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According to research[1], our satisfaction with the outcome of a negotiation doesn’t depend solely on how much we objectively gained or lost, but rather on four factors:  our measurable gains and losses, how the negotiation made us feel about ourselves, whether the negotiation process was collegial and fair, and whether we developed a productive working relationship with our counterparts.[2]

Therefore, in order to maximize satisfaction and build a strong working relationship, we want to control what we can in a negotiation.  This may include the negotiation process.  Take the time beforehand to discuss with the other party how you will negotiate before talking about the issues to be negotiated.

One question you might ask yourself is:

Where will we negotiate? Don’t assume that the other side plans to meet at your location or vice versa.  As good negotiators know, assumptions may be erroneous and, consequently, detrimental. Your counterpart may have a different idea about where you should negotiate.

Negotiating on your home court can be advantageous, because it allows you to control the environment and feel at ease. But traveling to the other party’s turf can send a message that you are serious about making a deal. It also gives you opportunities to observe your counterpart in his surroundings. If you’ve not visited your counterpart before, you may learn more about his/her interests and have the opportunity to meet others who are indirectly involved in or affected by the negotiations. You might also consider negotiating on neutral territory, such as a hotel or restaurant conference room.[3]

Here’s a true story that demonstrates the impact that choice of site can have on the outcome and satisfaction in a negotiation.

A former student, Ted, was the new Executive Director of a not-for-profit organization.  As is often the case when someone new takes the helm, there was resistance on the part of some employees.  With one employee, Donna, this resistance escalated to the point of insubordination, breach of confidentiality and disloyalty to the organization.  Ted was finally forced to call her on it.  In response, Donna, who had worked for the organization for many years, complained to the Board President about Ted’s reprimand.  Feeling that he had to mediate, the Board President scheduled a meeting between Ted, Donna and himself.  He assured Ted that he would support Ted’s authority to manage the organization and its employees.  Ted assumed the meeting would take place in a casual setting, such as a coffeehouse.  Imagine his surprise when he was informed, thirty minutes before the meeting, that it was to be held in the conference room of a large law firm!  This choice of venue and setting sent a loud message to Donna that her complaint was valid and worthy of serious consideration, rather than a reprimand for her inappropriate behavior; the meeting appeared to be more of a reprimand to Ted for his management style.  The discussion was so overshadowed by the implications of the location that Donna left feeling vindicated, and Ted left feeling that his authority to lead the organization had been severely compromised. Ted left the organization after only three months.

The important thing is to talk about the negotiation location in advance so you will be aware of and prepared for it.   If you have a preference of place for your negotiation, frame your preference in terms of the benefits for the other party.  On the other hand, if the other party’s location preference won’t negatively impact you, keep in mind that conceding to your counterpart on relatively minor process issues, builds trust and goodwill.  This may pay off to you when it’s time to discuss issues of substance.


[1] research by Jared Curhan and Hen Xu of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hillary Anger Elfenbein of the University of California at Berkeley,

[2] Adapted from“Start Your Talks Off On the Right Foot,” first published in the Harvard Negotiation newsletter, September 2009.

[3] Adapted from“Start Your Talks Off On the Right Foot,” first published in the Harvard Negotiation newsletter, September 2009.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – Nancy J. Fox 2012

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