Tools for negotiators

Life is one long negotiation. We are all negotiators. We are constantly negotiating at work with our colleagues, with our counterparts and our adversaries. No matter how grand or mundane, negotiations share certain attributes and demand certain skills. Some people may be born negotiators, but you do not have to be. We can all learn to be effective at it.


Negotiations should focus on issues, but each individual negotiation depends upon the actions and attitudes of the people involved. The sides are by nature interdependent since they are in conflict over an issue that involves both of them. If the position of one side on an issue were irrelevant to the other side, there would be no need for negotiation. Therefore, decision making in negotiations must be joint to a certain extent.


The objective of any negotiation is achieving an agreement that satisfies your interests, not just an agreement. The best outcome to a negotiation may sometimes be no agreement. For example, a negotiation without an agreement might be preferable to one that would require you to accept violation of OSCE basic principles (such as respect for human rights).

Agreements are not necessarily beneficial to each party in the same degree. Being mutually beneficial does not mean equally beneficial. One party might agree to a ceasefire if another party agrees to maintain the flow of water and electricity.

Mutual discovery

Mutual discovery is very often an important part of negotiations, but that does not mean that the best negotiators reveal all of their cards. In fact, maintaining confidentiality is often just as important as mutual discovery. You may want to discuss your interests with another party to advance joint problem solving, but you will probably not want to share with it your final point of flexibility.


Negotiation is serious business aimed at securing or protecting an advantage, limiting damage, or otherwise advancing an interest. It is not just a process, for participating in the process may also contain substantive implications.


Negotiations are always about something, and they are usually about differences. Differences can be perfectly rational, or they can sometimes seem mutually irrational to each of the parties. Whether seemingly rational or irrational, differences can still be resolved.

True purpose

Another party’s true purpose for engaging in a negotiation is not necessarily clear, explicit or obvious. There is always the possibility that a party may agree to participate in negotiations in order to avoid criticism without any intention of seeking an agreement. If this is the case, obviously the negotiation will fail. Equally, you may believe that the prospects for a successful negotiation may be dim because of the other party’s positions or attitudes. Nonetheless, using negotiations to press your issues and keep attention on them may be your best short-term objective.