The Principles of Proposing

By Mark Jankowski

In past articles, we have taken a look at our systematic approach to the negotiation process – The Three Ps – and discussed the first and second “P” “Prepare” and “Probe.”  Now it is finally time to sit down at the negotiating table and make a deal.  After all, this is what you have been working towards.  Creative, profitable and effective proposals utilize thorough preparation and in-depth probing techniques. In the final analysis, any proposal will only be as good as the negotiator’s preparation and probing.

1.            Try Not to Make the First Offer

During your preparation, you should have established your goal as well as your walk-away position.  While rarely an easy task, you should always try to get the other side to make the first offer.  By having the other side go first, you may find that they meet, or exceed your goal with their first offer.  You may even be able to revise your expectations further upward as the negotiations continue.  On the flip side, if you receive a low offer, you have an opportunity to probe and determine the basis for that offer.  This additional information will provide you with key insights that may help you craft a creative WIN-win solution; establish a minimum from which to build; as well as recognize that you may have to achieve your goals creatively.

2.            Do Not Accept Their First Offer Too Quickly

If you accept the first offer too quickly, the other side’s first thought is likely to be that they “left too much money on the table” or made a bad deal.  If they feel they have made a bad deal, they might look for ways to renegotiate by adding conditions, subtracting payment or rescinding the offer.

More importantly however, is the fact that their first offer is probably not their best offer. Let the negotiations play out.  Ask questions, suggest alternatives and, counter offer.  In doing so, you will soon see just how far you can go.  After all, the worst that can happen is that you end up, where they started. You can always accept their first offer later (after you are sure that it is the best you can do).

3.            Set Your Aspirations High

If you expect little, you will receive little.  Consider the old English proverb, “Much is lost for the want of asking.” It is not enough to aim high; you must ask high. Get into the habit of writing down your highest goal before you negotiate.  Writing down your highest goal will prevent you from reducing it the moment you get to the table out of a fear of rejection. Negotiators who ask for more – get more.

And then there is the counterproposal: Once the other side states their position, it’s frequently difficult to get them to move. Abandoning a position looks like weakness. It feels like losing. If you have determined their real interests during the probe phase, you can focus on those interests and demonstrate why it’s in their best interests to modify their position. Not always easy to accomplish, but remember to –T.R.I. Trade: Look for an interest to trader with the other side.

Remove: Try to identify barriers you can remove to help the other side. And lastly, Increase: If you can increase the rewards of a transaction for the other side, you can increase the chances of making the deal.

Remember, even though most proposals come toward the end of a negotiation, in and of themselves they are starting points. Proposals should be smart and somewhat revealing but rarely should they be final.  Good proposals should give the other side something to think about  – not just something to accept or reject.  They should lead to the willing exchange of wants and needs.  If you know, before you propose where you are willing to go next in a negotiation, then concessions become bargaining chips that help you trade for items that are of greater importance to you.  Most people see concessions as losses.   On the contrary, with a well-thought-out proposal strategy, concessions can be turned from points of loss to points of gain.

One Response to “The Principles of Proposing”

  1. Great article. I really like how you step us through the details of the perspective we should bring into a negotiation. In the opening paragraph you reference the previous articles where you discuss the other two Ps – prepare and probe. I found the article about being prepared, but couldn’t find the Probe article. Can you post the URL to Probe article? Thanks.

Leave a reply

PMI Logo1 Powered by, Inc. | Copyright © 2007 - 2018,, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

"PMBOK, PMI, PMP and REP" are trademarks, service marks or certification marks of the Project Management Institute Inc. Inc. | 3500 Lenox Road, Suite 1500 | Atlanta, GA 30326 | 404-815-4644