scene for a successful outcome, there’s little point in spoiling your success with a weak opening. The start of a negotiation is one of the most important phases of the whole process, as this allows you to gain, maintain and increase your control over what happens during the bargaining phase.

Here are some tried and tested tips for starting the negotiations strongly and with confidence:

  • Stay calm and look calm – take your time, if necessary
  • Make frequent eye contact
  • Keep control of your own features, smile when you can and when appropriate
  • Have your opening statements prepared but seemingly spontaneous in their delivery
  • Ensure your opening statements sound reasonable
  • Don’t fall into the trap of reacting to diversionary, emotional, aggressive or dismissive initial behaviours from the other party
  • Ask yourself “What motivates someone to act like this if their position is strong”. Remember diversions indicate sign of weakness in the other parties case
  • State everything positively and show you appreciate the importance of the issue to the other person
  • Spend most of your initial communication asking open-ended questions
  • Try to respond to questions and statements with questions that test importance and priority – “How important is that to you?”
  • Show understanding about their point of view
  • Listen aggressively to what the other party says – be especially vigilant for ‘umbrella’ words and phrases*
  • Seek agreement on a positive conclusion early
  • Get your demands on the table first – let the bargaining start from your opening position
  • Don’t start with offering anything until you have something to bargain with
  • Don’t just react to something the other party has said – explain why it is a problem for you to comply

*Umbrella words and phrases are used to give extra meaning to words and phrases we use in conversations. Examples are adjectives and adverbs (descriptive words). Good negotiators listen out for these as they give clues to what the person really means. For example, a seller of a car that is advertised for £2000 gives the following response to the question: “What would you take for it?”

“Well, I’d really love to do a deal but we’ve had a bit of interest in it and I’d be reluctant to go much lower than the asking price.”

The words to look out for here are ‘love to do a deal’, ‘bit of interest’, ‘reluctant’ and ‘much lower’. Taken together they don’t indicate a strong position and the seller would definitely sell for lower than the £2000 offered (probably much less). What you need to do is listen for the words and phrases and probe for extra meaning, if necessary.


Listening skills can be markedly improved by attention to the following points and by practicing them frequently:

Learn to Tolerate Silence

Most people are embarrassed by silence and when someone ‘dries up’, we rush to fill the gap. Good listeners are not afraid of silence. Mozart said it was the most profound sound in music. Silence allows time for thoughts to be gathered and it can also be used to apply gentle pressure on others to elaborate, without giving your own position away or putting words into their mouth.

Look and Listen Hard

As we talk we reveal ourselves. Unless we closely observe people, we will miss well over half of the message they are conveying through emphasis in voice, body language and eye contact.

Ask Questions

Not just to be polite, but to clarify what is being communicated. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand or to ask for repetition. Keep your questions open-ended and avoid putting answers into people’s mouths.

Reflect Feelings

When someone shows emotion, indicate that you recognise this. Use paraphrasing to reflect the meaning that is coming across so that the speaker can confirm or alter your understanding.

Use your Body Language

Make sure that your body language – eye contact, expression, gestures and posture – demonstrates an interest in the speaker.

Know Your Own Emotional Biases

Recognise your own preferences and prejudices – try to allow for them in anything you hear. We can never be completely free of emotional filters and we are all subject to them. Be particularly on guard when dealing with people or situations we dislike or fundamentally do not agree with. Experiments show how people will interpret identical messages differently if they are told different original sources for the message.

Avoid Judging

Good listeners create warm, non-judgmental atmospheres and, of course they learn far more as a result. Speakers become defensive and clam up the more they feel under judgment or evaluation. Avoid statements or questions such as ‘Why didn’t you . ..?’ or “You should have….” as these can be perceived as an attack and create this defensiveness. Hear people out; then you may be able to act on the full story rather than on unreliable fragments.

The Main Trouble Spot

The biggest trouble spot for most listeners is their own anger. When we are attacked verbally we become defensive or angry and our listening power is correspondingly decreased. Similarly, when the speaker is angry, we must keep our cool and try to defuse the emotion so that more effective communication can be established.

Other Aids to Listening

Efficient note-taking should be developed as an aid to retention. Given the number of conversations a manager can be involved in during a working day, without notes, mistakes will be made and important details forgotten. Tape recorders can be useful.


Given the amount of time we spend doing it, listening is a business activity too easily underestimated or dismissed. It has been called the missing link in communication and it is clearly a skill worth developing. The good listener is definitely at an advantage in any business interactions. Listening is much more than a passive way of receiving information. In any meeting, the listener shares with the speaker a large part of the responsibility for the success of the communication that is being attempted.


  •  Do I allow the speaker to express his or her complete thoughts without interrupting?
  •  Do I listen between the lines, especially when conversing with people who tend touse hidden messages?
  •  Do I actively try to develop my ability to be attentive and remember important information?
  •  Do I write down the most important details of a message?
  •  Do I repeat back to people to ensure that I have a complete understanding of what they are trying to say?
  •  Do I avoid ‘tuning-out’ when I recognise that my own biases are interfering with the message?
  •  Do I keep my own emotions in control when a speaker is opposed to my point of view?
  •  Do I ignore distractions when listening?
  • Do I use my body language to indicate genuine listening?
  •  Do I ensure that the environment is conducive to good listening?
  •  Do I avoid jumping to conclusions before I have heard and absorbed the whole message?
  •  Do I help those who have difficulty getting their message across or do I make it worse by showing impatience or annoyance?