How to Strike the Right Note in a Negotiation

Industrial Management Consulting
Industrial Management Consulting

Unlike a lot of expert negotiators, Corey Kupfer doesn’t believe in using persuasion techniques or clever wordplay when he enters into a negotiation. You won’t find him mirroring his opponent’s gestures to lull them into acquiescence, or inventing competing bidders to gain an advantage.

That’s because, during his 30 years as a professional negotiator, he’s observed that these “surface-level tactics” don’t matter nearly as much as what’s going on inside your head.

The difference between success and failure in a negotiation, he says, is “the ability to do the internal work to get to your inner truth, to hold to it and not get thrown off in that negotiation, so you truly achieve the objectives that you want to achieve.”

The Three Key Qualities of Negotiation

His new book, “Authentic Negotiation,” is a handy guide to doing just that. It outlines three key qualities that he says comprise the best mindset for any negotiation. These are:

  • Clarity.
  • Detachment.
  • Equilibrium.

When I spoke to Kupfer for our Expert Interview podcast, we dug down into what these qualities might look like in practice, starting with clarity.


“It’s clarity on your objectives,” he says simply. “Exactly what do you want on every major term of this deal? What’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable? And not only what’s acceptable or not acceptable on each individual term, but then how do they relate to each other and how do you prioritize?”

This process may sound basic but, according to Kupfer, it’s frequently overlooked.

“I am amazed at how often even very successful business people go into major negotiations without close to the level of clarity they need,” he says.


The second quality, detachment, is similarly straightforward. It’s about keeping emotions out of the process. Kupfer explains this, as if he were negotiating with me.

Imagine that “we get down the line and either things have not checked out in due diligence or you’ve negotiated way beyond what’s acceptable to me, but I’m so in love with the deal [that it goes ahead anyway],” he says. “That’s how a lack of detachment can spell disaster for a negotiation.”

Combining detachment with clarity allows the objectives of the deal to take center stage, leading to a much better outcome.


So, how does the third key quality – equilibrium – fit in?

According to Kupfer, it keeps the other two in check. He explains, “Even if you come in with clarity and you are initially detached, if you don’t maintain the equilibrium then you lose your ability to be connected to that clarity and maintain that detachment.

“So the third key is just really being able, in the fact of all the tension, the stress, the tactics that the other side may do, to maintain your equilibrium and be able to stay calm, clear and connected to what you’re trying to achieve.”

It’s Not Always About Winning

Ultimately, Kupfer says, the goal is not to win. It’s not even to get to a “win-win.” It begins and ends with achieving your objectives.

“The problem I’ve found is that, for a lot of people, the minute the concept of winning comes in, even if it’s in the context of win-win, ego gets engaged,” he says. “So what I do is I say, ‘Listen, because winning can be an emotional feeling, which may or may not line up with what your objectives are, that shouldn’t be the litmus test. The litmus test should be, if you’ve done the clarity work to get crystal clear on all of those objectives, did we meet them or did we not?’ That is a successful negotiation, whether you feel emotionally like you’ve won or not.”

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