You’d never leave on vacation without knowing where you’re going. So, why would you begin a business negotiation without knowing your objectives and acceptable outcomes? The answer: You shouldn’t.

This does not mean you need to know exactly where your negotiations must conclude before you even begin discussions.

Negotiations necessarily involve multiple parties, all of whom have their own goals and expectations. It would be unrealistic to think you can predict and control all possible outcomes and short-sighted to believe the only successful outcome will be the one most beneficial to you. Successful negotiations almost always require give and take from all parties to arrive at a win-win arrangement. Without this, at least one party will presumably have no incentive (or not enough incentive) to do the deal.

It is critical that you not enter into negotiations without giving careful thought to what your objectives are, the ways you might achieve them and the outcomes that would be acceptable. Note that "objectives," "ways" and "outcomes" are all plural. Just like the saying, "there’s more than one way to skin a cat," there’s almost always more than one way to structure a deal.

Follow these basic suggestions before entering into business negotiations:

• Identify your ultimate objectives — the primary reasons you’re considering this deal.
• Consider the various ways you might be able to achieve those objectives.
• Identify your secondary objectives — things that would be nice, but not essential.
• Consider the various ways you might be able to achieve those secondary objectives without compromising your primary objectives. 
• Identify deal-killers — those things that you simply cannot live with.
• Then (and this is important), repeat the above from the other party’s perspective — see the deal through their eyes.
• Now, once again, consider how you can achieve your primary (and hopefully secondary) objectives AND how the other parties might also achieve theirs. Hopefully there are several ways to get there, some of which may be more or less desirable to you, but all of which would be acceptable.
• Now it’s time to negotiate.

The best way to achieve a successful outcome is to consider what that might look like before entering into negotiations, rather than looking back and wondering what went wrong.