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Opleiders in Mens en Maatschappij

10 Tips and Tricks for International Negotiations

Negotiation skills are important in international relations. But how do you negotiate effectively? Unfortunately (though unsurprisingly), there is no universal recipe for success. However, the following ten tips and tricks[1] could prove to be useful when you find yourself at a negotiation table…

1. Do not confuse negotiation with debate. In a debate, you try to persuade other people through argumentation. In a negotiation, you and your counterparts will have to agree to disagree on specific topics if you wish to come to an outcome that is acceptable to all parties. You can be sure that your counterpart will not be persuaded to agree with you, so try to avoid being right. Rather, take a pragmatic perspective!

2. Ask yourself if you have veto power before entering into negotiation. Are you able to say no and walk away from the process? If this is not the case, ask yourself whether you are not in fact being blackmailed.

3. Be aware of the fact that the impact of your assumptions is substantial. All parties in a negotiation are always only partially informed and making the wrong assumptions can endanger a smooth negotiation processes. Therefore, to avoid misunderstanding, meticulously explore the positions of your counterparts and ask why they want what they want.

4. Do not be afraid to change your position if this serves your interests. Your position is your statement of what you want. Your interests are the reasons why you take your position. Specifically in situations where positions are mutually exclusive, ask yourself why you want what you want and see if you can find another position that secures your interests.

5. If you keep your eyes on the grand prize within a negotiation, see to it that you do not make too many concessions along the way. A large amount of little victories has can have great value. And if you really do not care about the little victories, make sure to leverage your concessions when it comes down to negotiating the grand prize!

6. When negotiating a price for the exchange of goods, know that people end up in the middle of the first bid and the first counterbid in roughly 50% of cases. When you have a decent idea of the price of something, you can make this principle work for you by doing the opening bid (and therefore avoid having to deal with an unrealistic reference point).

7. Another one specifically about negotiating the price of goods. Generally, people have more tolerance for prices that are too high, than for prices that are too low. Consider the following example. If something is worth 2.000 EUR and the seller starts with an opening bid of 3.500 EUR, a counterbid of 500 EUR seems outrageous. Even though both bids are 1.500 EUR removed from the actual worth of the goods. Avoid these situations by refusing to make a bid, unless the other party changes his or her opening bid.

8. Take into account the shadow of the future. If you know that you will negotiate with the same party again, consider investing in your relationship by giving them what they want and make this explicit. In the long term, this behaviour tends to pay off; even if you do not know what you will get in return later (this is called diffuse reciprocity).

9. A dangerous but powerful trick is the smoke screen. Pretend to care about something you do not actually care about in order to grudgingly give it up in exchange for something else you do value. Note however that this technique can easily backfire though!

10. When necessary, make use of constructive ambiguity. When all is done, you can choose to formulate the outcomes of your negotiation in way that leaves open multiple possibilities for interpretation. That way, both you and you counterparts can explain the deal in way that keeps everybody happy…

[1] Credits to Clingendael Netherlands Institute for International Relations for these tips and tricks.


Written by Awni Farhat and Jasper Hondelink on the lecture on International Negotiations by Christiaan Nelisse and Jan-Willem Pot from Clingendael.