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As world leaders from around the Pacific Rim are butting heads over the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Perry Atwal, who teaches negotiation strategies to MBA students at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, offers up his top tips for getting what you want in any negotiation scenario.

Perry Atwal


1. Focus on interests, not positions.

A position is what you say you want and an interest is the real underlying reason. For example, if I’m buying your car and offer you $10,000 for it, my position is $10,000. However my interest may be that I need a vehicle to help transport my family around and get to and from work. Getting down to interests often unlocks the key for both sides.

2. Strengthen your alternatives – and weaken your opponent’s.

You need to keep in mind the Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), which is prepared before a negotiation, and represents the very best that you have if you do not come to an agreement. For example, if I’m considering buying your vehicle and I already know about a similar vehicle elsewhere for about the same price, then that is my BATNA – my best alternative if we don’t reach a deal. A strong BATNA builds confidence and strengthens your position, and simultaneously trying to weaken the other side’s BATNA will increase your chances of success.

3. Keep in mind your relationship with your opponent.

Do you just want a deal, or do you care about the long-term relationship? Negotiating with a trader in a random market is very different than negotiating with a family member given the one-off nature and lack of concern for the relationship.

4. Understand the cultural context.

Consider your opponent’s culture and background to empathize and try to see a way forward. What are their values, beliefs, knowledge and past experience, and how do these shape their demands? Even the differences between Canadians and American negotiators can be important.

5. Make the most of the power dynamic.

What types of power does each side have, and how can these be best used in your favour? There are six types of power:  1) Reward is the ability to offer incentives; 2) Coercive is the power to create pain); 3) Legitimate power comes from a title or place in a hierarchy; 4) Referent power comes from charisma and charm; 5) Information power comes from access to information; and 6) Expert power is leveraging a greater familiarity with the subject at hand. Understanding where each side’s power comes from – and looking to strengthen your different sources of power where possible – will give you a stronger negotiating base.

Top image source: Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development on Flickr