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5 Reasons Negotiations Fail

The Scotwork Team

The art of negotiation lies in your ability to communicate confidently and competently with the other party without losing sight of your objectives and damaging rapport. Everything rests on a knife edge and requires a high investment of energy and research, which is why it can be a hard pill to swallow when it fails. It’s important to remember that it happens to everyone and that our future success lies in how we respond to failure.

Knowledge is power, and the skill of the master negotiator rests on their ability to reflect on any losses or poor deals they’ve made to understand what they can do to improve. They then devise strategies and personal goals they can implement into their practice. To achieve the same level of competency, we must incorporate these preventative steps into our negotiations. The key is to be objective, reflective and curious by asking questions, requesting feedback, and drawing on the wealth of expertise of your colleagues. By learning how and why your negotiation failed, you can protect yourself against similar circumstances and navigate them easily in the future.


Lack of Preparation

Prior proper planning prevents poor performance - this adage of the British Army applies to war and the negotiating table, too. Entering a negotiation blind, leads to misunderstandings, lost value, wasted time and damaged professional relationships, all of which results in failure. 

Rigorous preparation inspires trust, boosts confidence, and builds rapport. If the other party feels you’ve respected their time through clear, concise arguments and workable solutions, you’re more likely to secure a successful deal. That’s why it’s essential you have a comprehensive preparation checklist to ensure you can walk into the negotiation armed with the necessary facts:

  • Set your goals
  • Agreed your reservation point and BATNA
  • Researched the opposing party
  • Prepared multiple scenarios
  • Prepared your argument and supporting evidence
  • Made all the practical arrangements

With the proper prior planning, you guarantee you’ll present your best performance yet and be well on your way to becoming an assertive expert negotiator.


Mismanaged Expectations 

In your career, you will have experienced attending a meeting where there is no clear agenda, and everyone has arrived with their own topics of conversation and motivations. This can be confusing, pointless and result in unnecessary conflict. As mentioned above, many negotiations fail before they even begin. Not sharing critical details with the other side following your preparations can cause frustration, leading to irreconcilable goals and a failure to achieve an outcome. No one likes to be put on the spot or kept in the dark, which is why managing the expectations of the opposing party is crucial.  The other side must have access to the same information you do and should have an opportunity to prepare their own arguments, supporting evidence and contingency plans. Managing expectations directly results from thorough preparations turned into a shared framework. It should state the goals, objectives, and agenda clearly and should be the result of collaborative discussion and feedback. With it, you and the opposing party can make an informed, high-value agreement.



Egotistical negotiators are well-known deal-killers despite what television dramas would have you believe. Their aggressive, confrontational negotiation style creates a hostile, toxic working environment that prevents collaboration and compromise. It obscures any shared ground, stops conflict resolution, encourages defensive tactics, and often ends in deadlock. Their win-at-any-cost mentality can potentially lose current and prospective business relationships and result in multiple failed deals.

A negotiation aims to reach a mutually beneficial outcome, build rapport, and create innovative solutions to any issues. Putting aside your ego in pursuit of a shared set of objectives and goals with your team's support is essential. You need to establish an open, professional atmosphere as soon as possible to secure the most profitable outcome.



Experienced negotiators can smell fear, and like any good detective, they’ll pick up on sweaty palms, nervous fidgeting, and stuttered speech. Whether it’s the result of a lack of confidence, preparation or experience, fear of failure is a significant hindrance in a negotiation. One that the opposing party will be quick to exploit. Fear causes you to:

  • Narrow your perspective
  • Rely on compliance or avoidance tactics
  • Overthink your argument
  • Undersell your abilities
  • Over rely on others' advice

Fear is a powerful emotion, but it’s possible to overcome it with thorough preparation. Ensure that you speak to colleagues about their negotiation experience, research the opposing party’s goals, motivations and negotiation styles and have all the necessary prep in place. From there, you could try practising your argument out loud, asking for professional feedback from team leaders and practising discreet mindfulness techniques that you can use to regulate your emotions. Our final advice is to remember that fear focuses on our past and future mistakes, and the secret is to reframe them as learning opportunities and use them to motivate and inspire change.


Failure to Build Rapport

Our final factor for failed negotiations is an inability to build rapport. Without it, it can be impossible to move forward. It breeds distrust, selfish tactics, and escalated conflict. That’s why the importance of establishing a common ground based on respect, trust, and shared interests can’t be understated. It directly impacts the other party’s inclination to cooperate and collaborate, as well as their openness, flexibility, and reaction to conflict. The relationship you forge at the start lays the foundation for and sets the tone for all future negotiations and deals. To build rapport, you need to:

  • Actively listen
  • Use friendly visual cues like smiling
  • Use their name
  • Mirror them and make eye contact
  • Meet in person (where possible)
  • Engage in casual conversations outside of the negotiation
  • Be honest, open, and collaborative in your approach

Taking these steps, and being mindful of your demeanour, is essential to a successful negotiation and creating a high-value deal.

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