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Bob was a lawyer with a reputation as a great negotiator. He was tough, bellicose and obstinate, a yeller and table banger, willing to say no without further discussion.

Mike, also a lawyer, was the polar opposite. He was clear about his objectives, centred and calm when everyone else was losing their cool.

He exemplified the three qualities that Corey Kupfer, author of Authentic Negotiating, says are central to success when bargaining, be it for work, a car, or a new home: clarity, detachment, and equilibrium.

"There are many people like Bob out there," Mr. Kupfer, principal at a New York City law firm specializing in negotiations, says in an interview.

"I hope more and more people will move over to the Mike end of the spectrum, which is more effective."

The Bobs of this world fall prey to the six main reasons negotiations fail:

Lack of preparation

In an overwhelming era, it's easy to forsake preparatory time and hope you can wing it in the discussions. Mr. Kupfer says he is constantly amazed at how ill-prepared people are for negotiations.

It's vital you prepare externally, learning about market conditions, history, and other factors that might influence the deal.

But you also need to prepare internally, knowing what your objectives and bottom line are. What are you willing to pay for this purchase? What will be the title and actual work of the person you intend to hire? If ill-prepared, externally or internally, you will likely stumble.


Many deals are killed by pride and self-importance. You might not ask for information you need or be unwilling to give up something relatively minor that wounds your ego.

But there's the opposite as well: Individuals not accepting their own worth. That is common with freelancers, contractors and others who quote an hourly rate but fold at any sign of resistance from clients because, in their heart, they don't feel they are worth the prevailing amount.

Wanting to be liked can also be a killer: You make a concession to win the other side's appreciation. Wrapped up in ego can be a dangerous determination to win at all costs.

"Your goal should never be to win the negotiation," Mr. Kupfer says, referring to the desire to be able to brag afterward about how you crushed the other side. Often, he finds, such negotiators fare poorly, winning the one point they obsess about and not noticing other areas where they are unsuccessful in gaining their objectives. And if you talk too much, stroked by ego, you could be giving away information you shouldn't and are not listening to understand the other side's points.


There are many ways fear can assert itself in bargaining but Mr. Kupfer says the most common are fear of failure and fear of the unknown. If you are uneasy, the contract you are negotiating won't work out well and you could sabotage the deal rather than addressing and perhaps calming those fears.

Negotiators often fear the new, uncertain or different world ahead and, again, avoid a deal that would be worthwhile. Mr. Kupfer cites an entrepreneur who kept thinking up reasons a deal that would double his business could end up hurting rather than helping him. The solution was to write down his fears, which showed they were minor, easily addressed, or unlikely.


Negotiations will fail if you are too rigid about the structure of what is being developed – rather than simply being clear about your end purpose, and open to how to design the deal – and unbending on time. Some people are so desperate for an immediate deal, they give everything away while others push too hard and send the other side packing.

"Go with deal flow and don't be rigid about pace, timing, or how the deal looks," Mr. Kupfer says.

Getting Emotional

You can't be a robot. But you also can't allow emotions to get out of control in bargaining, losing your temper. Simply take note of your emotions – why are you upset? "Stay objective and figure it out," Mr. Kupfer says.

Lack of integrity

Deceitful tactics will come back to haunt you. But you also want another form of integrity: ensuring the deal is in line with what you really need and want.

That brings us back to clarity, detachment, and equilibrium. Know from the start what you truly seek. Be detached. You should have a preference for making a deal but also be comfortable if it doesn't happen. If you have ever found yourself bidding more for a home than you thought it was worth, you lost your detachment.

Don't get thrown off in the heat of negotiations. Maintain equilibrium.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.

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