This may seem like a simple question to answer, but it is often the case that people think they are cutting a deal, when in fact they are getting nowhere.

In order for a ‘negotiation’ to happen, a set of six core ingredients need to be in place:

1. There are two or more parties
2. Everyone is at least prepared to reach an agreement
3. There are both interests in common and conflicting interests
4. Those involved have the freedom to meet each other’s needs
5. Everyone is willing to be explicit about their wants and needs (if they are not then there is no basis for negotiation)
6. People are prepared to compromise to some extent, so that everybody can feel they at least got something in the end.

So before starting a negotiation, ask yourself “are all of these ingredients present?” If they are not, then that might explain why it feels like a bit of a struggle, and you should work at adding the elements that are missing before continuing.

Many public ‘negotiations’ are in reality nothing of the sort, as one or more of these ingredients is missing. Where you have discussions with a protracted impasse, that is often the case – e.g. the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

Watch out for my follow up article next week entitled “What Makes an Effective Negotiator?”.