Laying the Groundwork

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In the previous module, we looked at the importance of establishing your bargaining position. In this module we consider other aspects of preparation: setting the time and place, establishing common ground, and creating a negotiating framework. Even at this early stage it is important to have certain principles in place. If you allow them to be compromised, then you will already have put yourself in a position where you can be considered as prey for hostile negotiators. Getting the groundwork in place may seem like a formality, but it is the first stage of negotiations, and therefore as much a part of the arrangements as any other.

Setting the Time and Place

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Setting the time and place can give you an advantage in a negotiation. People feel most comfortable conducting a negotiation on their home turf. Most people have a particular time of day when they feel most alert and clear-headed.

Environmental factors can interfere with negotiations, for example:

  • A noisy setting
  • Frequent interruptions
  • Crowded conditions
  • Lack of privacy

If you are conducting a negotiation at your own site, you have control over most of these things. If you are negotiating at the other party’s site, ask the other party to remedy these conditions as much as possible before negotiations begin.

In sport, every game takes place at a venue, and in most cases one of the parties involved will be the “home team”. In the vast majority of cases, where the parties are evenly matched in terms of talent and preparation, the team that wins will be the home team. They are playing in familiar surroundings, where things such as climate and ambient noise are to their advantage. The away team spends the early part of the game acclimatizing to their unfamiliar surroundings. 

In political negotiations leading on from a war (or trying to prevent one), there is a tendency to hold the discussions in a neutral venue, where both parties are equally unfamiliar with the surroundings, meaning that neither has the advantage and allowing the negotiations to be even-handed. In business, it is rare to have the opportunity to hold negotiations in a neutral venue, and frequently there will be a “home side”.

The time of negotiations is also important. Human beings are always in some part at the mercy of their “biorhythms” which cause the body and the mind to function differently at different times of day. Some people, as you will know, tend to be “morning people” while others are more comfortable the longer the day goes on. If you want to build in an advantage in negotiations, it is worth making sure either that the negotiations are held at your home venue, at your most comfortable time of day, or both. Sometimes there will be debate about the setting for a negotiation – and often, this is where the first negotiations and concessions will take place.

Establishing Common Ground 

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Sometimes the parties in a negotiation begin by discussing the issue on which they are farthest apart. It might seem like they are working hard, but they are not working effectively. 

It is often more effective to begin by discussing what the parties agree on and then move to an issue on which they are close to agreement. Then they can take on progressively tougher issues until they reach the issue on which they are farthest apart. This gradual approach sets a positive tone for the negotiation. It also helps the two parties get into a pattern of thinking about issues in terms of shared interests. 

Momentum is an important thing in negotiations. If the meeting is continually stalled by disputes over the smallest of issues, the outcome is likely to be less desirable for both parties as the goodwill which is necessary to drive negotiations forward will be extremely thin on the ground. For this reason, having an agenda which is stacked in favor of positive items at the beginning is a way that will work best for both sides. Concessions will have to happen in the end, but if both sides are in a positive frame of mind it creates a positive dynamic in which to negotiate.

Creating a Negotiation Framework

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Both sides in a negotiation bring their own frame of reference based on their experience, values, and goals. For a negotiation to proceed, the two sides have to agree to a common framework. They need to agree on what issues are being addressed. Sometimes the way these issues are stated will influence the course of the negotiation. Each side would like to frame the issues in a way that furthers its goals. From this it is possible to see how involved negotiations can get. Sometimes people will use a phrase to describe preliminary negotiations: “talks about talks” – and this is a fairly interesting phrase, as it sheds light on just how much is up for debate in the average negotiation.

Before starting negotiations, it is essential to agree on which issues are up for negotiation and which are non-negotiable. Those issues which are non-negotiable are taken off the negotiating table and the parties endeavor to move forward with what they can negotiate on. It can also be decided what form of words will be used in the program for negotiations – making clear to both sides what matters are off limits, and why.

Without establishing a framework, negotiations can be extremely disorganized and lack direction. It helps to remember that trying to get a negotiated settlement between two parties who have their differences calls for a great deal of patience and acceptance on both sides that there will be some “medicine” to take – you don’t want to take it, but it is necessary – and therefore it is important to make the pill as sweet as possible. Setting a positive framework for negotiations is all about sweetening the pill.

The Negotiation Process


  • Identify your key commitments

Opening Position:

  • Outline Your Opening Position
  • Decide whether this will be High Ball or Low Ball
  • Ensure that this position is realistic in light of the facts available to both sides
  • Allow for movement within whatever opening position you adopt
  • Confirm all agreements reached and positions offered


  • Question for Information
  • Challenge other side for justifications of their position
  • Examine and Test their commitment
  • Present Your Key Commitments
  • Explore Key Commitments
  • Summarize Arguments and Seek Acceptance
  • Look for Signals of Possible Movement
  • Identify and Highlight Common Ground


  • Be Prepared to Concede
  • Begin with those of Low Priority and seek High Priority Items
  • Never Concede on More than possible by your Brief
  • Use your Concessions Wisely
  • Don’t just give these away expect and receive something in return
  • Use Conditional Argument
  • All Movement Should be realistic and contained within your brief
  • It Should be always towards the other sides position and not away from it
  • Be prepared for larger movements at first as it can build trust within the negotiation
  • Continue with smaller movements


  • Emphasize the benefits to both parties
  • Carefully introduce the consequences of not reaching agreement to both parties and losing what has been agreed so far
  • Timing is Essential
  • Take Care when making a Final Offer. Be sure that it is consistent with your brief.
  • A Small Traded Offer is often better. A small move by them in return for an extra movement by you.
  • Ensure that all agreements are understood and accepted before finalization
  • This should be well documented and signed at the close of the negotiations
  • These should be then forwarded to both parties post negotiations

Case Study

Brittany had been with her company for over three years, and felt she deserved a raise. She scheduled a meeting with her manager, Tanya, to discuss this. Brittany, a morning person, scheduled her meeting early in the day. When she arrived at the meeting, the two made small talk to make themselves more comfortable. Brittany brought up topics that they both agreed on, which helped them think in terms of shared interest. After making agreements on easy subjects, Brittany brought up the subject of her raise. While Brittany would have to take on some additional responsibilities, Tanya knew that she was a valued employee and agreed to raise her salary.