The Stages of the Negotiation Process

We negotiate all the time, without even realizing it. In fact, human beings begin negotiating when we are small children, negotiating with our parents when we want something we know we shouldn’t have, or with a friend or sibling that has a toy we covet. As we grow, of course, these negotiations become more complicated. Negotiations occur with friends, family, schoolmates, and, later in life, our coworkers and superiors. While these situations vary greatly across the scope of a lifetime, the skills needed for successful negotiation remain the same.

At its most basic, negotiation is a process undertaken by at least two separate individuals or groups who desire different outcomes regarding a specific event or situation. Though they want something different, negotiation occurs when all involved are willing to discuss the situation to come to a mutually agreeable solution. Thus, understanding how to negotiate is a critical skill to build, benefitting both your personal and business life.

However, like any new skill, learning how to negotiate well can take time. To begin the process, it is beneficial to understand the five main stages of the negotiation process.

The Five Stages of Negotiation

  1. Prepare, Probe, and Propose

    When starting any new project, including negotiation efforts, it is important to lay the foundation first. The preparation stage is composed of a variety of steps that are all geared toward helping you set the groundwork for your negotiation. In this stage, of course, preparation is key. Conflict can arise at any time, which means there is no allotted timeframe for you to prepare your negotiation techniques. Therefore, it is critical to start this first stage as soon as possible.

    The prepare, probe and propose stage involves researching pertinent information as well as analyzing all the data you collect to determine its utility. It is important to understand the issue at hand as well as all the potential angles involved. A skilled negotiator understands that the ultimate goal of negotiation isn’t necessarily to prove you are right; rather, it is about being informed and accurate. Research during the initial stage is important to understand what will occur when negotiating the conflict at hand.

    Who is involved? Where did the conflict start? Why is this an issue for either party? These questions, along with several others, are important to consider during this stage. By probing the issue, you are digging deep to understand the roots of the issue. Once you understand the issue fully, you can start to propose solutions to resolve the conflict at hand. If all goes well, you’ll be able to propose a solution that both parties can find beneficial.

  2. Define Ground Rules and Exchange Information

    In stage one, you haven’t even officially met with the other side yet. You’ve done your research to build your case and have learned all you can about your opposition. In stage two, you will begin to communicate with your opposition, but there is still work to be done before any official negotiating can begin. In stage 2, your primary focus is to establish the terms of the negotiation as well as exchange information to improve the chances of a successful negotiation.

    At this stage, you’ll also focus on exploring the other side. This provides you an opportunity to test the assumptions you developed during your initial research. This is also the best opportunity to try and build a positive relationship heading into the negotiation. Even if you are coming to the negotiating table with vastly different views, a sense of common ground and understanding is beneficial. With effort, you can develop a better understanding of what the other side wants to accomplish and what potential solutions may mesh well with your own goals.

    Building rapport and trust while discussing the ground rules of the negotiation can lead to a new level of comfortability. When you and your opposition are comfortable, you are generally more willing to communicate openly and express yourself freely. Thus, the goals of this stage are to gain some level of trust, build a common ground of honesty and credibility, and find some way to establish and build upon the relationship.

    It is important not to rush this stage if possible. There is no set time frame for completing each of the steps of negotiation. The more time you can invest in building a relationship and finding common ground, the better chance you have at making your position heard and understood during negotiation.

  3. Clarification

    Before diving into the true negotiations, it is important to be sure that both parties are on the same page regarding the negotiation process. In stage two, you took the time to understand the other side. You listened to their issue as well as what they hope to gain from the negotiating process. You also explained your stance, and what you hope to gain. Together, you should have established some ground rules to ensure that all relevant viewpoints and time are respected.

    In stage three, you’re essentially finalizing this process. Take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and note any gaps or confusions that may be present. Stage three allows you the opportunity to seek any necessary clarifications from your opposition involving the issue itself, other parties with stake in the negotiations, the evidence provided, or even what may constitute a mutually agreeable outcome.

  4. Bargaining and Problem Solving

    Stage four is where true negotiation begins. You’ve taken the time to do your research and fully understand the issue at hand. You’ve met with the other side to understand their concerns and hopeful outcomes. You’ve also taken the time to seek any necessary clarifications. Now, it is time to advocate for your proposed solution and listen to the opposition’s counterproposal.

    In the bargaining stage, it is important to be aware of not only the verbal cues of your negotiation partner, but the non-verbal cues as well, including body language. This process can be delicate, and in difficult negotiations, you must sometimes move back a step to problem solve until all parties are comfortable. During the bargaining stage, each side will lay out their concerns as well as their perceived solutions. This process is all about the give and take, so it is beneficial to remember that the ultimate goal is to seek a mutual agreement.

  5. Conclude and Implement

    Bargaining can take time, but eventually the negotiations must come to an end. A solution must be reached, and it will ideally benefit both parties in some way. At this stage, it is important to make sure that all essential elements to officially establish the agreement are in place. Thus, clarity is key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page before implementation begins. This stage can involve signing contracts or legally enforcing any other terms laid out during the negotiation process. Follow-up is crucial, ensuring that implementation brings with it the desired effects for both parties.

Common Questions

Several questions can arise for those learning about the negotiation process. We’ve taken the time to answer some of the most common:

  • How long does the negotiation process take?

As with any conflict, it is difficult to put a definitive timeline on the negotiation process. For example, when it comes to the research stage, the length of time required can vary depending on the situation. If you are just trying to convince your partner to take a vacation, for instance, you already know them and can anticipate their counterarguments. Conversely, if you are negotiating with someone whom you don’t have a strong relationship with, the research should be much more intensive.

The length of the negotiation process can depend on the qualities of the people involved as well as the scenario. If you have two parties that are willing to compromise, the process can elapse rather quickly. On the other hand, if you are dealing with strong opposition from a staunch rival, it may take a considerable time investment before you achieve results.

  • Does preparation guarantee success?

    Preparation may not guarantee negotiation success, but it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances. Odds are, you haven’t come out victorious in every conflict in life, and it is important to remember that there are no guarantees. No matter how prepared you are, there is always a chance that a mutually beneficial solution is not possible. What is important is seeing these moments as an opportunity to grow and build a future relationship with the opposition instead of simply seeing them as a loss.

  • Do I have to follow these steps in order?

    To keep it simple, yes—it is important to follow these steps to ensure you are fully prepared for an upcoming negotiation. If you try to jump right into formal negotiations without fully understanding the situation, the opposing viewpoint, and the opposition’s goals, failure is much more likely. Worse, the other side may notice your inability to prepare, which can only have negative consequences. If you don’t take the time to gain trust and build a relationship, you may face greater opposition and will be less likely to reach a mutually beneficial solution.

  • Where can I use these skills?

    The wonderful thing about negotiation skills is that they can be used for any situation causing conflict, whether in your personal life or at work. The main takeaway you should get from these steps is the importance of developing the ability to successfully communicate your side of an issue while remaining open enough to genuinely listen to the other side. From there, you and your negotiation partner can talk through your thoughts, feelings, and expectations with the hopes of finding a common ground. As you move through the process, the ultimate goal is finding agreeable terms that both parties can appreciate. This outlook can be beneficial for small disagreements and larger conflicts alike.

Trust the Negotiation Process

Negotiation is an art form. Thus, it can certainly take time to master, even though most of us have been taking part in negotiation for most of our lives. However, once you understand the fundamentals, negotiation becomes more and more natural each time.

In fact, learning about the negotiation process is beneficial for everyone. We all face conflict on some level and knowing how to handle that conflict can make a world of difference when it comes to achieving a beneficial resolution. The five stages of negotiation are meant to help new negotiators and master negotiators alike hone their craft to ensure the best chances at success. Each step is important, and although there is no established timeframe in which you must master these tools, you will not improve without time and practice.

The best way to practice these skills is through professional training. To help, Shapiro Negotiations Institute offersnegotiation training to business professionals, executives, and anyone who has a willingness to learn. Contact SNI today to learn more.

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