How to negotiate better with NLP – the ‘123-XL’ model

Some people, like my lovely wife Jules, seem to be naturally good at negotiation. Others, like me, have had to learn through bitter experience and review of what’s happened, plus, of course, learning from the best of what’s already been written about negotiation like the classic Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

It seems to me that the NLP Perceptual Positions model is very useful in the preparation stage. Considering the negotiation from each of the three perspectives will help you to get to agreement without caving in (if that’s been your habit in the past) or attempting to crush your ‘opponent’. Plus there are other elements of NLP that come in very handy at different stages. If you’re not familiar with some of the NLP terms, just skip them; even with no prior NLP knowledge there should be a lot you can use.


1. 1st Position: What do you want?

Before you go into a negotiation, it’s vital to know your ideal desired outcome. This will give you the upper boundary of your negotiating position.

What is your Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) – what you could get without negotiating? This will give you the lower limit or walk away point of your negotiating position.

If the BATNA is better in every way than what you could get from negotiating, you don’t need to enter into negotiation.

Chunk up to what is important to you about your desired outcome. Are these values shared by all the significant players on your side? If not, chunk up further to what unites you.

What other options could satisfy those values? Develop as many options as possible, to avoid being stuck in a single negotiating position.


2. 2nd Position: What does the other side want?

Learn as much as you can about the other side. If you don’t have reliable information, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how things look from their point of view.

What is their ideal desired outcome?

What is their BATNA?

What are the values behind their negotiating position? Are these values shared by all their negotiating team? Are there divisions you could use?

What other negotiating positions could satisfy their values (the other side may not have thought of these yet)?

Anticipate possible objections to your proposals, and think of ways to preframe them out.

You will be updating this information and filling in any gaps with information you get during the negotiating process.


3. 3rd Position:

Look at the positions of the two sides from an objective viewpoint, without attachment to the outcome.

From this perspective, how important is it to maintain the relationship? What would be the future consequences of maintaining, strengthening, or dissolving the relationship? What would be the potential gains and losses?

If the relationship is worth maintaining, what would be the best outcome for the relationship? (win/win/win)

What areas of agreement exist?

What areas are still to be resolved? Plan how to discuss them.

People tend to go into negotiations regarding the other parties as adversaries, so employ a different frame: what would the situation look like if the two sides were collaborating in finding a resolution?


In The Negotiation

4. EXchange

Everything that happens in the actual negotiation is potentially useful information that you can use to update your knowledge of the other side’s position.

  1. At the opening of the meeting, establish rapport.
  2. Make sure you are negotiating with the right person – one who can make a decision. Ask something along the lines of: “If we discuss this today and we decide that we can reach some sort of agreement, will you need to consult someone else to get their approval, or are you able to make that decision yourself today?” If the approval of another person is needed, you need that person to be present at the negotiation.
  3. Explore the outcomes and values behind their negotiating position by using an ‘as if’ frame: “If we were to arrive at some sort of agreement, what would that look like?”
  4. Early on, establish the areas of agreement, and summarise any progress made up to this point. Emphasise shared interests and shared values.
  5. State the areas to be resolved.
  6. As areas of disagreement or objection come up during the negotiation process, probe for the outcomes and values behind them.
  7. Develop win/win options that dovetail the desired outcomes and values of both parties.
  8. Get agreement on the best option.
  9. Close: summarise the agreement and agree an action plan

Common tactical errors – and what to do instead.

1. Opening with your minimum acceptable position, or close to it.

This is a classic error of inexperienced ‘amiable’ negotiators, worried about being rejected. Remember, once you’ve gone down, you can’t go back up again. Instead, open with your ‘ideal’ position.

2. Taking rejection personally.

 They are rejecting or objecting to your proposal, or some part of it, not you as a human being. If you notice yourself having a pattern of being concerned about this, being clear about your desired outcome will help.

3. Not maintaining your own state.

Excessive adrenalin produces the fight/flight/freeze response, which is not conducive to win/win outcomes. Fear and anger states reduce your ability to reframe, put things in perspective, develop new ideas, and absorb new information. Maintain a positive state by centering, peripheral vision, dissociating when necessary, and being kind to your body.

4. Losing rapport.

 Examples would be using judgemental language about your opponents or their proposals – “This is a laughable offer” – or making accusations – “You’re being obstructive.”

Instead, use “I” language and talk about consequences and how you feel about them:
“A figure as low as that will not provide an incentive to invest, and I feel concerned about the long-term viability.” Notice that statements about how you feel can’t be contradicted.

Another example would be personalising language – so talk about “that offer” rather than “your offer” if you need to raise objections.

Also, explicitly label your suggestions and questions to help the other side see them as just that rather than a sneaky tactic: “Let me ask a question at this point”; “I’d like to offer a suggestion.”

5. Framing the negotiation as a fight rather than a collaborative search for a solution

If you aim to crush your ‘opponent’, even if you succeed, the best you can expect is remorse, resentment, and revenge. The classic example Gregory Bateson gives in “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” is the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War, where the victorious Allied powers humiliated the defeated Germany with a treaty so harsh that it created the conditions for the rise of Nazism and another world war within twenty years.

Instead, you can frame the negotiation as a shared search for solutions. You can ask for help in developing options for mutual gain, present a number of options for the other party to select from, or agree standards for selecting an option.

If the other side present unacceptable options or appear to be ‘fighting dirty’, it can help you to separate the positive intentions behind their behaviour from the behaviour itself. Just like you, they are doing the best they can. What can you do to make it possible for them to act in a more acceptable way? 

6. Negotiating with your team in view of the other team.

 If you make divisions obvious, it’s easy for the other team to exploit them. If you need more time, ask for a recess.


Other useful tactics

  • Anchor any states that occur for later use.
  • Give at most two strong reasons for your proposal, rather than a whole list of reasons. The more reasons you give, the more opportunity the other side has to select the weakest reason and object to it.
  • One way of handling an objection is to ignore it and act as if it never happened. If the other side doesn’t raise it again, it was a tactic rather than a genuine objection.
  • Use the ‘Agreement Frame: “I agree/respect/appreciate andrather than “but…”
  • Test understanding and more importantly re-establish rapport by paraphrasing – “So you’re concerned about our long-term commitment to the project?”
  • Use the Backtrack Frame to summarise what’s been agreed so far, stopping before any current sticking point.
  • Remind the other side of shared interests, values and outcomes (chunking up for agreement).


After the negotiation

5. Learn from what happened

What went well? What will you definitely do again next time? What will you do differently next time?

With anything that went wrong, “What do we need to learn from this?”

Where you have encountered unexpected objections, develop ways of preframing them out next time. 

© 2011, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

1 comment

  1. Peter

    An excellent synopsis of negotiating using NLP.

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