The Hidden Side of Negotiation

Negotiations, negotiating, emotions, nonverbal Negotiations are a frequent event in businesses. Ultimately, both parties want to walk out of the process feeling positive about the agreement. However, finding the details that will produce the mutual agreement is often the most challenging aspect of negotiating.

It starts with the handshake

Most business conversations, whether at a networking event or a negotiation, begins with a handshake. There is some interesting research from Harvard Business School that seems to point out that the handshake is a clue to how the participants view one another as well as the willingness to cooperate. Like many conversations, nonverbal cues are key parts of how the negotiation progresses. There may even be more attunement in negotiations because both parties are keeping information back from one another. Being able to get a feel (literally) for the other person can help foster a positive relationship plus clue you in on their emotional state.

Yet, there can be misunderstanding of the actual term, negotiation

Even when you are attuned to the other person, the discussion may take a form that is more like haggling. According to, the definition of negotiation is “mutual discussion and the arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement.” Haggling is defined as “to bargain in a petty, quibbling and contentious manner.”  According to Jeff Weiss, going into a negotiation in an adversarial manner is simply haggling because the focus is on the “win” and downplays the possibility of relationship. Like most things, there is a time and place for everything and haggling (or positional bargaining) is simply one choice. But Weiss says something else about the difference that is interesting,

Positional bargaining rewards stubbornness and deception; it often yields arbitrary outcomes; and it risks doing damage to your relationships. Most importantly, it causes you to miss the opportunity to get more value out of the negotiation than you originally expected. In other words, you won’t be creative and find ways to expand the pie because you’ll be so focused on exactly how to divide it up.

If every bargaining conversation is haggling, you run the risk of alienating customers, potential outside collaborators and colleagues/co-workers. It may be a more difficult discussion because you have to think beyond your own wants, needs and position but the discipline and preparation involved may yield more satisfactory results for everyone. The key is to know when to haggle and when to negotiate.

And then there are those pesky emotions

Weiss’ point about knowing when to haggle and when to negotiate point out how we can let our emotions run our behavior. When the stakes are high, it is much easier to get sidetracked by emotions. Shirli Kopelman goes into more depth about how emotions can work to the mutual benefit of both parties. She writes that positive and negative emotions can inform you about the nonverbal aspects, how they are helping or hindering and if there is any advantage to amplifying them. Interestingly, there seems to be a bias against emotions as there seems to be a perception that they cannot serve you in negotiations. But perhaps it is more of a misunderstanding that anything else. When we describe someone as emotional, we are noticing that they are in the thrall of frustration, sadness, anger or other intense emotions. This will certainly hinder the negotiation process. But even Stuart Diamond, who advocates being dispassionate, acknowledges that empathy and curiosity are powerful emotional tools that can encourage a better discussion and ultimately agreement.

Awareness is the hidden side of negotiations

The handshake, noticing emotions and paying attention to the type of discussion you are having with your counterpart are important ingredients to learning the hidden side of negotiations. It is significant that those lists of tips on how to negotiate better all say something about managing the “soft side” of the discussion. It may be the right time to haggle. It may be the right time to explore more about what is most desired from the negotiation (it may not be the final financial agreement). The awareness is the best tool you can bring into a negotiation.

What do you think? How well do we understand the hidden side of negotiations?  Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, June 13, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.


What is the biggest challenge in a negotiation?

To what degree should you focus on building a relationship before you begin negotiating terms?

How important is cooperation in negotiations? Why or Why not?

What are the risks involved in acting more relationally or authentically during negotiations?