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Planning for negotiation

Business Management

Effective negotiation skills are essential in both our personal and professional lives, it’s critical to know how to prepare and plan for negotiations of any type when growing a successful business, dealing with supply chain partners, multi-tasking and influencing decisions.

Where would you sit on a scale of from one to 10 if you were to rate your negotiation skills? In this instance, one is terrible – you always give in and walk away without achieving any of your initial goals – and 10 suggests you’re an absolute superstar as everything always goes your way. If you’re closer to number one, don’t fear: negotiation is not something innate that only the successful are born with. It’s a skill that takes time and effort to develop. So, in lieu of taking time out to attend a course, we thought we’d share some practical tools to get you started and to prepare for your next encounter.

Build your skills

So, how do the pros do it and what steps should someone with little or no formal education or experience in negotiation take to improve their negotiation skills? Experienced procurement practitioner Gordon Donovan has trained at both Bachelor and Master level; participated in and skills workshops, and written and delivered training programs, and says that developing the framework for the negotiation is key.

“You’ll find most people think the most important part of a negotiation is face-to-face – it’s the part that matters least,” Gordon says.

“Confidence in negotiation comes from research, preparation and planning, and focusing on these will directly influence the outcome.”

It’s a cycle

Many negotiations will be ongoing and involve developing relationships, whether it be with your children, employees, suppliers, purchasers – the list goes on. It always helps to understand what you want from the negotiation – for example, if you don’t do the deal with a supplier, what’s your alternative? “Some of the work is to know the alternatives and that’s your strategy,” Gordon says.

Gordon Donovan: “…for every hour of face-to-face negotiation, five hours of planning and preparation should be allocated before the session.”

He suggests that for every one hour of face-to-face negotiation, five hours of planning and preparation should be allocated before the session. “I’ve found if you work with the ratio of 5:1 you’ll get better outcomes,” Gordon says. And if you don’thave time to prepare for the negotiation? “You get everything you deserve.

“A useful tool I use for practically everything is the Johari window. And as a negotiation planning template it will help you think about information control, what questions you’re going to ask and what information you need.”

The Johari window can be used to determine the things you know; the things your counterpart knows; what you both know; and what neither of you knows. “Start thinking about it – the fourth box will always remain empty. Walk through this, whether it be market position, weather reports, crop forecast – determine the things you don’t know that you want to find out.”

To put this into practice, use an A3 piece of paper and write everything down. This will help discover what you don’t know and prepare the questions you will ask to find out.

Determine the type of negotiation

The type of negotiation will determine which boxes of the Johari window you focus on during preparation. “If the negotiation is consultative, make sure the top left box is as big as possible. In a competitive negotiation, your efforts should be focused on the top right box.

“Protect the information you do know compared to what you don’t, and make sure you ask questions.”

Understand what information you currently have that your counterpart doesn’t know and you can potentially use to control the situation. “Ensure that while you’re planning you make a decision about what would make you reveal this information. Remember, everything is a trade – you don’t give something without getting something in return. ‘I’m happy to talk about that but only if you give me this’,” Gordon says.

An example of how an apple and pear grower could use the Johari window while planning for a negotiation with a supplier is outlined in the table. When planning, it’s important to understand the following: your goals, their goals, what will make you adjust your position, and how the present negotiation will influence future interactions.

Some key things to consider during the planning process include: location (there is an advantage to being on the other person’s premises – talk to the receptionist, look through the sign-in book, check out their awards – information is everywhere); timing; participants (how many people need to be involved); goals; objectives; and alternatives. “Make sure you consider a plan B and think = about your alternatives if the negotiation doesn’t go the way you hoped,” Gordon says.

“Go in with a range of options you are comfortable with and know your most desired outcome versus acceptable outcome versus least acceptable outcome. As a general rule, start as far from your best outcome as you possibly can without being unrealistic.

“Remember, people will move as they feel threatened; in response to stimuli; if they’re emotionally driven to do so; as a result of bargaining; and if they want to finish negotiations – lots of people are quick to move in order to finish a negotiation [but] that’s wrong.”

Gordon’s top tips

  • It’s important to build rapport with your counterpart.
  • Use emotive language and build a vocabulary to use during negotiations. “It’s important to be in tune with your emotions and use them to your  advantage,” Gordon says.
  • Know your objectives and variables and utilise the Johari window.
  • Don’t move too quickly or be in a rush – the best negotiators move slowly. Ground yourself and remember you each have a personal goal and target.
  • Don’t talk for the sake of talking, silence is a powerful tool when used correctly but understand the context of using it.
  • Both parties will need to feel they’ve got what they wanted out of the negotiation while leaving some value on the table for next time.
  • Above all else, plan, prepare and practice – this will make you more confident in your position and throughout the entire process.

Belinda Adams

Owner, Coastal Hydroponics; AUSVEG Deputy Chair

Belinda participated in a three-day negotiation skills training course in 2016 and still uses the information shared there during her preparation.

What has developing your negotiation skills meant for you and your business?

“Preparation is key. I’ve learned that having all the information is your greatest strength. It’s also important to move through the conversation quickly, build rapport and find common ground – know what you want out of the meeting and what you’re prepared to move on or not.”

How has implementing these skills helped when working with others?

“We’re often dealing with people who are highly skilled negotiators – for me, training has provided those ‘Aha!’ moments. Understanding how to prepare has helped me to not be fearful, ask open-ended questions and remain positive.”

Any top tips? 

  • Prepare
  • Focus on the outcomes you want to achieve in both the short and long term
  • Understand their needs, your needs and any common ground
  • Utilise meeting space and time effectively
  • Understand how to identify and use tactics
  • Write notes throughout the meeting
  • Body language is important

“As growers, we often don’t put the time and effort into preparation when planning for a negotiation. For me, this is now non-negotiable.”


Thanks go to Gordon Donovan for providing his insight and expertise in relation to negotiation, and to Belinda Adams, Owner Coastal Hydroponics and AUSVEG Deputy Chair, for sharing her experience.

Future Business

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