Defensive Rules for Negotiations

Defensive Rules for Negotiations

In negotiations we initially tend to focus on our position, our side, our perspective and our interests. These are in general offensive perspectives. In this article I am going to suggest considering defensive perspectives. This begins with preparation, facts versus perceptions and rephrasing or reframing the other side’s commentary.

Preparation is the real key. Just as in real estate it is location, location, location, in negotiations it is all about preparation, preparation preparation. When preparing I am assuming you know your perspective, interests and concerns from an offensive perspective. You should know your Best Alternative to A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) and consider what could become your possible Zone Of Possible Agreement (ZOPA).

Do you know these things from the other side’s perspective? What homework have you done regarding the other side’s perspective and the members of the other side? Do you have an expert report from the other side to review and critique? Have you checked out the individuals that are on other side on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter) to learn more about them and their personal interests? Have you networked with others regarding the same information? Could this information be helpful in trying to build a relationship with the other side to work towards a resolution?

Are you prepared for how the other side may critique your perspective? Can you separate the individuals from the problems and concerns? If another party were presenting the same arguments and concerns would you give the comments equal weight or are their other reasons that you do not give full consideration to their questions, or concerns? Explore your own biases and concerns up front. Would I have agreed to something different yesterday than today? Why or why not? If I accept any changes how will those changes be accepted by my peers, my team and my management? Perspective is important.

I was involved in a negotiation with another party representing my client. This had been a very tough negotiation over a four day period with a dozen issues. We had a firm deadline of 4:30 pm today for an agreement or to go forward unagreed and potential litigation. Party A started at $32 Million. My party started at $0. We had tentatively reached an agreement at $11 Million. The leader of Party A at 3:00 pm told me he wanted to caucus with just me in his office. He indicated he had told his bosses that the agreement would not be for any less than $15 Million. He asked if I would accompany him on a call to the CFO and two members of the board at 4:00 pm. I agreed. We had the call. The individual introduced me to the others and then asked that I inform them where we were relative to an agreement and why this was a good agreement going forward. I informed the participants that this was a good agreement for them and us because it offered:

  • Closure;
  • a method to address these type of concerns in the future that would save significant time and money;
  • that the participants to the process thought this was fair; and
  • the participants believe currently that has actually been finalized.

To have to go back and explain otherwise would undermine all of the progress made by both sides.

They agreed to the recommendations and we had an agreement. The other members of my negotiating team had no idea how close this came to unraveling at the last minute. This is why it is important to always consider other perspectives.

Finally, something comes up that is negative in nature, consider rephrasing or reframing the negative commentary. This is part of leadership and turning a negative into an opportunity. This is a common technique I use in mediation or negotiations to help the other side seem more reasonable. Negative or nasty comments, enhance division. Neutral or positive comments make the mind more receptive to listening and work towards resolution. Consider, “We demand that you meet these concessions in order for us to proceed” and how you may respond. Your initial response with your reptilian brain is to respond in kind with a negative response. Your initial inclination is to concede nothing or very little. You can override these negative inclinations with your prefrontal cortex and avoid the trap of going negative. How about if you responded instead with “Let’s focus on the problem, look at alternatives and see if there may be areas of mutual interest to work towards am amicable solution”. By taking a more open approach and ignoring the knee jerk reaction to respond negatively, this can help the other party to move towards a more neutral perspective as well.

In summary, follow the scout motto and

  • Be prepared;
  • Separate facts from perceptions; and
  • Rephrase and reframe commentary from a negative to a neutral or positive perspective.

For additional research and insight I would like to offer this article from the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Top Three Defensive Negotiation Strategies You Need to Know” written by the Program on Negotiation staff dated April 11, 2017.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA is an international speaker, that helps organization uncover perspectives, address conflict and enhance effectiveness. Mike is dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including The Servant Manager, How to Work with the IRS, Second Edition and his most recent book, now also available as an eBook, Peaceful Resolutions are available at this link.  On point resources are available online at and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at or call (651) 633-5311. 

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]