Not everyone is a great negotiator, and even good negotiators can improve. With more than 2,500 mediations and negotiations under my belt as a mediation and negotiation specialist, I offer some ideas to help you sharpen your skills.

I work in this area every day. But so do you. As you start your day, you negotiate with yourself. You wake up and negotiate with yourself about what to wear, when to go to work, what to eat, what calls to make before you start, and so forth. If you have small children, you negotiate with them, starting with waking them up, getting them dressed, and providing them breakfast in the morning. At work, you negotiate complex issues and simple ones. Who makes the coffee, when do they make it, how often, what quality, and what price? You get the idea. You are continually negotiating.

In her blog from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation, Katie Shonk examined the concept of negotiation and wrote a very nice commentary. She identified several definitions and offered seven elements of negotiation. What follows are excerpts from her article and additional ideas to help you.


Shonk writes:

“The authors of Getting to Yes define negotiating as a “back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some shared interests and others opposed.”

Other experts define negotiation using similar terms.

In her negotiation textbook, The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Leigh Thompson describes negotiation as an “interpersonal decision-making process” that is “necessary whenever we cannot achieve our objectives single-handedly.”

In their book Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, Max H. Bazerman and Don A. Moore write, “When two or more parties need to reach a joint decision but have different preferences, they negotiate.” These definitions encompass the wide range of negotiations we conduct in our personal lives, at work, with strangers or acquaintances.”

In her article, Shonk identifies seven elements of negotiation as:

  1. Interests
  2. Legitimacy
  3. Relationships
  4. Alternatives and BATMA
  5. Options
  6. Commitments
  7. Communication

See Katie Shonk’s article for her insights. What follows are additional comments from my perspective to help you.


My book The Collaboration Effect identifies interests as the seeds of a solution. Behind every entrenched position is at least one interest. Interests integrate, whereas positions polarize. Being open with questions and curiosity regarding the other party’s perspective can go a long way toward gaining insight into their interests. An open and curious approach can help overcome a firm position with even the most entrenched advocate of any position.


Dr. David Rock, a neuroscientist, uses his SCARF model to offer insights about negotiation from neuroscience.

The SCARF acronym stands for:

  1. Status – our relative importance to others
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events
  4. Relatedness – how safe we feel with others
  5. Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be

Focusing on fairness related to legitimacy and how fairly each party views an alternative is vital. The more these five key “domains” can be balanced between the parties, the greater the probability that the parties can relate and develop a positive relationship. The key is that any agreement needs to be as fair as possible to both parties.


My book The Collaboration Effect is about building authenticity, connecting relationships, listening actively, and judiciously educating to build bridges and negotiate closure.

Regarding relationships, it is essential to do research on the other party beforehand, whenever possible, using online tools, talking with mutual connections, and checking within your network as you search for ways to connect with the other party to establish an ethical relationship and build trust.

Alternatives and BATNA

Before going into any negotiation, it is essential to be as well-prepared as possible. The Harvard Program on Negotiation offers a great checklist. That checklist suggests that you have a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). By brainstorming ideas about alternatives and having a BATNA as part of your preparation, you can pivot and be flexible regarding other options presented during the negotiation. Come prepared with your alternatives as well as your BATNA so that if you do not, as a minimum, reach your BATNA, you can walk away knowing you did your best.


In his book Homerun Leadership, Dr David Webb uses the acronym IROD to denote information, reactions, options, and decisions to enhance leadership and understanding. Focusing on options and building from The Collaboration Effect, we can see major options-related keys. Having defined the problem correctly, develop options. For each option, explore and evaluate the impacts economically, environmentally, and socially. Select the option or a hybrid option that makes sense. Sometimes, it is necessary to return to defining the problem based on what you have determined.


Taking a commitment in a slightly different direction than as presented in the article regarding an agreement, here are some other thoughts. Think any potential agreement through. Can you commit to what you are offering? What happens if you receive a shock and cannot follow through on what you are offering and committing to? Many times, parties reach an agreement to meet a commitment. There is no best time to plan a divorce, but if you had to plan, the best time to plan for a divorce would be before marriage. With that in mind, be careful what you commit to in the negotiation and consider all the ramifications.


Dr. Albert Mehrabian extensively researched the “attitude” associated with communication. He developed the 7-38-55 rule. As a generalization, 7% of the attitude in communication is associated with words. Tone is associated with 38% of the attitude in communication. Body language and facial expression are associated with 55% of the attitude in communication. Face to face is the best way to negotiate on a major issue, followed by a virtual session, a phone call, and finally, with text only, as with an email or a phone text. Open, honest, transparent communication goes a long way toward building trust.


Please read Katie Shonk’s article and consider the additional points presented here. I hope these points will help you enhance your skills and provide an idea or two to help you with your next negotiation. Let me know what you think.

Check out these links if you need assistance, want to learn more about collaboration, conflict  resolution, or enhance your Servant Manager skills

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]