Negotiation is a vital skill for professionals in today’s business environment. If you’re aiming to maximize value for your organization at the bargaining table, there are a number of best practices and tactics you can employ to craft a winning strategy.

While knowing what you should do in a negotiation is essential for success, it’s just as important to know what you shouldn’t do. To help you become more effective in your business dealings, here are nine common negotiating mistakes to keep in mind the next time you’re at the bargaining table.

9 Mistakes That Often Lead to Failed Negotiations

1. Forgetting to Shake Hands

While a handshake may seem like a simple gesture, it can have a major impact on the outcome of a negotiation.

In a study conducted by Harvard Business School Professors Francesca Gino and Michael Norton, shaking hands was found to foster collaboration and promote deal-making in the bargaining process.

“Across many cultures, shaking hands at the beginning and end of a negotiating session conveys a willingness to cooperate and reach a deal that considers the interests of the parties at the table,” writes Gino in the Harvard Business Review. “By paying attention to this behavior, negotiators can communicate their motives and intentions, and better understand how the other side is approaching discussions.”

By kicking off a negotiation with a handshake, you can send a powerful non-verbal signal that shows you’re ready and willing to work toward a fair agreement.

2. Letting Stress and Anxiety Affect Your Demeanor

Before entering into a negotiation, take some time to collect your thoughts and get your emotions in check. so that you don’t carry negative emotions into the negotiation which might impact your success. Though it may seem slight, emotions can have a strong impact on negotiations, so this is a critical step.

According to Harvard Business School Professor Mike Wheeler, who teaches the online course Negotiation Mastery, stress and anxiety can affect your ability to adequately communicate your position and can snowball into other issues as the conversation goes on.

“You may be reluctant to reveal your interests, for example, fearful of being exploited. And if you’re wary of others, you may be too quick to interpret an innocent question as a ploy,” writes Wheeler in the Harvard Business Review. “Most important, if you are tense and closed yourself, others may misread your defensiveness as hostility and prompt them to be defensive themselves. Tensions may escalate as a result.”

Instead of letting your emotions get the best of you, experts advise channeling any negative feelings and using them to your advantage. HBS Professor Alison Wood Brooks’ work, for example, shows that telling yourself you’re excited, rather than anxious, can lead to better performance.

Related: 4 Tips for Developing a Successful Negotiation Strategy

3. Neglecting the Other Side’s Perspective

A negotiation is a two-way street. In addition to representing your own interests, you need to be open to hearing the other side’s point of view.

Rather than simply asking what the other person is hoping to gain, seek to understand the reasoning behind their motives.

Chris Voss, former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, says it’s vital to demonstrate your willingness to actively listen at the outset of a negotiation.

“A lot of people are used to being asked questions and not having their answers listened to,” Voss says. “They’re going to know right away whether or not you’re one of those people. Whether or not you ask a question and then don’t listen to an answer. If you turn them off, it gives them permission to turn you off.”

Voss shares more on the importance of listening to others’ perspectives in the video below:

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4. Negotiating Against Yourself

Listening to the other side throughout the negotiation process can reveal key details about the goals they want to achieve. Extensive preparation is necessary to understand those goals and reach your desired outcome in bargaining talks, but it can be a pitfall if it prompts you to take decisive action too early.

“Negotiation is just another word for persuasion, and it's all about convincing the other side to see your side of the story,” says Henry McGee, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and former president of HBO Home Entertainment, in an interview for Negotiation Mastery. “That requires a great deal of preparation so you can really lay out the points you want to get across. But also key to that is understanding their point of view. Now, the great danger is you can over-prepare and end up negotiating with yourself.”

If you don’t have a full picture of what the other person wants, avoid prematurely presenting numbers and solutions that could work against you. Rather, hold firm to your initial position and allow the flow of the conversation to uncover more about what’s truly at stake in the negotiation.

5. Using Aggressive, Accusatory Language

Beyond strategies and tactics, how you communicate during a negotiation can divulge a lot about your willingness to cooperate.

Instead of the pronoun “I,” emphasize your willingness to work together by using “we” statements and empathetic phrasing that acknowledges how the other side feels.

The diplomatic language you employ should extend to your questioning as well. Asking for answers with pointed wording, such as “Why did you make that choice?” can make the other person guarded and escalate tensions during a negotiation.

Opt for more open-ended questions, such as “What led you to make that choice?” so you can invite the other side to explain their reasoning, rather than just defend their actions.

Related: How to Talk Like an FBI Hostage Negotiator

6. Immediately Giving in to Ultimatums

Negotiations can be contentious. Sometimes, you’re presented with ultimatums that push you to decide whether to take the deal on the table or face impending consequences. In the face of such scenarios, it can be the words you don’t say that have the greatest impact.

“When someone says, ‘absolutely not’ or ‘it’s against company policy,’ the natural impulse is to ask why or ask for an exception—or to challenge the assertion itself,” Wheeler says in a previous blog post. “But often it’s smarter to let the remark pass without comment. Your counterpart may have spoken in haste. Given time, he or she may soften their position—provided you haven’t reinforced it.”

By exercising patience in these scenarios, you can set yourself up for the possibility of a more favorable outcome down the line.

7. Losing Sight of Your Values

A negotiation comes with many ebbs and flows. As obstacles arise and you respond to shifting demands, every decision you make should be informed by both your values and the objectives you hope to accomplish.

“The backbone of moving into any conversation, engagement or negotiation is knowing who you are and how you want to do things,” says Ric Lewis, who’s featured in Negotiation Mastery and serves as co-CEO and chairman of Tristan Capital Partners. “Then you can react to the situation in front of you from a base of knowing where you stand, so you're really spending your time on what's developing—not trying to figure out who you are or what you care about in the midst of a negotiation.”

This clear understanding of yourself and your position can help you focus on what’s truly important in the negotiation process—even in the most complex and trying situations.

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8. Rushing the Process

Reaching an agreement that satisfies all parties in a negotiation takes time and patience. There can be a lot at stake, and the process shouldn’t be rushed if you hope to achieve the best possible outcomes for your organization.

“An important thing about negotiations is being in it for the long haul and accepting that it’s a marathon,” says Erin Egan, former director of strategy and business development at Microsoft who now works at Amazon, in an interview for Negotiation Mastery. “It’s not a sprint, and if you’re not prepared for the marathon, you're probably not going to finish it really well.”

While it can be tempting to concede to demands early to avoid conflict, you need to commit to your bargaining strategy and see it through to the very end. The repercussions of a deal can be far-reaching, and your exchanges with the other party might present new and exciting opportunities that you hadn’t anticipated prior to the negotiation.

9. Not Understanding Your BATNA

Not all negotiations will end in a successful business deal. In cases where the zone of possible agreement (ZOPA) fails and a mutually agreeable solution isn’t possible, a common mistake is failing to understand your BATNA.

The BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, is the course of action a party will take if an agreement can’t be reached. In other words, it’s the back-up plan they will pursue if a negotiation fails.

Failing to understand your BATNA before initiating a negotiation can lead you to make rash decisions under pressure. To avoid making this mistake, consider the alternatives that are available well in advance of the negotiation.

Honing Your Negotiation Skills

There are many lessons to be learned throughout the negotiation process, and the actions and decisions you make can be just as valuable as the ones you avoid.

Negotiation is a process that requires a great deal of preparation, and by taking the time to understand which bargaining practices work and which ones don’t, you can equip yourself with a framework for effectively closing deals and achieving success at the negotiating table.

Are you interested in deepening your understanding of negotiation dynamics? Explore our eight-week online course Negotiation Mastery and learn how different bargaining styles and tactics can help you secure maximum value for your organization and resolve differences before they escalate into costly conflicts.

This post was updated on April 20, 2020. It was originally published on November 20, 2018.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.