Professional Services: Negotiation course

The Professional Services team recently undertook a three day negotiation course that focused on cooperative negotiations (where both parties are inclined to reach a mutually beneficial deal) rather than competitive negotiations (‘my way or the highway’).

Whilst everyone had their own personal motivations for attending the course, this course is recommended for anyone:

  • looking to build confidence in either internal, external or personal interactions that regularly involve two or more parties trying to reach agreement
  • looking to provide a structured and non-emotional approach to such conversations
  • who is involved in more complex negotiations with clients or third parties and wants to increase their success rate


There were three main takeaways for me:

  • Preparation, preparation, preparation
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Dealing with different personality types

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Negotiations can be anything from an internal discussion with your team to negotiating a contract with a client, but central to success in all of them is one notion: preparation is paramount.

You should spend at least as much time preparing as negotiating, and at least as much time thinking about the other party’s interests as your own.

OK, so we are going to prepare for a negotiation – what does this look like? The course provided a best practice framework for preparation:

  • List the issues on both sides.
  • Identify the issues that have leeway (‘dynamic’ issues), and those which don’t (‘static’ issues).
  • Determine the range of movement you have in your starting position, goal, and reservation point. What are the points beyond which you can go no further? Are there external criteria you can base these on?
  • What is your backup plan, should you not be able to reach agreement?
  • How are you going to lead negotiations, and if in a team what are your roles?
  • What are the expected stages of this negotiation? Typically you’ll go from building rapport, to listing issues, presenting options, to summarising and closing.
  • Do you have multiple options and suggestions for resolution?

The central notion in the framework is that, given you are seeking a collaborative negotiation, you should apply the framework both to you and the other party.

Drawing out a table and spending adequate time researching, thinking and prepping will give you confidence and put you in a better negotiating position, increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome (for everyone).

Focus on interests, not positions

What are positions and interests? Positions are what someone says they want; interests are what they actually want.

To illustrate, we were given the following example:

Consider the story of two men quarrelling in a library. One wants the window open, and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open. A crack? Half way? Three quarters of the way? No solution satisfies them both. Enter the librarian. She asks the first man why he wants the window open: ‘To get fresh air’. She asks the other why he wants it closed: ‘To avoid a draft’. After thinking for a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

The two men took fully opposing positions. Only when they considered their interests were they able to reach a resolution.

In an example of us dealing with a client at Caplin, positions are very easy to ascertain as they are often explicitly asserted. However interests may require more questioning (using open questions), more speculation (is the individual concerned about more than what they are saying?) and ultimately, you guessed it, more preparation!

Dealing with different personality types

The course spent some time on the Myers-Briggs personality test and considered how personality types can affect negotiations.

We addressed the following questions:

  • How should I/could I adapt my approach to different personality types?
  • What things do I naturally do when interacting with others that I can adapt or neutralise to my advantage?

Personally, I didn’t put too much stock in this aspect of the course. I think to get to the stage of actively neutralising or adapting your approach is fairly advanced; however, there were some general aspects that made immediate sense:

  • Introverts like to take time to think internally before responding, so give them time and don’t rush responses.
  • Extroverts like to talk through their ideas as they formulate, so facilitate this and use it to analyse their interests
  • Understand if someone is factual, or likes to deal with concepts – and try and adjust.
  • Understand how culture impacts negotiations. We had an attendee from the Middle East where the negotiation process is much longer and more staged than in other cultures. The course director suggested the use of a cultural adviser is often recommended.


As Tom has said, preparation is crucial. It is hard to predict how the other person/s may react to a proposal. If we then base our approach and assumptions only on what we think is right or acceptable without considering the other party’s motivation, position or interests, then this could potentially produce a competitive atmosphere. This ultimately does not help either party in reaching a resolution or an understanding that we have a joint goal we are both trying to achieve.

This course has broadened my way of thinking and given me a good framework to use going forward when in negotiation with our customers.


Prior to attending the course, I had a narrow understanding of negotiation, and I would have said that negotiation played only a minor role in my job.

This course has expanded my definition of negotiation. By reframing negotiation as an interaction in which value is created rather than just claimed, this course has helped me recognise that much of my day-to-day interaction with clients involves negotiation. Reaching mutually beneficial agreement on timelines for deliveries, ways of working, and changes to sprint plans, are all examples of collaborative negotiation.

This deeper understanding of the two types of negotiation, competitive and collaborative, has made me conscious of the greater role negotiation plays in my job, and it has further motivated me to learn how to do it well.

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