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What are the barriers to Negotiation?

The Scotwork Team

Negotiation aims to reach a mutually beneficial agreement comprised of concessions, incentives, and must-haves. It is a delicate balancing act between professionals and companies that can be challenging even to the most experienced negotiators. So, what are the barriers to negotiation? Understanding the answer to this question is the cornerstone of a constructive negotiation skills training course, as it helps you detect potential obstacles and overcome barriers.



Overconfidence occurs when a person’s subjective confidence (belief in their abilities and superiority) outweighs the objective accuracy and reality of the situation. It is a barrier because it clouds a negotiator’s judgement and prevents critical steps from taking place that are necessary to reach an agreement. Signs of overconfidence include:

  • Refusing to plan because they believe they already know everything they need to know and therefore don’t require any preparation.
  • Feelings of control lead to them feeling like they will secure a successful outcome even when the likelihood is minimal.
  • Focusing on winning and overreaching a mutually beneficial outcome for both parties.
  • Risk-taking even when there is unequivocal evidence that it won’t pay off.
  • Refusing to compromise and being too rigid in their approach because they are sure they will win and want to be proven right.
  • Assuming they know what the other side wants without asking questions leads to subpar deals that lack value and fall through.

An overconfident negotiator will struggle to build rapport and collaborate with others and could damage both their own and their company's reputation. Recognising these signs in yourself or others is a critical first step towards improving or adjusting your negotiation behaviour and tactics. To avoid appearing overconfident, it is vital that you challenge your assumptions through research, make preparations and re-focus your mindset. Speaking to colleagues may be helpful for a more accurate idea of your skillset.


Lack of Confidence

Walking into a negotiation with a lack of confidence is equally problematic as being over-confident because it indicates a lack of belief in their company or position. A negotiator should want to achieve the best deal possible. If they’ve already decided they’ve lost, they are more likely to delay proceedings, defer to the other party, lack creativity, be over-emotional and accept weak deals. This mindset undermines any pitches they give, their skillset and their company’s incentives leaving the other party unconvinced and prepared to dominate the discussion.

If your interpersonal skills need work, this can be a struggle. A lack of confidence can be derived from a lack of negotiating experience. Our courses are designed to give you the confidence to stay in control during a negotiation. You can develop this confidence through negotiation preparation, case-play scenarios, and feedback on your negotiating behaviour, which is all part of our negotiation training courses.



Whether you view a negotiation as a battle you need to win or a complicated fight for survival, having a negative outlook can result in bullying behaviour, underhanded tactics and aggressive policies that damage a business’ reputation, harms previous rapport and prevents future agreements. It is a barrier that causes hostility and sets a poor precedent for future negotiations. As previously mentioned, it is essential to remember that the ideal outcome of any negotiation is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement without too many opportunities for unnecessary conflict. People who view negotiations negatively can only achieve this if they’re willing to change their mindset and outlook.

In a negotiation, it is critical that you build rapport, inspire collaboration and mediate emotions. No one wants to discuss a deal with someone aggressive or over-emotional, so it is essential to set a positive tone. You can do this by engaging in small talk, listening actively, employing empathy, asking thoughtful questions, and searching for alternative solutions. Negotiations are about problem-solving; emotions should be left at the door, whilst breaks and mediation tactics should be used when tensions are high.


Lacking Empathy

Critically, sympathy is not the same as empathy. Sympathy is a reaction to someone else’s misfortune, whilst empathy is the act of understanding and sharing another person's feelings. A lack of empathy is a significant barrier to negotiation, as it often lies at the heart of misunderstandings and conflict. A discussion is shallow and perfunctory without empathy, leaving both sides feeling undervalued and unheard.

Overcoming this obstacle starts outside the meeting room and begins when conducting research. To express empathy, you must take the time to understand the other party's situation, wants and needs. For example, if you know they are working to a tight deadline and have empathy for the pressure they are under, you can take steps to mediate future conflict by creating strict agendas, timescales and deadlines and sticking to them. You can also use time variables to your favour and give them what they want on your own terms, for example, if they have tight schedules, promise to deliver in time, and in exchange get something from your wish list. Showing empathy also looks like active listening, asking questions to clarify understanding, staying calm and recognising and responding appropriately to the other negotiator’s emotions.


Ill Preparation

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. A significant barrier to a successful negotiation is going into the discussion, ill-equipped with incorrect data, missing information, and poor alternatives. If you’ve not adequately researched the other party, you’ll risk unknowingly walking into a win-lose scenario, and if you can’t back up your proposal with evidence, they’re unlikely to agree to it. In short, being ill-prepared, you’ll look like an amateur and leave the other party feeling undervalued, hurting any chance of reaching an equally advantageous deal or future opportunities to work together.

Before you enter any negotiation, you should always know the following:

  • The goal of the negotiation
  • Yours and the other party's ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement)
  • Yours and the other party’s BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
  • Yours and the other party’s situation, motivation, wants, needs and outside interests
  • Yours and the other party’s strengths, weaknesses, and negotiation style
  • Determine who will lead, summarise, and observe the negotiation


Lack of Trust

Negotiations involve a little bit of risk, and a lack of trust between both parties forms a barrier that results in caution, conflict and little room for compromise or creativity. You want the other negotiator to be open to innovation, trades, and concessions, but if they don’t think you are trustworthy, they are unlikely to agree to any of them.

So, how do you inspire trust in a negotiation? Firstly, you should use your research to understand the other party to approach them with empathy and an evident focus on a mutually beneficial outcome. Secondly, you should provide reassurance by having a trustworthy reputation and excellent reviews from previous companies (don’t be afraid to share these as part of the discussion). Lastly, be honest, open, and upfront about your motivations, intentions, and desired outcome, as being transparent creates an atmosphere of safety and builds rapport.


Cultural Barriers

With the advent of globalisation, companies from across the world are increasingly setting up negotiations with their foreign peers in other countries in an attempt to expand their reach and increase profits, only to discover that there is a cultural barrier. These can arise from historical conflicts, religious disagreements, and communication issues. For example, in Japan, using a person’s first name in the workplace is rude, whereas this is commonplace in the UK or US.

The key to uniting both parties is to find common ground between them rooted in respect, understanding and a shared goal. As part of your research and preparation, you should seek to understand each other's cultural differences and be mindful of religious practices, business etiquette and cultural traditions. For example, suppose you are negotiating with a company based in the Middle East. In that case, you’ll want to ensure you allow time for prayer in your agenda, as practising Muslims pray five times a day facing east toward Mecca. Offering a quiet space on the east side of your building as a make-shift prayer room (if you don’t have one) can go a long way to bridging the gap between your cultures and showing that you respect them.  However, you should also ensure that you don’t make assumptions. Taking the example above, not all Muslims follow the strict five-day prayer structure, so don’t be afraid to consider the individual you’ll be negotiating with. In your research, you could consider asking businesses that had dealt with them before about any accommodations they decided to make or were requested - for example did they need translators? This can help you adjust your approach and make plans ahead of time. Also, be aware of the historical bigger picture between your two nations. If there is current or past animosity, they may have a bias that you’ll need to overcome.

The Scotwork Team
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