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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Negotiation Attitudes & Behaviours – from Failure to Success



Which are the key success attitudes and behaviours that lead to your unlocking a winning streak in your business negotiations?

by Jonathan Sims

Negotiating behavior is primarily determined by mental attitudes. If we are to excel in negotiation, as in other fields of endeavor, we must delve deeper than the process itself. If we study a process, we might become more competent car drivers, average guitar strummers, 15 minute-mile joggers or bearable after-dinner speakers. If you’re pleased with achieving 45%, 50% or 55% of what’s on the table, then you can settle comfortably in your comfort zone. Achieving excellence demands that we depart from the confines of our comfort zones and address our mental attitudes.

Mental attitudes are mostly established by our negotiation objectives. If we see the objective of negotiation as “reaching an agreement which satisfies the needs of both parties and with which both sides are happy”, then our mental attitude is not significantly exercised. We need look no further than studying process and enhancing techniques which merely bolt on new negotiation skills to our present behavior . We could read a book, attend a one-day seminar, get a deal better than our minimum position, feel good that we have maintained the relationship with the other side and feel warm in the knowledge that we have negotiated “in a principled and ethical manner.”

But what if our goals are much more ambitious? Such as: “our aim in negotiation is to take away 100% of what’s available on the table, regardless of the happiness of either side.” I would guess that this immediately challenges the social and mental outlooks of the reader. You might well be visualizing raw greed, bad feeling, harsh words, exploitation and wrecked relationships. I don’t disagree, but it does have a validity as far as commercial negotiation is concerned (I stress commercial because political, personal and union negotiations have different constraints and priorities): that the aspiration of Capitalism is to maximize profit, not to obtain a nebulous “fair” profit, and that achieving personal happiness in negotiation is important to the Child not the Adult, and that your Child has no place at the negotiating table.

My objection to the latter approach to negotiation would be on realistic rather than ethical grounds. Bad feeling usually leads to bad business. The other side generally does have a Child that can be as destructive as cooperative. What if we strive at “taking 100% of what’s on the table and leave the other side delighted with the deal?” That does challenge our values, mental attitudes and negotiating behaviours.

Very importantly, also, in over fifteen years of analyzing negotiating behavior especially in the commercial environment, I have discovered an assortment of inappropriate attitudes of mind and their ensuing behavior that are of primary importance to the outcome of negotiations. These findings illustrate the other integral keys to success and failure in negotiation. A listing of those inappropriate attitudes of mind follows:


We plan for failure even before we sit down at the table. We can be slaves to expectations.


  • “This always finishes up at the market price.”.
  • “We’ve got a lousy case.”
  • “I know what he’s going to say, so there’s actually no point in asking.”
  • “This is going to be expensive.”
  • “He’s got the better position.”
  • “He might possibly go to any of our competitors.”
  • “We don’t have anything particular to offer.”
  • “The Germans/Japanese/Arabs always appear to be better negotiators than us.”


  • Very Timid demands.
  • Ready to give concessions.
  • Just going through the motions.


Our avoidance of stress permits us to settle in the comfortable middle range or accept their first offer…


  • “If I make demands which are overly high, it’ll ruin the relationship.”
  • “I’ll seem too greedy if I ask too much.”
  • “I feel sick when I push for that bit more.”
  • “Yes, I’ll happily split the difference.”
  • “That’s probably fair for the two of us”


  • Not confronting demands.
  • Too simplistic concessions
  • The final minute concessions.
  • Getting things over and finished with as fast as possible.


The elder brother of the comfort-seeker.


  • “There’s always another sweeter deal, another day.”
  • “There’s no point in lathering up a sweat.”


  • Just simple laziness.
  • Specific lack of preparation.
  • Easily surrender concessions.


Too many people look at company money as a completely different animal from personal money. Symptoms are addiction to the expense account and company-paid comforts.


  • “Heck, it’s not all that much money, considering how much my company turns over.”
  • “Well, it’s not my money.”
  • “What’s one percent so long as I win the deal?”
  • Bargaining is too infra-dig.”


  • Very charitable concessions.
  • Shows off company-compensated status symbols.
  • Off-hand attitude of referring to money: thousands as “g” or “k”, or even millions as “mil”.
  • Ignores the final 1% opportunity.


The basic skill of successful negotiators is simply to be in control of themselves.


  • “What’s in several or more words?”
  • “How can it harm if I reveal our urgency?”
  • “What can it matter if I’m only several minutes late?”


  • Doing uncontrolled talking (particularly under stress).
  • Making indiscreet comments.
  • Unbridled non-verbal communication.
  • Unplanned lateness.


I am perpetually surprised at how frequently people regard to be seen as “driven” is a positive attribute. As I see it, one is either driving or is driven. Driven people can accomplish great feats but are seldom able to choose to ignore the drive.


  • “I’m going to get this sale if it’s the last thing I do.”
  • “This will make me best negotiation salesman.”
  • “I have got to make him appreciate my position.”
  • “I have never lost a client yet.”


  • Lack of self control.
  • Need to dominate.
  • Inability to stay quiet.
  • A compulsion to explain.
  • Competitiveness (competitive people are relatively simple to manipulate).


95% of people spend 95% of their lives alone in their own heads. Negotiation is getting inside the other person’s head.


  • “I really must get this deal.”
  • “I must make him understand my position.”
  • “It’s my negotiation agenda that’s relevant”
  • “How can I possibly comprehend what he thinks?”


  • Lack of any regard of the counterpart’s needs, priorities, urgencies, and weaknesses.
  • Not posing questions.
  • Starting the bidding with our lowest position in mind, not theirs.
  • Not showing sensitivity.
  • Guessing that the other side views the negotiation just as we do.


So much in negotiation is about feeding ego rather than obtaining the best possible deal, which usually necessitates leaving ego at the door. The other person’s ego can be our biggest opportunity or our greatest threat.


  • “These guys have to see who’s in charge.”
  • “I’d rather lose this deal than be viewed as weak.”
  • “This’ll get me some notice in the board room.”


  • Controlling the first word.
  • Must have the last word.
  • Mistake speaking for dominating.
  • Biased.
  • Belligerent.
  • Lacks ability to listen.
  • Fails to be sensitive.
  • Seeking to humiliate the other side.
  • Prone to flattery.
  • Fixated on winning the symbols of victory.
  • Gives away money as a symbol of importance.
  • Unable to be in a subordinate role in team negotiations.


We lionize the small number of successful, risking-taking masters of the business universe. We forget that 90% of those in business are people who can manage while keeping their heads down to protect their jobs, pay the home loan, and secure their pensions.


  • “It’s best not rock the boat.”
  • “Too many demands will cause them to be angry.”
  • “There are rules which preside over just how much we can ask.”
  • “They possess the upper hand.”
  • “I make sure that I can justify my demands.”
  • “Let’s not jeopardize┬áthe relationship.”
  • “My boss will kill me if I foul up this deal.”


  • Are inhibited by fears.
  • Lack of ability to face their fears.
  • Inability to defend against social conditioning.
  • Submissive to (often bogus) authority.
  • Require Self-justification.
  • Lack ambitious demands.
  • Tend to be Defensive.
  • Need to be liked.
  • Tend to be timid.
  • Can be afraid.
  • Moves with the flow.
  • Presents concessions in return for nothing.
  • No ability to lead in team negotiations.

In conclusion, there are quite a few mental attitudes we take with us into negotiation which mitigate against our needs. They are born of fears, inhibitions, social conditioning, coping mechanisms, ego and drives. Identifying them is essential to controlling them. Only when this is done can we effectively acquire the process skills that help us achieve negotiating excellence.

Jonathan Sims, Principal of the Human Development Centre (HDC), has been tutoring the Workshop in Negotiation Skills since 1989.

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4.5 out of 5 from 2 responses
  • 3
    Prof S P Garg on

    Attitude of mind and behavior pattern, both go together while negotiating and both parties never go into an ego state of mind

  • 11
    Piotr Jednaszewski PhD on

    Mind attitude is the basic tool in all types of communication. Regardless of the country, language and situation. And that is why it plays a crucial role in negotiations.

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