Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

“Pay extra attention to the minutiae and ensure you fully understand every term and condition,” this senior partner told me when I was a junior associate. “Some lawyers will try to bury critical provisions in the least obvious places. It’s your job to catch and negotiate them before the agreement gets signed. Details matter.”

This sounds obvious. Understand everything. But it’s not so easy, especially in complex deals with tons of intersecting issues.

And it’s especially challenging as negotiators – in business and law – will often mask an issue’s importance in an effort to either a) slip a major issue past you, or b) get you to believe a minor issue is more significant to elicit something bigger in return.

So how can you best evaluate what’s really critical to your counterpart versus what’s not (what longtime Wall Street lawyer James Freund, author of Smart Negotiating: How to Make Good Deals in the Real World calls “Blue Chips” versus “Bargaining Chips”)?

Here are six tactics to help you make this crucial determination (Three here and the rest next week).

1. Independently research their issues and interests

There’s no substitute to doing your homework, stepping into your counterpart’s shoes, and trying to figure out what they want, why, and how much.

Ask a colleague to brainstorm with you, too. People think in different ways. We’ve all heard the phrase two heads are better than one. It’s true here.

2. Ask and confirm

I’m constantly surprised at what you can find out in a negotiation just by straight up asking and being genuinely curious. And use open-ended questions like what, how, why, tell me about, describe, and explain. Perhaps even ask them to “help me understand what’s important to you about …”.

Plus, follow up by requesting that they prioritize their issues and interests, maybe even inviting them to rank them on a 1–10 scale. Or give them a choice and ask which is more important – A or B or C? And why?

Finally, confirm your understanding of their priorities and give them an opportunity to modify or expand on it. “So what I understand is …” or “It sounds to me like …”. Active listening, right?

3. Investigate their credibility through strategic intelligence gathering

Check out your counterpart’s reputation on the credibility front. Contact individuals who have negotiated with them before, and ask them whether and to what extent they’re straight-shooters on issues important to them. Do they bluff on these issues and/or try to slip things past you in the fine print?

Years ago, I raised significant funds to start a software company. Early on, I asked my lawyer what he knew of my list of possible investors. He told me one had a reputation as a sleazy operator. Invaluable advice!

Latz’s Lesson: It’s often not easy to ascertain what’s actually important to your counterpart and why. But it helps a lot if you do your research, ask the right questions, and check out their reputations.

 * Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or

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