7 Steps for How to Negotiate a Contract

Negotiation acts as the ultimate foundation for effective business interactions within companies of all sizes and industries. The ability to successfully conduct contract negotiations with potential business partners is the single most influential aspect of ensuring your company meets its current objectives and sets itself up for a profitable future. Master contract negotiators always thoroughly prepare before meeting with the other party, conduct negotiations with professionalism and empathy, and work toward establishing win-win outcomes from the very beginning of the negotiation. They understand that negotiation doesn’t end after the contract is signed, so they focus on fostering long-term business relationships that not only reach their current goals but also improve their company’s reputation and enhance their bottom line for years into the future.

If you are interested in how to negotiate a contract and reach the optimal outcome for your business, you can achieve the best results by following the process described below. Consider these steps to prepare for your next contract negotiation, then contact Shapiro Negotiations Institute today to schedule negotiation training for your team. We offer in-depth knowledge, extensive experience, and proven results teaching clients valuable strategies for how to negotiate through hands-on, interactive practice sessions.


How to Negotiate a Contract

While every deal is different, following these steps will be incredibly valuable for guiding your contract negotiations, regardless of your goals or the specific circumstances of the deal.

1. Prepare for the Negotiation with Research

The process of negotiating a contract begins long before you actually reach the proverbial negotiating table. Being able to successfully persuade the other party requires establishing a complete understanding of their perspective and their goals for the deal. Prepare for the negotiation by conducting comprehensive research into the company itself, its offerings, and the particular individual with whom you will be negotiating. This includes checking out their company website, press releases, and any articles concerning their previous deals to assess the terms they stipulated in these deals, how well they complied with these terms, and the quality of business relationships they develop with other companies.

Preparing with thorough research gives you knowledge of the deal dynamics, including the interests, needs, and desired outcome of the other party, their strengths and weakness, financial or time-based constraints that affect the deal, and any competing interests. It also gives you crucial information on which party needs the deal more, and therefore which of you holds the greatest leverage. Proper preparation allows you to enter into the contract negotiation from an informed, strategic position and predict the other party’s actions with confidence. Make sure you are meeting with the real decision-maker who has the authority to make concessions or agree to your terms, or you risk wasting your time trying to influence the wrong person.


2. Define Your Objective and Prioritize Your Goals

Clearly articulating your objectives and prioritizing your goals is the next step in the process. You must define specific, realistic objectives so you already have a solid idea of what you want to gain from the deal and why. Establishing a bargaining range with optimum, minimum, and target goals makes it more likely that you will reach an agreeable outcome without making unnecessary sacrifices. The optimum goal acts as the negotiation starting points and provides the best results for your business, the minimum goal marks the point at which you would walk away from the negotiation if they do not acquiesce, and the target goal is the ideal position you want to be in when the deal ends.

Knowing which goals you consider the highest priority for reaching your primary objective and which goals you can compromise on gives you the power to leverage the lower-priority goals to meet the goals with the highest priority. Not only does this help you strategically negotiate, but it also signals to the other party that you have taken the time to prepare for the negotiation and desire to reach an outcome that offers the best value to both of you. Approaching a contract negotiation without a vision demonstrates a lack of attention and care on your part and makes you incredibly vulnerable to being persuaded against your own interests.


3. Set Concessions in Advance

An integral element of the contract negotiation process is the concession, or “trade-off,” in which a negotiating party yields or grants something to the other with the purpose of gaining a different advantage. Discuss possible concessions with your team, so you know exactly how to proceed throughout the negotiation to achieve the best results. You must precisely manage the timing, frequency, and degree of your concessions so you can most effectively persuade the other party to make a decision that you can both agree on. Setting your concessions in advance drastically decreases the likelihood that you will be caught off-guard by unexpected offers that may seem appealing at first glance but actually feature terms you should not accept.

Concessions also serve to display procedural fairness during the contract negotiation, meaning they signal to the other party that you are committed to taking their goals and values into account when creating the terms of the deal and will conduct the negotiation with honesty and equity in mind. This improves the quality of the business interaction and places you in a more powerful position to achieve your objective. Asking for small concessions too often suggests dishonest or unfair intentions that can cause the other party to feel insulted, while infrequent requests for large concessions can delay the process and lead to feelings of anger or frustration.


4. Work Toward a Win-Win Outcome from the Beginning

When you approach the contract negotiation, always work toward accomplishing a win-win outcome from the very first interaction with the other party. Of the four main negotiation approaches, this is the most beneficial for all parties. A win-lose negotiation involves one party attempting to maximize their best interests by creating an advantage over the other, while a compromise consists of both parties making concessions to reach an agreement, meaning neither party accomplishes all of their goals. A lose-lose approach, the most unfavorable, results when one party believes they can only protect their interests by ensuring they both experience an equal level of loss.

When negotiation partners enter into a contract negotiation with the goal of reaching a win-win outcome, they will respectfully cooperate, share relevant information, creatively solve problems together, and engage in other types of cooperative behavior. Unlike the other approaches, which focus only on your own best interest, the win-win or collaborative approach takes the objectives of both parties into account and works to create a contract that offers value to both parties. A contract created from a win-win approach leads to better results and instills the other party with confidence that they met their goals, building a degree of trust and respect that encourages future interactions.


5. Ask Questions and Practice Active Listening

After learning everything you could during the preparation phase, you should carefully probe the other party for information throughout the negotiation. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions to demonstrate that you value the other party’s perspective and will consider their goals and priorities when establishing the deal. Practice active listening by directing your undivided attention to the discussion at hand, making eye contact, and monitoring your body language to ensure it displays openness and professionalism. When the other party speaks, respond by paraphrasing their words and repeating them back, so they have the chance to offer further clarification or prevent miscommunications. This tactic also allows you to uncover any hidden factors that could hinder a resolution and then use this information to adjust your negotiation strategy and strengthen your leverage.


6. Stay Flexible and Adjust Your Strategy to Avoid Conflict

contract negotiation with a sharpened skillset that you can adapt based on the specific circumstances of the deal. While most techniques prove valuable regardless of the particular deal, you cannot count on one single strategy that will work every time. Instead, investigate and analyze all of the components in the deal and use this information to combine the ideal mix of negotiating tactics that has the best chance of reaching a win-win outcome. Constantly evolving your negotiation strategy after receiving new or changed information is necessary to gain leverage, solve problems collaboratively, and avoid conflict that can stall or even terminate the negotiation.


7. Encourage Long-Term Relationships

Whether you are negotiating with a client or another business, always consider the big picture and work toward developing lasting business relationships rather than short-term victories. Following the steps outlined above ensures the other party leaves the negotiation feeling satisfied with the results, which sets a positive, respectful tone that encourages future business interactions. When you approach a negotiation with a win-win mindset, you show your willingness to compromise and reach a far solution that benefits everyone. Treating your negotiation partner with honesty, integrity, and respect means you are not only closing the current deal on the best terms but also building an integral framework for a long future of profitable business interactions.


Improve Your Contract Negotiation Skillset Today

For additional information on how to negotiate a contract, contact Shapiro Negotiations Institute today. Our expert team implements proven data-based strategies forged by decades of experience negotiating contracts of all forms. We offer customized training sessions designed to focus on your company’s specific objectives, allowing your team to learn necessary negotiation skills from qualified instructors and then practice these skills with guided assistance and detailed feedback. Our program has helped more than 250,000 employees in various industries improve their contract negotiation skills so they are thoroughly prepared for any situation they may encounter in the future.

If your team could benefit from learning more about how to negotiate a contract, contact Shapiro Negotiations Institute today to discuss our negotiation training. You can speak with our team by visiting our website and submitting the contact form. With a 300% return on investment and thousands of loyal clients, we have the strategic experience to help your business remain successful and outshine the competition.


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