Let’s face it, business negotiations are challenging. The bad news is that this will never change. The good news is that you’re actually way better at it than you think.

My name is Pim de Witte, I’m the former 6-year CEO of a multi-million dollar gaming company and I am in the process of launching a new startup. I’ve repeatedly been the underdog in negotiations. Keep on reading to learn how I managed to keep myself from drowning in a sea full of sharks.

Underdog… It sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s a catchy phrase, but realistically it is the wrong choice of words to put in a sentence related to negotiations. While many people think that negotiations are about getting the long end of the stick, it’s really not. Negotiation is all about finding a mutual value, a shared interest that results in mutual gain. It’s not about winning, it’s not about losing, it’s just about sharing.

A negotiation is a great thing. It’s either the start of something great, or a great indicator of something that’s not worth your time. If all parties agree on the former you’ll have a great time. Luckily for us it’s usually not that easy. Finding mutual value is hard, and putting time and effort into finding the right strategy will result in a more effective outcome.

When you negotiate with important people there’s one funny thing they all have in common; busy schedules. It’s a good thing for people to be busy, because that probably means that their time and efforts are valuable to other people as well. As the underdog you will probably have time in your side of the ring, and that’s a great thing that we can use to our advantage.

Important people like to make decisions based on facts. As entrepreneurs we like to dream big, and while this is a great gift for inspiration and maybe getting a foot in the door, it may not be the most effective approach to your negotiation strategy. It’s important to do the math and show that you have a clear understanding of how to get from point A to point B. That’s right, you don’t jump too far ahead because you’ll risk landing in the wrong spot.

The most important part of your strategy is about proving that the goal you have in mind is valuable for both parties. That means defining your proposed steps and your reasoning for them, explain how you want to get there, what the costs are, and what the benefits are to all parties involved.

In order to define what is valuable for other parties, it is crucial to understand them first. The best way is simply to listen and ask a lot of questions, and while it may sound scary because you’ll lose out on talking time and therefore on convincing time, it will eventually pay off in your relationship. In the end it allows you to strengthen your strategy by truly understanding where the other parties find value. I’m extremely guilty of failing at this, and I regret it every time.

While it is great to think about the other parties in your negotiation, it is also important to think about yourself. It is important that you are both happy, and that is only achievable by putting the effort into understanding each other. It is important to not come across unrealistic here and back up your requirements with reasoning and possibly proof, otherwise you may risk losing the bond of trust you’ve built up. Teamwork comes from both sides, and if you have a good reason for your requirements, you’re not using them in a misleading way, and you have shown that the outcome of your strategy is mutual benefit, you’re on the right track.

All the best,