Managing negotiations: arguing better 

A common topic on negotiation courses is the appropriate combination of emotions, tactics, and interests. Sometimes, an idealised and overly collaborative image of negotiation situations is presented when, actually, it is essential to deal with emotional tensions and, in particular, to avoid being manipulated by the other party. Gavin Kennedy, John Benson, and John McMillan approach their book Managing Negotiations: How to Get a Better Deal from this “realistic” perspective, where a chapter is devoted to the negotiation stage of arguing better.

The authors start by asserting that people negotiate because they have or believe they have a conflict of rights or interests with the other party. Most negotiation scenarios occur in mixed situations of cooperation and conflict, in which the parties want something from the other party that they cannot achieve on their own. This defines the Zone of Possible Agreement -ZOPA- between the parties’ BATNAs -Best Alternative to Not Negotiating-.

People with different interests argue. When interests close to their heart are threatened, most people know how to argue, and even anyone can become emotional. It is for this reason that we should be concerned about those who avoid speaking up because little or nothing of what they value has been threatened. While some people say they don’t have to argue, others admit they must debate or discuss. This is enough.

Regardless of their name, Kennedy, Benson, and McMillan have chosen to call this phase of negotiation argument.Opening, Presentation, and Exchange are alternative ways of describing this stage. However, the authors opt for the term argument since it indicates that both parties are involved. Although the word usually suggests emotional conflict, it can also mean a rational presentation of the reason for doing or not doing something.

Each side gives reasons why they believe something is necessary or attempts to show by reasoning why something is true. They will discuss these conclusions and try to persuade each other through reasoning.

Improving behaviour

Eliminating the habit of interrupting your opponent from your behaviour is one of the most straightforward and most beneficial steps to improve your negotiating performance. People who interrupt someone are essentially telling them to “shut up.” (“You can’t talk while I’m interrupting you”). Naturally, the person receiving this message resents it, and before long, there is shouting between some parties during the negotiation; shouting, including insults, can be expected. The other is treated without respect.

Negative discussions reinforce your opponent’s initial inhibitions, which prevent avenues of negotiation from opening and sometimes prevent agreement on an issue, even if the deal is beneficial to both parties.

Constructive behaviour

The remedy is quite simple: Listen more than you talk. Now, that’s easier said than done. However, this alone is not enough. Positive listening behaviour must be matched by positive speaking behaviour. When speaking, be sure to use time effectively. One way to do this is to ask open-ended questions for your opponent to explain and develop their case.

Your opponent is not prepared to explain everything to you, nor can he be willing to explain anything about his limit position. He will try to accept that his opening position is his limit. As a result, parties who are in an opening position can easily get into a useless and fruitless conversation. You should not focus too much on the issue on the opening positions. Therefore, as much as possible, let us know your position through questions of clarification and explanation. For more information, you may inadvertently disclose your commitment to your position and the likely routes you are preparing to move forward.

Synthesising is always beneficial, especially when the issues are numerous and complex. It also eliminates confusion and negative arguments. “Let’s summarise what you are asking” is a positive action and helps refocus negotiations. No matter how absurd or ambitious your demands are, it gives the opponent the feeling that they are at least being listened to with respect.

Constructive feedback

Your answer to the other side is what your opponent can do for you. It is to give your opponent information about your position. If you have extracted data from your opponent in the way suggested above, you can better respond to his position and explain yours.

Settings for an argument:


Interrupting, pointing out, attacking, blaming, being too smart, talking too much, shouting, sarcasm, threats.


Listening, clarifying questions, summarising issues as a matter of fact.

Asking to justify your case point by point means being attentive to the signs.

Not being committed to your proposal and your explanations.

Testing your commitment to your position-analysing clues about your priorities.

Seeking and giving information – be wary of unintentional signals.

To successfully manage negotiations, it is essential to anticipate and prepare for the argument or dispute stage, where the parties present and discuss their rationale, interests and positions to persuade each other. Avoiding attitudes that can hinder effective communication and instead encourage constructive behaviours is crucial. Doing so allows you to negotiate and discuss more effectively, leading to better outcomes.