Even the most experienced business negotiator makes mistakes…after all, we are all human. There are a few common negotiation mistakes that can derail a negotiation, according to Harvard Business School Professor James K. Sebenius. Prof. Sebenius says these six mistakes are:

  1. Neglecting the other side’s problem.
  2. Letting price bulldoze other interests.
  3. Letting positions drive out interests.
  4. Searching too hard for common ground.
  5. Neglecting BATNAs (acronym for “best alternative to negotiated agreement”).
  6. Failing to correct for skewed vision.

Sebenius discusses all of these in the Harvard Business Review magazine, but in an excerpt online, the focus is on the last one—failure of perception. All people have biases, and in a negotiation they may fall prey to self-serving biases—that is, interpreting (perhaps incorrectly) what the other party says or does to bolster one’s own position.

Another issue that arises from having biased perceptions is the inability to assess the other side correctly. Sebenius says that some negotiators become entangled in partisan perceptions, expecting the other side to act in a certain manner. What is more, expecting the other side to act in a certain manner may actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For instance, if you expect the other side to reject your offer without considering it, you may give a half-hearted offer, which will lead the other party to reject it out of hand. This in turn, ends up bolstering your opinion of the other party, which leads to a path of adversity not cooperation.

To avoid making any of the six negotiation mistakes, negotiators must practice self-awareness and self-analysis. Sometimes it is important to take a step back to be able to view one’s actions more clearly. You may ask yourself/your team the following questions:

  • How are you approaching the negotiating table?
  • What are you really seeking to accomplish?
  • How can you best work with the other party to reach your goals, and theirs?
  • Are there other paths to agreement?
  • What is causing blocks?

Have you made some of these common negotiating mistakes? If so, how did you overcome these mistakes?

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