Consultancy Skills Toolkit

Dealing with People

Negotiating Overview

What makes a good negotiator? There have been a number of studies in this area, two important ones being carried out by Professor Gerald R Williams who specialised in legal negotiating and Neil Rackham of the Huthwaite Research Group who focussed on sales negotiating.


Negotiating Styles

There are two broad negotiating styles which Williams labelled as
                "Cooperative problem-solvers" versus "Competitive adversarials".

The key conclusion of his study was clear. A Cooperative problem solving approach is generally far more effective than a Competitive Adversarial approach. Cooperative problem-solvers were more likely to be rated as "effective" or even as "average".

97% of Cooperative problem-solvers got positive reviews as opposed to the 67% of the competitive adversarial negotiators.

Neil Rackham

Neil Rackham studied effective and non-effective negotiators from two aspects; Planning & Preparation and Negotiating Behaviour.

Effective negotiators use Stages.

Six typical negotiation stages are:

Effective negotiators prepare and plan well.

Not just the basics like location, timing, and attendance; but particularly looking at the issues, options, common ground, differences, settlement ranges, and best approaches.

Effective Negotiators use ranges

Each side has a range of positions in mind - sometimes called the settlement zone, sometimes described as "Fallback - Realistic - Ideal).

One other indicator of expert flexibility is that expert negotiators approach the negotiation table with these ranges in mind. Average negotiators donít. They have a fixed figure in their head and if they donít get that figure they have, by definition, failed.

Expert negotiators come to the negotiation table prepared to craft a wise outcome that meets the long and short-term interests of the parties, an agreement that will last the tests of time. They know that standing in cement will not help them move.

Effective Negotiators face negotiation as a problem solving event

Unlike many an ineffective negotiator who views the Other as either a friend to be won over or as an adversary to be beaten, effective cooperative negotiators focus their energies first and foremost on solving the problem that got their clients to the negotiation table in the first place. Hence, the effective cooperative asks at all times, "How will what I am proposing solve the problem? Sometimes called Principled Negotiation.

Effective Negotiators focus first on building common ground

Average negotiators, even when they focus on the problem that brings them to the negotiation table, address their differences first. Expert negotiators do not, choosing instead to identify common ground. They recognize human realities.

This is the approach that Senator George Mitchell reportedly took when facilitating the negotiation in Northern Ireland. Well aware that all parties were deeply entrenched in their positions, the Senator spent the first year of the negotiations helping each party recognize the humanity of the other. People ate dinner together, went to each otherís childrenís sporting events, saw movies and discussed them, and through this process they learned how very much all parties had in common. This permitted them to reframe their argument from one of sheer power politics to one of shared economic interdependency, embedding their future across-the-table negotiations deeply in common ground.

Effective Negotiators do not fear differences

Experts do not pretend common ground exists when there isnít any and they donít hide show-stoppers when there is one.

Effective Negotiators behave effectively in negotiations

They employ the sort of interpersonal behaviours that lead to successful outcomes. Some behaviours help the negotiating process, others inhibit it. Those adopting "pulling" behaviours were more effective than those using "pushing" behaviours. Rackham covered this fully and the results are summarised in Skilled Negotiators 2.

Effective Negotiators manage the need for both assertiveness and empathy

One of the hardest things for law students to learn is that, if they want to be effective cooperative negotiators, they need to be both assertive about the interests of their client and empathetic to the interests of the Other. Failure at either makes reaching a negotiated agreement all the harder.


Williams - Cooperative problem-solvers V Competitive adversarials

In the early eighties, Professor Gerald R. Williams asked negotiators, after a negotiation, to rank the Other, their goals and their attributes. The Other being those they were in negotiation with.

  • Sixty-five percent of the negotiators were reported to be cooperative problem-solvers. Of these 38 percent were rated "effective",  59 percent were rated as "average", and only 3 percent were rated "ineffective".  
  • Twenty-four percent competitive adversarials. Of these 25 percent were rated as "effective", 42 percent were rated as "average", but 33 percent were judged as "ineffective". 
  • Eleven percent could not be readily classified.

The key conclusion is clear. Cooperative problem-solvers were more likely to be perceived as "effective" or even as "average" with ninety-seven percent of them getting positive reviews as opposed to the sixty-seven percent of the competitive adversarial negotiators.


For this insight we have to turn to one of the first studies where trained observers actually sat in on negotiations and measured what the negotiators were doing, before and during the negotiation, to reach settlements that would stand the tests of time. These researchers, led by Neil Rackham, found that expert negotiators plan and communicate differently than average negotiators -the difference is measurable; it can be learned.

Rackham defined experts as negotiators who

  1. routinely came to agreement;
  2. shaped agreements that were routinely implemented successfully; and
  3. who left the negotiation table with the Other willing to negotiate with them again.

Average negotiators lacked one or more of the three measures. For example, some could come to agreement, but their agreements were not always successfully implemented. Others could come to agreement, but their Other did not want to negotiate again.

The detailed results are tabulated in Skilled Negotiators 1 and Skilled negotiators 2.


All research into this field indicates that:

  1. A Cooperative problem solving approach is generally far more effective than a Competitive Adversarial approach.
  2. Preparation works. Effective problem-solving cooperatives enter the negotiation with a whole lot of strategic and tactical thinking already done, so they can react flexibly and concentrate on listening with the goal of understanding. They know what they very much need and what concessions they can readily make. They even recognize what can do them in and they have thought of clever and credible ways to undermine those weaknesses in the eyes of the Other, maybe even turning them into strengths in the process. They have even thought through settlement options just as thoroughly.

Why so much emphasis on preparation? Because as Rackhamís findings proved, they who prepare best, most deeply and most broadly, usually "win." They get their clients' interests met. Solid preparation provides the problem-solving negotiator with:

  1. A better understanding of the problem facing them.
  2. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their perspective as well as those of the Other.
  3. It also gives them a game plan that permits them to set their perspective aside and listen understandingly, especially for new information, and respond empathetically to the Other.
The Range - the Settlement Zone

Experts base their starting, target, and reservation points and their concessions on a solid grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of their case and that of the Other, as well as on a broad and deep mastery of the contours of the market and a nuanced appreciation of the short and long-term value their client brings to the table. And they do not do it alone. They do it with their client, as legal ethics make clear the shape of any settlement is for the client to determine.

Before they involve their client in their estimations though, experts repeat the same thinking, this time from the vantage of the Other. They know that the Other is going through the same exercise in an effort to set their settlement box. So the expert stands in their shoes, trying to figure out with whatever information they have what the Otherís starting point, target point, and resistance point may be, for armed with that knowledge, the expert can knowingly advise their client what a good settlement may look like.

How do they do that? They take the information they have collected and tested to the extent that any information unilaterally devised can be tested - and lay it out as follows:

settlement zone


 Note: Alternative descriptions of the three positions are :

It is the area that lies between the two resistance points (or fall-back positions) that is of most interest to them, for within this area both parties can find room to settle.

Behaviour - particularly communications

Experts communicate specially, transmitting information in a way that will allow it to be received When Rackham sat in on negotiations, he measured discrete communication behaviours that fell into three primary categories:

Also noted were two additional behaviours observed mostly in group interactions: bringing in, that is soliciting input; and shutting out, that is interrupting, cutting off and the like.

Some negotiators relied primarily on Proposing, Giving Information, and Shutting Out to get across their ideas. Others used those three behaviours in part, but relied mostly on Building on the Proposal of Another, Testing for Understanding, and Seeking Information to persuade.

The difference was so measurable that Rackham could classify the two respectively as "Pushers" and "Pullers." Both types of persuaders enjoyed successes, but the expert negotiators most often fell into the Puller category. These negotiators used communication behaviours to help the Other persuade themselves. In other words, if there were any persuading to be done of the Other, the Other was the one who was helped to do it.

Unconvinced about the value of Pulling? Letís return to the data. Research shows that twenty percent of an expert negotiators' behaviour revolves around using questions; they seek information from the Other nearly three times more often than the average negotiator. Ten percent of their behaviour has them testing for understanding more than twice as often as the average negotiator. That means at least fully a third of their behaviours involve pulling. When they do make statements, some 8 percent of their behaviour involves summarizing what they heard the other say. And they use this summarizing, a clarifying technique, nearly twice as often as the average negotiator. Putting those percentages all together, some forty percent of expert negotiators' behaviour involves clarifying the otherís thinking twice as much as average negotiators' behaviour.

Why do expert negotiators rely so heavily on questions and other clarifying behaviours? For many reasons. Perhaps the most compelling is that questions help you persuade the Other. Test it out in the quiet of your home. Try to alter your significant otherís behaviour by telling him (or her) what to do.