Managing The Communication Process


Successful negotiations demand clear and effective communication. Communication takes place on a variety of levels during the negotiation process. Because of the tension inherent in most negotiations, communication can become far more difficult. However, when it is effective, communication achieves several objectives. Good communication:

  1. allows you to see the world as the other party views it, helping you to understand his behavior from his perspective.
  2. allows you to express your own ideas in a way that ensures that the other party fully comprehends them;
  3. allows the other party to share her ideas in a manner that ensures full understanding of what she is saying.

To achieve the above, there must be an open, collaborative climate established between the parties --- one that encourages the other party to talk to you, to share his feelings and concerns. There are several things you should keep in mind to ensure that this climate exists:

  1. Avoid arguments
  2. Avoid being judgmental
  3. Allow the other party to save face, when necessary
  4. Begin the bargaining phase only when you have established a comfortable climate and have identified all the issues.
  5. Deal with the problem, not the person

To ensure that the above happens, it is critical to follow the Six Step Successful Negotiator model. Within the steps of the model, there is a specific approach to communication that we believe will enhance your chances for success. That model is described below:

The Successful Negotiator Communication Model

The SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATOR Model should be used throughout the negotiation process. The model includes: Actively Listen, Affirm, Clarify & React.

Actively Listen to what the other person is saying - - - listen to both the words and the feelings. Listening should be empathic and attentive. When the other party speaks, most of us hardly listen because we're mentally preparing our responses. Listen carefully to the other person and to what she is saying. Avoid responding right away. Instead, encourage her to continue. Doing this sends a message that what the person is saying is important and, by extension, she is important. Active listening requires concentration and an honest attempt to understand the other person's concerns. Listening requires patience, silence and concentration.

Affirm - the legitimacy of what the other person is saying. Affirming another's thoughts and words can take both a verbal and nonverbal form. Non-verbally, one can nod, smile, or have a concerned expression. Verbally, one can say things that let the other person know you are concerned with his ideas or problems. To affirm, you might say something like, "I understand that you don't want to involve others in this" or, "I agree, we must keep the overall costs down." Let him know you understand. Another form of affirmation can be active listening, for when you listen, it is clear that you are concerned. Affirming does not mean that you agree, it merely demonstrates empathy and understanding.

Clarify What Is Being Said - once you have heard and affirmed what the other party has said, clarify both your understanding and the implications of the message. Clarifying questions are usually very direct and assure that you and the other person understand the same thing. An example of a clarifying response is: "I think what you're saying is that the company is currently having financial problems. Am I right?"

Clarifying should be done during all steps of the negotiation. During Issue Identification clarifying ensures mutual understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve. During Bargaining, clarifying makes sure you understand the other party's positions, as well as their underlying needs and interests. It is critical to summarize your understanding of what has been said in all phases of the negotiation process.

Don't be shy about asking what the other person means. This tells him that you have listened and want to be clear about what he is saying. Ask questions that will increase your knowledge of both the other person and his positions. Some of these questions will help to clarify points on which you are not totally clear.

React - Once you are sure that you understand what the other party is saying, you are ready to react. Reactions can be both verbal and nonverbal, and the right reactions can elicit more information.

When you react during Issue Identification, you share your own issues so that there is complete understanding of the area that needs to be addressed. In Bargaining, you react to the other party's positions, and the underlying needs and interests with proposals or concessions of your own.

Issue Identification

In Issue Identification there are other objectives.

  1. To confirm your understanding of the other party's issues
  2. To share your own issues
  3. To ensure mutual understanding of the issues.

The steps to follow in this process are:

  1. Summarize your understanding of the other party's issues.
  2. Ask the other party to clarify any misunderstandings.
  3. State your own issues. Point out any similarities with the other party's issues prior to listing any new ones.


When you react during Bargaining, the process is similar, although the objectives are different. In Bargaining, your objectives are to:

  1. confirm your understanding of the offer or concession the other party has made;
  2. respond to that offer or concession.

There are three possible responses. They are:

  1. I agree with everything you are saying.
  2. I agree with some of what you are saying.
  3. I cannot agree with any of what you are saying.

The steps for each response follow:

I agree with everything. This is clearly the easiest of the three choices, but still requires that you pay attention to the process. The steps are:

  1. Confirm your understanding of what has been offered so that there is no misunderstanding.
  2. Indicate that you agree and explain why you agree

I agree with some. This is somewhat more complicated. It is imperative that both parties understand exactly what has been offered, where you agree and where you disagree and why. Use the following steps:

  1. Confirm what has been offered.
  2. Explain your feelings about the offer and why you are comfortable with part what had been offered.
  3. Explain why you are uncomfortable with the remaining portions of the offer and why it doesn't meet your needs.
  4. Invite questions from the other party.
  5. Suggest any next steps.

I cannot agree with anything. This is clearly the most difficult situation. You need to be careful that you disagree only with the offer and not insult the person. The steps to follow are:

  1. As with the previous two situations, confirm the specifics of the offer.
  2. Explain your reasoning and concerns.
  3. Spell out the specifics of your disagreement and how the offer fails to address your needs.
  4. Invite questions from the other party.
  5. Suggest next steps.

The quality of your reaction will provide the basis for the discussion needed to move the process along and to reach an agreement that works for both parties.

The SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATOR COMMUNICATION MODEL requires the use of several communication skills to elicit the information needed to progress through the model.


Good questioning is at the core of a successful negotiation. Your prime need is for information, and questioning is the best way to get it. It follows that active listening is closely related to questioning.

Questioning - Frequent questioning should be used throughout this process. There are two main types of questions � Open-ended and Close-ended.

Close-ended questions generally receive short, factual, or yes/no answers. Close-ended questions should be used when looking for a specific piece of information, or when time is not available to explore the issues fully. An example of a closed question is: How much will this cost? Close-ended questions should be used much more infrequently than open-ended ones in the negotiation process.

Open-ended questions encourage the other party to share information. They are particularly useful in the early stages of Issue Identification and Bargaining. An example of an open-ended question is: Can you tell me a little more about this? or How do you feel about my last offer?

When effectively done, questioning provides the information needed to successfully complete the negotiation. Within the open and closed-ended categories, there are many types of questions.

Confirming - Another skill involved in this communication process is in making sure you and the other party understand what has been said.

Checking for Understanding helps you to know the feelings behind what the other party has said. Paraphrasing is one way to do this; it requires restating what the other party has said in different words. An example is: Are you saying that you are annoyed that the deadline will not be met?

Summarizing - Summarizing accomplishes several necessary things in a negotiation.

Summarizing can:

  1. Help to clarify where you and the other party are in the negotiation.
  2. Make you aware of areas where you and the other person agree and disagree.
  3. Serve as a way to leave one step to go into another. For instance, after you have identified the issues, a summarization of what has been identified can point out areas that are in question or have been omitted.

On a totally separate level, a clear summary serves to reinforce that we are making progress and will eventually solve the problem.

Keeping Silent - Most people are very uncomfortable with silence and rush to fill the void. It is better to allow a bit of silence --- it can help the other person to give you more information. Remember that some silence is necessary to allow each party to think and respond.


Communication is not an easy process --- especially during a negotiation. To ensure its success, it is essential that you become expert in the above model. Practice it in your every day conversations.

Asherman Associates, Inc.
210 West 19th Street       New York, NY 10011       212-243-0782