One of my clients is in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, where she may be selling a part of her company to another firm so that she can focus on her core service offering. Naturally she's anxious to get the deal done, which doesn't serve her well.

Through my advising, part of my role is to continuously talk her off the ledge when her emotions begin to over-rule her logic, and when her exhaustion begins to take over her stamina in this process.

In his TED Talk, "The Walk from No to Yes," conflict mediation expert William Ury shares that there is always a 3rd side to a negotiation situation: the surrounding communities that help the two parties remember what's really at stake in a negotiation.

Ury explains that when we are in the midst of conflict, it's very easy to lose perspective, react, and forget what's at risk. "Human beings are reaction machines,' he observes.

The 3rd party helps us move to "the balcony" - the place where we regain perspective and get back on track. The balcony brings us back to the story and the reason why we pursued a negotiation in the first place.

4 Pivotal Questions

In my work with dozens of CEOs who find themselves negotiating on a daily basis with employees, customers, partners, vendors, and even themselves when they have inner conflicts, I've learned that there are 4 questions all negotiations must address:

  1. What are they giving you? What is the other side offering you that you don't already have, or can't access?
  2. What are they taking from you? What are you giving up in exchange for what you are getting?
  3. What are they expecting from you? In addition to what you are giving them that you presently have, what are they expecting you to deliver in the future? This must be as clearly defined as possible.
  4. What can you expect from then? What will they deliver to you in the future? This is your only chance to clearly define your future state with them.

How to Get What You Want

Now that you know what questions to answer, follow these strategies to get exactly what you want - and need.

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Going into your negotiations, know exactly what you want. Visualize your future state. The actual negotiation is not the time to figure this out.
  2. Know that the first offer is just that....a first offer. Even if a first offer is aligned with what you wanted, remember it is just a starting point.
  3. Hold all meetings in your office if possible, or at least at a neutral location. It's proven that home teams really have an advantage. Familiarity with surroundings, a consistent routine, and being surrounded by strong support all play a factor in competitive situations. If you can't be in your own office, at least meet in a neutral place so that no one has an advantage.
  4. Put yourself in their shoes. Empathy is a vital skillset during negotiation. It is a predictor of emotional intelligence: awareness of how our emotions affect others, the ability to regulate our behavior, and the intrinsic motivation we need to meet meaningful personal goals.

    A recent Harvard Law School report found "higher levels of emotional intelligence were associated with greater rapport within pairs of negotiators. Strong rapport in turn nurtured trust in one's counterpart and a willingness to work with the other party in the future."

  5. Be prepared to walk away. A close mentor once told me that sometimes the best deal is the one that never closes. Not all deals are meant to be done. If you're in a state of desperation, it's probably not a great deal for you anyway.

Negotiations are meant to enhance your life, not worsen it. Bring in your "third side" if you need a reminder as to why you are pursuing this deal in the first place, keep the emotions in check, and do your homework.

And finally, remember this: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Good luck!