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In negotiations, failure is not an option. So, avoid thinking about it and focus all your energy on finding a solution. If the opposite party’s actions put the negotiation at risk, warn them. If they keep sticking to their position despite your warning, break off negotiations.

When you know that your future is on the line, you’ll naturally attack a negotiation with everything you’ve got. If, on the other hand, you’re dealing with something like a rebate negotiation, your approach will be considerably less aggressive. That is, of course, unless your job were to depend on that rebate negotiation. If you are in the process of setting a precedent, you will naturally be more engaged than in a routine negotiation. In a low-pressure routine negotiation, you’ll be more comfortable making concessions so that you can focus your energy on other, more important negotiations. Making concessions in a negotiation that would set a precedent is dangerous, because it would compromise your results in all future negotiations. So ask yourself: What consequences would a compromise entail? What consequences would result from failure?


Important: Don’t think about what you need to do if your negotiation fails. Instead, think about what you need to do to ensure that your negotiation cannot fail in the first place.

In all your preparations, it is important to take a constructive and positive approach to answering questions. Even just considering failure mentally will cause your subconscious to react to that thought. From then on, the word “failure” will take center stage, and your entire thought process will begin to revolve around it.

You have probably heard the example of the pink elephant. If someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant, you simply can’t help but to visualize it even though you’re doing your best not to. The harder you try not to do it, the more you do. The police’s lead negotiator in the thriller “School of Silence” takes advantage of this phenomenon. In this movie, the hostage takers kidnap a school bus of deaf children and demand ransom. The lead negotiator starts the negotiation by telling the hostage takers a joke, in which he uses the term “give up”. The use of this term then influences the thought process of the hostage takers. The concept of giving up is imprinted and helps to determine the way they think going forward, not consciously, but subconsciously.

So do not think about the potential failure of your negotiation. Rather, consider what you might do to secure the success of your negotiation. By going into a negotiation with the attitude that you will bring the negotiation to a satisfying conclusion, you will naturally lead the conversation differently than you would with a “Let’s see where we get” attitude. You will be highly focused and lead the conversation in a much more targeted manner, giving your counterpart the sense that you are serious about reaching an agreement. When you approach a negotiation with this attitude, your negotiating partner will be able to sense it, just as they would sense if you only had a lukewarm “wait and see” attitude. If you are uncertain whether you really want to reach an agreement through your negotiation —if you really are just looking— it is better not to start the negotiation in the first place. If you are certain that you want to reach a deal, then put all your focus and energy into it.

You will know when a negotiator goes in with the goal of unconditional success. This isn’t about winning, or forcing an agreement, but rather about the simple will to reach a satisfying agreement.


A resistant negotiating partner can lead to failure

What can you do when you notice that your negotiation is under the risk of collapsing because your negotiating partner is becoming increasingly resistant? The answer is to let them know. Do not threaten the other side, though! Instead, issue a clear warning. At first glance, it might be difficult to tell the difference between a warning and a threat, since both serve to point out the negative consequences resulting from a breakdown in negotiations. There is, however, an important distinction: A warning is objective and respectful, while a threat is subjective and hostile.

A warning serves to make it clear to your negotiating partner that the path towards a mutually beneficial agreement is becoming difficult, and that there will be negative consequences for them if they choose to deviate from that path. You show them what will happen if no agreement is reached - a warning objectively lays out the results of a failed negotiation. It sounds like an automatic outcome that you do not have any direct control over. Besides this, there is another important difference: A warning is delivered respectfully, and in a neutral tone. You respect your negotiating partner, and they can take their decisions in full knowledge of the consequences.

It is possible that your negotiating partner will not understand the consequences of failure despite your warning. To address this, you could ask them questions that require them to consider carefully what will happen if you do not come to an agreement. Instead of depicting a catastrophic scenario, let them come to their own conclusion. As mentioned earlier, people are far more willing to accept assumptions that they have made themselves. Your partner is then left with the choice to either maintain their position, or to embrace your offer. If they show no willingness to cooperate, we recommend breaking off negotiations.