Are we there yet?: How to negotiate wisely without conceding too much ground

Savvy negotiators keep the big picture in mind when trying to reach an agreement.
Savvy negotiators keep the big picture in mind when trying to reach an agreement.

Most business experts will tell you that business negotiation requires both parties to abandon emotion in favor of reaching common ground through rational processes. Writing for his blog Both Sides of the Table, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Suster also recommends avoiding piecemeal negotiations.

He recounts a negotiation he engaged in with his business partner, former lawyer Stuart Lander. When Suster insisted on line-by-line negotiations, Lander urged him to change his strategy.

"Let's be very flexible on the issues that are at the bottom of our rank and they might really care about. Let's dig in our heels on the issues we care most about," Lander told Suster. "We can trade compromises on issues that aren't as important to us in exchange for not budging at all on our most important points. If you negotiate piecemeal, you end up compromising on everything. That's not very smart."

According to Suster, soliciting feedback on entire platforms is more effective than negotiating individual points. He reasons that this is because you may lose your leverage on issues that you truly care about that happen to be discussed later on in the negotiation process, after both you and the other party have budged from other demands.

Negotiating with all issues on the table also happens to be more efficient. If all comments are exchanged off the top, both parties may begin to see overarching themes regarding the other entity's demands, so broad, sweeping changes may erase many disagreements and allow negotiations to become more focused on addressing those key issues.

As Suster says, effective negotiating is a skill that requires years to develop through real-world exchanges, and even then, the most battle-tested executives may still commit board room gaffes once in a while. A company whose CEO has refined his or her ability to negotiate may find itself on the winning side of these exchanges more often. Therefore, an executive search firm may be sought to conduct a CEO search to find these types of leaders.