How Negotiators Can Stay Focused at the Negotiation Table

How Negotiators Can Stay Focused at the Negotiation Table

In an article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation Blog entitled “How Negotiators Can Stay on Track at the Negotiation Table” the staff at the Program on Negotiation quote Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino from her new book  Sidetracked: Why Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.  This article offers several insights and a personal story to bring the key points home.  It is a short article and I recommend you read it.

I especially like this summary commentary.

“Through her research, Gino has identified three sets of forces that influence our decisions in ways we fail to anticipate: (1) forces from within ourselves, (2) forces from our relationships with others, and (3) forces from the outside world.”

I want to take these thoughts and offer some ideas from my new book Peaceful Resolutions focusing on the chapter on the Art of Negotiation. 

First, going into a negotiation, mediation or arbitration we have to focus on de-escalating ourselves to make sure we have centered ourselves to focus on the task at hand.  We need to be centered and remain calm.   We may need to be there to help others on our team to remain focused as well.  We must be ever vigilant to not let our emotions dissuade us from our mission.  This is critical.  I have been in negotiations where one of our team became entrenched and it took the rest of the members of our team to help the entrenched member to work his way through his concerns.

Second, our brains are 98% emotional and 2% rationale.  The first step in any negotiation is to develop a good working relationship.  Do not take this step lightly.  There is a lot of research on this topic using the latest from neuroscience.  We need to consider the foods, drink, atmosphere, location, participants, agenda, time allotted, type of seating arrangements, type of table etc. to ensure we have set the stage to enable the other side to work with us as positively as possible.

Finally, we need to ensure in a negotiation, mediation or arbitration that we have done all we can to remove the forces from the outside world impacting our focused process. Interruptions and outside influences should be minimized as much as possible.   From the example presented in the article by Professor Gino it is clear that the outside forces probably played a key role in the poor decision made by the Professor’s husband.  You may have experienced something like this at an auction personally or observed this in others when bidding on an item.  That is why it is important at an auction to go in with a maximum price to be bid on any item.  Similarly in a negotiation or mediation it is important to go in with an established Best Alternative to the Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).  I have offered BATNA and other ideas relative to the IRS on my blog previously.

These are three insights that I think we all need to be conscious of and make sure to take appropriate steps to guard against, as well as to explore how we may enhance our perspective relative to the other party when involved with a negotiation, mediation or arbitration.  By being conscious of each of these factors we guard against us falling into a trap and we can enhance our interaction with the other party if we are conscious and use these elements effectively.

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]