The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Former US President John F. Kennedy left us with a great quote: “Let’s never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Actually, we do fear negotiating though, don’t we? We worry about asking for too much or too little. We usually imagine a negotiator as someone totally unlike ourselves, a tough individual with ice coursing through their veins.

Ironically, we are all negotiating every day within our families, circle of friends, and companies. Decisions have to be made, a direction has to be chosen, and we need others to agree with our idea. This often requires compromise or even giving up our idea in light of competing suggestions. We are not taught how to negotiate, and so we are mainly unschooled amateurs flailing around.

This negotiation issue is a big topic, so let’s narrow the focus to common mistakes we may be making right now, which should be eliminated forthwith.

Negotiating price before details
Usually, many elements are involved in making a decision, and price is just one of them. Garner the full spectrum of issues involved and check your assumptions about what will happen once a deal has been struck. Hidden fees, terms of payment, penalties, timing—it’s best to create a checklist before having any discussions with the other party.

Failing to keep the end in mind and leaving no room for negotiation
Key details can occupy our complete attention to the detriment of what we are ultimately trying to achieve. There are micro- and macro-perspectives involved in every decision, and we must keep reminding ourselves of the big picture, even while mired in the mud and blood of the details.

Lack of confidence
People often undermine their attitude to the process of negotiating by talking themselves down. Coming across as hesitant, unsure, or nervous may embolden negotiating counterparts and can lead to diminished results as a consequence. In our lives the vast majority of people we will be negotiating with will be rank amateurs, just like us, so we shouldn’t be shy about what we are doing.

Failing to understand the needs of the customer
Some things may not be negotiable, often for reasons we could never imagine. Once we understand clearly what the other side wants, we will be in a better position to find middle ground and strike a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Letting the customer dictate the process and outcomes.
The buyer may feel they are the dominant side in the negotiation and may try to force an agreement through the brute strength of their buying power. A bad agreement is a bad agreement, so it is reasonable to ask for input into the process—and you can always decide to walk away from the negotiating table.

Acting desperate
We may in fact be desperate, but handing that key insight over to our negotiating counterpart is unnecessary. We become all give and no take in the back and forth of the negotiating process.

Using argumentative communications
Emotional control is an asset we should all develop and cherish. Verbal or written outbursts may make us feel important, but they usually don’t help to find an agreement. It is rarely a good idea to set fire to the emotional wick inside a negotiating counterpart.

Failing to recognize the walk-away points
You don’t have to agree if you don’t like the arrangements, and it is better to flag deal-breakers early. Time is money, so move on and find someone else more suitable with whom to negotiate.

Narrowing negotiations to one point, usually price
Price is only one element of cost—there are other levers around financing, quality, timing, volume, contract length, etc., which can come into play.

Often, we get stuck in our ways and make things unnecessarily hard for ourselves. If we stop making these basic negotiating mistakes we will do better in getting a preferred outcome.