How to Negotiate an Unwinnable Negotiation

Some negotiations are harder than others. And some may seem downright impossible.

Have you ever been in one of these so-called unwinnable negotiations? As a female lawyer who practiced social justice law for 30 years, I’ve had my fair share of people telling me I can’t win certain negotiations. And you know what? I proved them wrong. In fact I won many purportedly unwinnable precedent-setting cases, even though I was told it was impossible. They weren’t impossible; they’d simply never been done before.

So how did I do it? Read on to find some tips to win so-called unwinnable negotiations.

Understand why you think the negotiation is unwinnable

There has to be some reason why you think you can’t win a negotiation. Maybe you’re a new negotiator. Or maybe you’ve negotiated with this person (or group) before and lost. Or, worse yet, maybe this person’s track record is impeccable, and they have never lost a case. Maybe the power imbalance seems impassable. Whatever the reason, it’s important that you understand the Why behind your negative thoughts about this negotiation.

Once you understand the rationale behind your belief that you can’t succeed, then it’s easier to bust that myth. Identify the soundtrack playing at the back of your mind and get intentional about challenging and flipping that story. Look at the assumptions that underlay the belief and question them. Ask yourself if they’re really true. Consider examples that debunk the story. What would the opposite of the negative story be? Flip your story to flip your life. 

For instance, if you believe you can’t win a negotiation because you are a new negotiator and you have “no hope” of winning against a seasoned counterpart, understand that you negotiate every day of your life and you don’t even realize it. If you have ever convinced anybody (whether it’s your kids, significant other, or parents) to do anything, then you have negotiation skills. Negotiation is about influence and persuasion. See my post on how you’re likely using the key skills that make and mark the most effective negotiators everyday in a myriad of ways

Face Your Fears

We all have fears that can drive us if left unchecked. What’s your favorite fear poison? A few of the top hits are: Fear of failure; fear of rejection; fear of being judged; fear of ‘no’; fear of the unknown; fear of missing out; and even fear of success. Fear will tank your confidence, which in turn will you’re your credibility and persuasiveness. The words we say are only one part of our communications in bargaining. When we approach negotiations with fear, we undermine our effectiveness (both internally and externally) before we even get a chance to convey our message.

Recognizing your fears and the impact is a key first step to letting them go … or being able to use them to propel you to the next level. Check out my free book on No F.E.A.R. Negotiating  to help to master this process.

Go into the negotiation with confidence 

If you go into any negotiation thinking it is unwinnable then you are more likely to lose the negotiation. Studies consistently show that higher aspiration and expectation levels result in better outcomes in negotiation. Which is why, no matter what, you need to walk into that room with your head held high. If you need to do a few breathing exercises or jumping jacks or positive self-talk mixed with your favorite power pose before you enter the negotiation, then go ahead.

The aphorism ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ advocates imitating confidence, competence and optimism. I’ve also heard ‘Face It Until You Make It’. I prefer ‘Feel It Until You Become It’. So, even if you don’t feel confident, act like you are. If you walk into that negotiation a bundle of nerves the other side will see it and can easily use that against you. Assertiveness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from preparation. You can do that.

Get training. 

With social media being what it is there are loads of free resources on how to negotiate.

Are you a visual learner? Love it or hate it YouTube is a great resource! The Women On Purpose YouTube channel was recently relaunched and new content is being posted at least once a week.

Are you more of an auditory learner? There are loads of podcasts available to help you negotiate! Women On Purpose’s podcast, HERsuasion: the Art of Feminine Negotiation™, for example, has over 60 episodes on how to win negotiations.

Maybe you learn better by reading or writing. There are loads of blogs and articles on the topic of negotiations (in fact you are reading one right now). As you are aware Women On Purpose has a weekly blog on elements of negotiation ranging from mindset and inner work to practical easy-to-implement tools and strategies to increase your ability to influence and persuade. We also have 5 FREE eBooks about negotiating that you can download and read at your leisure.

If you want to invest in your upcoming negotiations there are even more resources. Some of those resources include taking a course on negotiations. As of this publication the Women On Purpose academy has 5 online courses on negotiation that you can sign up for right now, and more in the works. If you want a more intimate training join a one-on-one coaching experience with a trainer. Being an attorney for 30 years, I created the Women On Purpose Mastermind, a 3–month immersive training one-on-one with me! Book your free Discovery Session with me to see if you would be a good fit for the WoP Mastermind.

Hopefully this blog post gave you a little more insight into how to negotiate the unwinnable negotiation. If it did, be sure to leave a comment below letting us know how.



A.R.E.F.I.T. Model, communication, confidence, Negotiation, Women and the Art of Negotiation

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