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The Top Negotiations Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them

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Negotiation skills are vital, whether closing a $2 million-dollar business deal or saving money on your mobile contract. Negotiation is used in many aspects of your personal and professional life, and mistakes can be costly. Making mistakes during the process is common, especially if you haven’t been trained to negotiate well. The process can cause stress, anxiety, and can lead to error.

Negotiation skills training outlines the most common and most costly mistakes to look out for and avoid. Be on the lookout for the top mistakes listed below. Avoiding these mistakes can be beneficial to your bottom line and your wallet.

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Simply Failing to Negotiate

One common mistake is simply not deciding to negotiate, whether it be out of fear or thinking that something isn’t negotiable.

However, the opposite holds true. Many things are negotiable, and if you assert the right attitude and use a little negotiation prowess, the possibilities are endless.

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For instance, a survey by SurveyMonkey found that 82% of millennials did not negotiate their first job salaries. Their reasons? 38% said they didn’t feel comfortable, and 44% said they didn’t know they could.

When beginning discussions, adopting the right mindset is crucial. If you approach everything in your personal and professional life as negotiable, your rate of growth and success can increase. You may even develop a few more meaningful relationships, too.

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Not Listening to the Other Team

Many inexperienced negotiators will sit at the table without their ears wide open. This is a costly mistake.

The art of a successful negotiation requires a back and forth discussion of ideas, issues, and concessions. If you fail to listen, you fail to hear what the other team wants, needs, and what is of value to them.

Three essential skills in active listening in negotiations are defined by Harvard Law School as:

  • Paraphrasing: Paraphrase what your negotiation partner has said.
  • Questioning: Ask questions about the topic and how consensus can be found. 
  • Acknowledging: Acknowledge you are really hearing your negotiation partner by restating or summarizing what they have communicated.

If you enter discussions ready to truly listen, you are better able to easily define the other team’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) and what they value, keeping positive momentum. 

Talking Too Much 

There is a time to speak, and there is a time to employ the power of silence. If you talk too much, you could hinder the process by implying you are only interested in your own words. You may even give up valuable details that could hurt your ability to secure a better deal. 

Silence can also have a profound effect on how well you come across during the meeting. Holding silence requires a certain level of confidence befitting a serious negotiator. So, training yourself to know when to keep quiet can give you the upper hand without needing to try to hold the floor.

“Silence can convey a sense of mystery and power, and it can signal one’s willingness to walk away from talks rather than settle for anything less than the desired outcome,” according to an article by Cadillac

Not Planning Prior to Negotiating

If you are not planning ahead of time, you best hold off on starting your negotiations. Planning is a vital aspect that allows you to train in any skills you need for the meeting, research the other team and their company, prepare potential concessions, rehearse, and build supporting facts.

“Know about the party you’re negotiating with so you can capitalize on your strengths and the party’s weaknesses,” says Michael Sanibel of Entrepreneur. “If the other party is very experienced, that means he also has a history that could contain useful information.”

Aspects to consider are:

  • Your pitch
  • What you want exactly
  • Your BATNA
  • Possible concessions
  • The other party’s potential BATNA
  • The value proposition for both sides
  • What a win-win will look like
  • Objections

Preparation also gives you confidence to negotiate effectively. Showcasing your knowledge of the subject and terms can make the other negotiator take you seriously.

Not Understanding the Importance of Nonverbal Communication

The power of nonverbal communication cannot be ignored. Taught as a key training point in any well-planned negotiations course, nonverbal communication may play a larger role in the process than the words you speak.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, found that when there’s incongruency, 93% of communication is nonverbal.

Dr. Mehrabian defined communication with the following values:

  • 7%: Actual words spoken during communication – seldom believed.
  • 38%: Tone of voice – believed.
  • 55%: Body language – believed.

Nonverbal cues include:

  • Fidgeting. This is a common mistake that pays to get under control immediately. In most cases, you may not even know you are fidgeting, like an auto response to a stressful situation. If you fidget, you appear impatient or anxious, which may allow the other team to take the upper hand.
  • Touching the Face. This nonverbal cue is a signal for lying, according to Psychologia. For instance, Bill Clinton touched his face more than 20 times when asked about his affair with Monica Lewinsky; you know how that turned out. Avoiding this nonverbal cue can keep the relationship-building positive.
  • Eye movement. Eyes are certainly the gateway to the truth. For someone right-handed, looking up and left is often a nonverbal cue for memory recognition. However, looking up and right may be a nonverbal cue of creation or lying.

To help you succeed, remedy and be on the lookout for these top non-verbal mistakes.

Not Knowing What You Want

If you don’t know what you want, what are you negotiating for? Not having a clearly defined outcome in mind is a common mistake among students embarking on negotiation training for the first time. Having a goal in mind allows the discussion to keep moving forward.

“Don’t go into a negotiation with your only goal being to negotiate,” explains Jayson DeMers of Inc. “You need to come up with something to settle on. Having a goal will give some foundational direction to the course of your negotiations.”

To avoid making this mistake, be skilled at determining your target. What is the ideal situation for you upon conclusion of the discussion?

Knowing what the other team wants is also a vital component of a successful negotiation. Knowledge of the other team’s goal allows you to get an idea of what the win-win will look like.

Failing to Build Relationships First

A successful negotiation does not involve a winner and a loser. There are no opponents, only two teams aiming for a win-win, which means building a relationship first is essential.

To keep discussions positive, make a personal connection with your negotiation partner. What are their interests? It is not always about business.

“Relationships are at the heart of successful negotiating,” says George Bradt of Forbes. “If you can’t connect with someone you can’t get to a win-win result.”

For example, your negotiation partner may be highly involved in a charity, a keen golfer, or in training for a marathon. Talking about interests and potentially finding these interests to be shared can be used to build a meaningful relationship for both teams in the future.

Discussing personal interests and opening the discussion with a positive tone helps secure a successful win-win in a shorter amount of time.

Not Having a BATNA

Not having a best Alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) before entering discussions is another big mistake. Your BATNA gives you leverage, allowing you to make sound decisions.

Those sound decisions come from your backup alternatives, if a negotiation simply doesn’t work out.

Harvard Law School explains, “What is BATNA? Negotiation skill or negotiation strategy? It’s a bit of both – identifying a negotiator’s BATNA is a necessary skill for developing the best strategies to use at the bargaining table.”

For example, you may like the quality of work of one company and have begun discussing terms with them; however, you have a few companies lined up with cheaper cost and lesser quality, which makes them your best alternative.

The company you really want doesn’t know your priority is their quality, so you can use the lesser cost companies as leverage to bring the other company’s price point down.

It is essential to know the other team’s BATNA, too. If you know the company you want just lost a big account, they are more likely to lower costs to make up for their recent loss.


Honing your skills and learning how to avoid the top negotiation mistakes should pay great dividends when it comes to your ongoing success. Undertaking training in negotiations provides a lifetime skillset that can eradicate such mistakes, so it’s often well worth the investment. 

With negotiations so embedded in our day-to-day life, there is certainly no time like the present when it comes to learning the skill set of negotiation. 

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