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Are you a Nervous Negotiator?

Rachael Taylor 17 May 2019

Tom Flatau

Negotiation Expert Tom Flatau of TWI Claims Deals are Lost Through Narrow Discussions and Low Reference Points 

Most trade deals are lost due to insufficient discussion and low reference points, claims Negotiation Specialist Tom Flatau of TWI: Neuroscience for Business.

According to Tom Flatau, most negotiations are unsuccessful because we jump straight into numbers and figures before finding out everything we need to know from the other side first.

We have all felt it at some point before; our head pounding as we step back into the car and furiously yank the seat-belt which continues to lock as we reflect on the life-changing deal we just lost because ‘the price wasn’t right’.

Or was it because we would not budge on the discount? You stare at your own reddened reflection in the wing mirror and deduce: It was probably because I sent their Flat White flying across the table when I nervously shook their hand.

We all know that for the seat belt to give, we need to listen, wait, and stay calm. It sounds so simple, so why do we forget to do it?

The same goes for negotiating. A negotiation can easily become a nasty battle between two parties who desperately try to squeeze out whatever they can from each other.

“This triggers the brain’s threat system, minimising the opportunity for long-term, trusting business relationships” Tom Flatau explains.

Tom Flatau presented to business leaders at the IoD East Regional Hub on Wednesday 24 April 2019. He gave insight in to how to apply neuroscience in negotiation to turn a win-lose situation into a win-win.

He stressed the importance of both parties asking questions and listening first in order to have a clear understanding of each others’ needs before proceeding to trade. Plus asking questions makes negotiation less hostile and more amicable.

That is why it is important that we avoid disclosing numbers and specifying special offers or discounts too early on. As Tom Flatau pointed out; “doing so creates reference points which can work against you”.

Identifying how the brain works and the power of emotional signals will make negotiation more straight-forward.

“People do business with people”, Tom Flatau pointed out, adding, “the brain is a social organ, so when it comes to making a deal, emotions count for 80%”.             

For example, listening and asking questions not only allows us to understand what we are dealing with but will help maintain rapport and activate the brain’s reward circuitry.

Another example of this is with the use of options; “Options mean flexibility, creating a sense of control which triggers the brain’s reward system”, said Tom Flatau.

In negotiation, options are your business variables or ‘tradeables’. Identifying and using all of your tradeables, including those for long-term gain, will make negotiation far more flexible for the other party.

So the checklist- Ask questions, listen, avoid low reference points, and use all possible tradeables.

How can you ensure that you do all of these things? The answer: Good preparation!

It is no surprise that when we feel unprepared, we lose our confidence. Neuroscience has shown that lack of preparation causes our anxiety and stress levels to increase. This releases adrenaline and cortisol which shut down the part of the brain that controls our cognitive abilities.

So ask yourself before negotiating –are you scared or are you prepared?

As soon as you have it right, the rest will be as easy as fastening a seat- belt.

For more information about Tom Flatau’s work, visit:

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