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Top 10 Negotiation Mistakes: Part One

Written by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

I have a confession to make - despite having spent an enormous amount of time in the last 25 years studying, teaching, and consulting on negotiations full-time, I have made some negotiation mistakes.

In fact, I would suggest that everyone – even the most effective negotiators in the world – have also made some bad negotiation decisions. It is inevitable. We’re human.

Of course, the important thing – as we all know – is to learn from our mistakes.

With this in mind, here are what I have found to be the ten most common negotiation mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Instinctive negotiating based on your gut

There’s been a lot of great research on negotiation in the last 40 years, and we basically now know what fundamental strategies work – and what don’t work. Unfortunately, the vast majority of negotiators still just negotiate instinctively, focus on the substantive issues on the table instead of the process, and go with their gut.

Don’t. Stop negotiating instinctively and start negotiating based on the experts’ proven research.

Mistake #2: Letting ego drive decisions

I've seen many potentially great deals go down the tubes when one party and/or the other get their egos too involved. They want to “win” and “beat the other side” and this drives their decisions, especially near the close.

Negotiation should not be about winning or losing or feeding egos. It should instead revolve around whether and to what extent the parties satisfy their goals and fundamental needs and interests.

So put your ego in your back pocket when negotiating. Don’t worry who won or lost. Consider instead whether you accomplished your crucial goals and interests.

Mistake #3: Arguing and persuading - not asking and listening

I've been training litigation lawyers to more effectively negotiate since 1995, and many are expert debaters and advocates who love to argue and persuade. This serves them very well in the courtroom, which puts a premium on these skills.

But these skills don’t translate well to the negotiation world. Negotiation power goes to those who ask and deeply listen - not those who argue and persuade. Effective negotiators ask twice as many questions as others. Remember this next time you negotiate.

Mistake #4: Focusing on positions and not interests

One of the most important contributions from the classic negotiation book – Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In – is its admonition that negotiators stop just going back-and-forth on their positions and trading what they want.

Instead, it suggested that negotiators drill down and focus on the parties’ interests – why they want it. By doing this, parties can uncover creative ways to resolve their disputes that truly expands the proverbial pie.

Despite widespread knowledge of this classic and the many other negotiation books that reiterate this advice, many remain fixated on positional bargaining and never seek or uncover parties’ underlying interests. They leave value on the table as a result.

Mistake #5: Failing to fully appreciate the true power of relationships

Many years ago, I helped a serial entrepreneur sell his company to a private equity group for a ton of money. This entrepreneur put together a team of experts to help him through the process even though it was not his first sale of a business.

I remember a discussion we had in one of our prep sessions relating to how much information he should share in our initial meeting with the private equity group. His decision - based on his hope that he would sell to them and then head up their new technology division - was, as he put it, to “open my kimono.”

While he didn’t share everything, he felt it was crucial to start the relationship off by sharing more rather than less about his true needs and interests.

He knew it was risky as they could have taken advantage of his openness. But he felt the value he received in starting off on the right foot relationship-wise would pay off. And he needed that relationship to accomplish his long-term goal of working with them in the end. He was right.

Tune in next month for the rest of my top ten negotiation mistakes to avoid.

Finally, just reiterating my offer of a substantial discount to any column recipient interested in beta-testing our new e-training course Gain the Edge! Master Negotiations in One Day. If interested, email me at

Latz's Lesson: Negotiation mistakes happen, which include instinctive negotiating – egos – arguing – positions vs interests – underestimating relationship power. Avoid them.


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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