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How to Make Strategic Negotiating a Habit

Notes on Negotiation

Written by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

I’m in the behavior modification business. I try to change negotiation behavior from instinctive or intuitive – the way we have negotiated since we were toddlers – to strategic based on the experts’ proven research.

I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and it’s tough. Just think about your most recent New Year’s resolution that somehow fell by the wayside.

That’s why I was so excited recently to read James Clear’s New York Times #1 bestseller Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

Here are four lessons from it (Clear calls them The Four Laws of Behavior Change), applied to the negotiation arena.

1. The 1st Law (Cue): Make it obvious.

You’re in a cab on the way to your hotel and your cellphone rings. You look at the caller ID, noting it’s a potentially significant client who almost certainly will request a discount on your fee. What do you do? Think about it for a split second and then pick it up and engage.

For most of us, this is a bad habit. You’re almost certainly not prepared to negotiate and your possible client has presumably thought about what she wants in that call. Your best response: set up a time for the call so you can strategically prepare.

But you’re busy and we often don’t do this. It can cost you.

Clear’s initial recommendation? Raise your awareness of this habit so you don’t just unconsciously engage. Perhaps put a note on your cell’s home screen that says “Negotiate strategically” or make a list at the end of each day identifying how many times you just picked up the phone and negotiated off-the-cuff.

Identifying and increasing your awareness of bad habits is the first step to changing them.

2. The 2nd Law (Craving): Make it attractive.

I always recommend that folks prepare what I call Strategic Negotiation Plans before their significant negotiations. It’s a roadmap meant to ensure they consider the major research-based proven strategies before they engage. I also provide them with a checklist of what this includes in a Word document/template to be filled out before they negotiate and execute their Plan.

While almost everyone agrees they should do this (including their managers), the percentage of those who actually create these plans is less than ideal.

What does Clear recommend? Pair the creation of these Plans with an action you already want to do (ideally something you really like). He calls it temptation bundling. Let’s say you love Kit Kats (which I do). Every time you create a Strategic Negotiation Plan, eat a Kit Kat. You might even eat a Kit Kat before and after. Really healthy, right?

In effect, you are retraining your brain to associate something hard to do with something attractive. This substantially increases the likelihood you will get it done.

3. The 3rd Law (Response): Make it easy.

You know the phrase “perfect is the enemy of good.” It’s true for habit-forming too. To make a habit of creating Strategic Negotiation Plans, use baby steps. Start with super small, easy plans and do it for all your significant negotiations.

Perhaps start with a Strategic Negotiation Plan with only two elements – 1) your Plan B (what you will do if you don’t do a deal with the other side), and 2) what you can do to create a better Plan B or improve your Plan B. It’s probably the most powerful strategy in the negotiation world, and it’s pretty easy to do.

But do this consistently, frequently, and make sure when you start doing this it takes at most two minutes (Clear’s “Two-Minute Rule”). As Clear notes, “the amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.”

He’s right (and this is why my Strategic Negotiation Plan Templates can be easily modified to only include a few items).

4. The 4th Law (Reward): Make it satisfying.

We live in an instant-gratification world – and our brains are hard-wired for it. But we want to develop habits that provide longer-term rewards, like working out so we get healthier and live longer. How can we change this?

Clear recommends immediate reinforcement, or the process of using a reward right away. Perhaps you remember putting a marble in a jar for every day your 8-year-old behaved, with the promise that when the jar was full you would take her to Disneyland. Same principle.

If you’re a manager and want your team to create Strategic Negotiation Plans, keep a chart in the break room and track each time a team member creates a Plan. Combine this with the promise that each team member gets a small bonus for each Plan created and, once the team reaches a certain number, everyone gets a bigger bonus.

As Clear states, “what is immediately rewarded is repeated … and to get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful – even if it’s in a small way.”

Latz’s Lesson: It’s difficult to change behavior. But Clear’s Atomic Habits shows us some practical ways to actually do it. It can be a game-changer leading to substantially better negotiation results.


Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts' proven research. He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or


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