Negotiation Skills: How to Become a Negotiation Master

Negotiation jujitsu and negotiation skills for productive negotiation

By PON Staffon / Negotiation Skills

negotiation skills

Here are some negotiation skills for productive negotiations and communication at the bargaining table. Consider the following questions one may ask about their negotiation situation:

  • “What happened?”
  • “How did a pleasant discussion turn sour?”
  • “Why did the deal unravel at the last minute?”

If you’ve ever come away from a negotiation asking yourself questions similar to this, poor communication may be the reason why, writes Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton in their landmark book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (2nd Ed., Penguin Books, 1991).

The two authors warn readers not to fall into the common negotiation trap of action and reaction:

“If the other side announces a firm position, you may be tempted to criticize and reject it. If they criticize your proposal, you may be tempted to defend it and dig yourself in… In short, if they push you hard, you will tend to push back.”

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To head off this negotiation cycle, the authors promote a method that they like to call negotiation jujitsu. As in the “martial arts of judo and jujitsu, avoid pitting your strength against theirs directly; instead, use your skill to step aside and turn their strength to your ends.”

Negotiation jujitsu means breaking the vicious cycle of escalation by refusing to react negatively during a negotiation. Resistance should be channeled into other activities such as “exploring interests, inventing options for mutual gain, and searching for independent standards.”

How can negotiation jujitsu work in practice? In the 1990s, a technology start-up was seeking $10 million in financing from the Soros organization. Initial negotiations led to a stalemate. Nine months later, the Soros group returned to the negotiation table and said it was ready to work out a deal. The start-up proposed financing at a price of $1.25 per share; the Soros group countered the offer with a price of $0.50 per share. At this point, the start-up’s partners said to each other, “Here we go again. They’re not serious. Let’s move on to other funders.”

Instead of giving up, a negotiator at the start-up decided to “look behind” the Soros group’s position. Realizing that Soros doubted his company would achieve its ambitious business plan, he proposed breaking the financing into four stages of $2.5 million each, with performance targets at each stage. As a start, he proposed, the Soros group would invest $2.5 million at its preferred $0.50 per share price. Then, if the start-up met its targets, the Soros group would invest its next $2.5 million at $1.00 per share, followed by investments at $1.50 per share and $2.00 per share when subsequent milestones were met. Thanks to this exercise in negotiation jujitsu, the financing deal went through.

Which negotiation skills make you feel like a bargaining master? Share your techniques with our readers in the comments section below.

Related Negotiation Skills Article: Conflict Resolution and Opportunities for Mutual Gains

Claim your FREE copy: Negotiation Skills

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Originally published in 2010.

Adapted from “Can You Break the Cycle of Bad Communication?” by Susan Hackley, Managing Director, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School for the Negotiation newsletter.