How do you convince someone that your proposal is fair? Fairness is a subjective concept and people have different ideas of fairness. Just because you think something is fair doesn’t mean the other person will think so too. One suggestion is to look to objective criteria, such as comparables. People are more likely to be persuaded by an objective verifiable fact-based standard than by your subjective (and biased) opinion.

Objective criteria are standards (such as legislation, industry standards, relevant facts, etc.) that originate from outside the specific negotiation and parties, but that can help negotiators answer questions about which they would otherwise argue. For example, if you’re buying or selling a house, you would want to know what similar houses have recently sold for, when trying to negotiate a fair price. Rather than relying on your opinion or theirs, you can share copies of MLS listings.

Persuading Others

Sometimes we forget that many of our conversations with family members are actually negotiations. We are trying to persuade them and they’re trying to persuade us about day-to-day matters such as where we will go for dinner, who takes out the garbage, and when the children go to bed. Effective negotiators are people who have the tools that let them persuade others at work AND at home.

One of the tools that effective negotiators use is that they consult before deciding. Most people don’t like edicts to be imposed. If you consult with others before you make your decision, they’ll feel that their voice has been heard and be more likely to accept the decision. It will also likely be a better, more-informed decision.


A good negotiator is a creative one. We need to find creative solutions to problems so that we don’t get locked in a fixed-sum negotiation. How can we become more creative? One idea is to have a brainstorming session in your negotiation where all parties involved try to come up with creative ideas.

Brainstorming works best when you employ ground rules for the process, such as, no criticism of the options that are being generated; no comment or explanation on the front-end; and no commitment to the options during the generation phase (i.e. the options are not binding offers). If we free ourselves from having to worry about whether an option is good or bad when brainstorming, more creative options will likely flow.

Avoid the Word “But”

The word ‘but’ is the great eraser in a negotiation. It erases everything good that you said before. If I say to you, “You raise some good points, but your ideas won’t work,” you’ll likely focus on the second part of what I said – the dismissal part – and miss that I initially said you raised good points. When we use the word ‘but’ in the middle of a sentence, we can lose the positive aspects preceding the ‘but’.

If you can restructure your sentence and use the word ‘and’ instead of ‘but’, your opinions may land better with the other person. It’s even better to avoid either word. For example, what if I had said, “You do raise some good points. We also have to consider two practical difficulties we’ll encounter if we go down that path.” Your perspective will likely be received in a more favourable way.

Listening to Others

When we have something important to say, it dominates our thoughts and we feel a strong need to blurt it out. Unfortunately, the impact on others can be that they see us as pushy and unwilling to listen to what they have to say. When we listen to others first, they are more likely to want to listen to us. If we can take the time early in a negotiation to show others that we’re listening to them and then put forward our ideas, they’ll be more inclined to hear our ideas.

“Front Door” Questions

“What do you want?” and “Why is that important to you?” are important questions in a negotiation. They are front door questions to get us information about the other person. The more information we have about their motivations, goals, and concerns, the more likely we’ll be able to find a solution that works for everyone.

We are sometimes so focused on getting our own points across that we don’t take the time to obtain information from the other party that would assist us in coming to an agreement. Remember, we have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion.

Positions and Interests

People often start a negotiation with their position. Your position is what you think the final result should be. Should we start a negotiation at the end, by asserting our pre-determined demand, or, should we clarify our goals and theirs, then work our way to a result that meets all our goals and concerns? What reaction do you think you will get to each approach?

If we take the time to hear other peoples’ ideas, find out about their interests and learn what’s important to them, we’re more likely to eventually craft an answer that we both find acceptable. If we lock ourselves into a position early in the negotiation, we may find ourselves arguing about our positions and making ultimatums, rather than searching for an answer that is good for both of us.

Power to Persuade

Sometimes you have to negotiate with someone who seems to have all of the power, such as your boss. In this scenario, you aren’t necessarily powerless. We all have the power to be more persuasive negotiators and use techniques to get others to cooperate with us.

For example, when you’re negotiating with your boss, you can refer to objective criteria or standards of fairness as a way to persuade them. Everyone likes to think that they’re a fair person. If you can persuade your boss as to what’s objectively fair, without embarrassing them, they may voluntarily head in that direction.

Power Imbalances

What is power in negotiation and how do you address a power imbalance? Substantive power in a negotiation may come from a negotiator’s ability to walk away from the table if the alternative is really good. If you want to improve your substantive power, you need to improve your plan ‘B’, the course of action you will take if you can’t reach a deal. By doing so, you’ll feel much more comfortable and empowered when you enter the negotiation.

Offers and Counter-Offers

A client recently asked why negotiations always include offers and counter-offers and can’t be focused on initially establishing each party’s real bottom line at the outset, in order to save time. It’s not necessarily efficient to start with offers and counter offers, yet, psychologically, some people like to see the other side make concessions before they are comfortable saying yes to a deal.

Concession-based styles can be frustrating, so consider how you can and will justify any offer that you make. Also carefully consider whether their offers and counter-offers can be justified. If their offer is arbitrary and unjustified, it should not prompt a concession from you. Making a meaningful concession to them in exchange for a meaningless concession from them only teaches that party that such strategies work. They will keep playing you.

Skip to content