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Disciplines > Negotiation > The eight-stage negotiation process > Argue

The importance of opening | State your case | Listen to their case | See also

The process stages: Prepare - Open - Argue - Explore - Signal - Package - Close - Sustain


The purpose of the opening stage of negotiation is to position yourself and your needs, letting the other person know what you want, both as a outcome and in the process of negotiation.

The importance of opening

The first few seconds

The beginning of any relationship is critically important as each person sizes up the other, categorizing them against stereotypes and other internal models. The negotiation thus effectively starts well before the talking starts in earnest.

When meeting the other person, you should hence seek to create the desired impression right from the start. If you want to negotiate collaboratively, then you might start with an agreeable and friendly greeting, whilst for a competitive approach, you may take a strongly assertive or even aggressive position in order to intimidate and dominate the other person.

Be confident

Whatever style you use, it is important to be confident and show that you know what you are doing and where you are going. If you seek to be collaborative, then this encourages the other person to trust you. If you intend to be competitive, it positions you as capable of doing whatever it takes.

A part of confidence is not needing to feel apologetic about what you want. It can be useful to demonstrate the need, but you should not use floppy language.

Who goes first?

A good question in all stages of the negotiation is 'who goes first?'

If you open first, then you are showing a lead and forcing the other person to follow. If you put a good case, then you may upset the applecart for them, forcing them to try and counter your early initiative. Especially if you have a good idea of the position they are going to take, you can support or disrupt it as you choose.

If you open second, then you have the opportunity to respond to whatever the other person says. If you are smarter, you may upstage them. If you are competitive, you can nullify their position by the position that you take.

Controlling the process includes making sure that you or the other person goes first as will suit you best. This requires proactive and often subtle management of the situation.

State your case

Paint the context

The context around a negotiation provides information that justifies and explains the need. For example, when selling your car, you might start by explaining how your wife is pregnant and will be giving up work soon, thus setting the context for your explaining later how you cannot accept a low price (whilst also justifying your need to sell the car and suggesting that it is not because it has any inherent problem).

Telling stories here can a useful way to help the other person understand and sympathize with your situation. Be careful with this, working to legitimize your later arguments whilst not showing that you are in a weak negotiating positions (for example that you are desperate to sell the car).

Also match the length of the story to the negotiation -- if it is a quick exchange, then keep it to a few words. If you are expecting to negotiate all day, then a somewhat longer explanatory preamble may well be appropriate.

State the need

Explain what you need as a result of the contextual situation. Show that your need is real and legitimate. Make it clear what you want from the other person.

In some situations this is clear and simple, whilst in others you may have multiple needs, for example if you are negotiating an employment contract then there may be many terms and conditions to consider.


In stating your case, you can take a position which you will later defend. You may start with an initial position, from which you are prepared to move, although you may well state it as being a necessity and imply it is a final position (you can signal that you will move from this position and bargain later on).

A useful approach in postioning can be to frame this for the outcome, where the benefits to be gained are explicit, rather than the immediate deliverables.

Listen to their case

When it is your turn to listen, do so actively. Listening is not just being polite -- there are many reasons why you should listen, especially in a negotiation. Showing respect and interest will get them to give you more information, and in a negotiation information really is power.

First, just shut up and listen

The first stage of listening is, basically, to listen without interruption. The only interaction you have with them is active listening methods that encourage them to talk. You can pause them to paraphrase back what you have heard and you can ask them for clarification, but keep such interruptions to a minimum.

This can be a difficult period, especially when you are longing to respond to some of the things they are saying. But hold your horses -- if you dive off into a debate, you will miss what may well be very useful information.

Then probe for understanding

When they have made their case, you can then ask deeper questions to probe for further information. If they have left out areas that you might have expected them to cover, it may be because they are not comfortable talking about this.

Sustain a gentle approach of interest, curiosity and general inquiry. If you make it sound like an audit or inquisition, then they may well stop talking. Your goal is to make it easy for them to tell you more about their situation.

Understand the person

Think about the person with whom you are negotiating. Listen to the inner person, discovering their beliefs, values, preferences and schemas. Find out what power they have and how they might use it.

I can see that you do not take risks lightly...

Find what they really want

Understand how they prefer to satisfy their needs. Identify their interests and goals that underlie the positions they are taking. When you know what is driving them, you will have many alternative routes to satisfying them.

It looks like it's really important for you that you move before the new school term.


See also

Controlling the process

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