Tommy Koh's Top Tips for Successful Negotiation

August 7, 2019

In 2014, Harvard's Program on Negotiation bestowed the title of "Great Negotiator" to Singaporean diplomat Tommy Koh. Mr. Koh was the youngest ambassador in the United Nations, and later became Singapore's Ambassador to the United States. His career highlights include leading successful negotiations over China’s recognition of Singapore while preserving Singapore’s important relationship with Taiwan and being Singapore's Chief Negotiator for its Free Trade Agreement with the United States. He outlined Five Fundamental Tips for Negotiation that has guided his success.

Image source:


1. Master your brief

Nothing beats preparation, and you must know your position, your opponent's position, and the context of your negotiation. Doing your homework is necessary, and will serve as the foundation of the discussion.


2. Build a talented, happy, and cohesive team

Negotiation is rarely an individual sport. Take the time to build a network of trusted individuals who can articulate efficiently and communicate well. Make sure you learn what motivates each member and to nourish your relationship.


3. Build a common fact base

You will be facing off against someone who opposes your view, but you should share a common understanding of the facts. Building this with your counterparts early on will allow you to debate the truly consequential matters.


4. Think outside your own box

Being aware of your own "box" will be very helpful in moving the negotiation forward. Says Mr. Koh: “The beginning of wisdom is to understand that we all live in our own cultural box. We should therefore make an attempt to understand the content of the cultural box of our negotiating counterparts. This will help us to avoid violating cultural taboos such as serving pork to American Jews or food that is not halal to our Malaysian or Arab friends." He insists that emotional intelligence is equally important as intellect during negotiations.


5. Think "win-win"

For a long-term deal to hold true, it must be fair and balanced to both parties; otherwise it will be directly undermined or replaced. Looking for a mutually agreeable outcome will be more challenging, but certainly have better results.

Negotiation is a skill that can be improved with diligent practice. Begin your learning journey today by finding out more about The Leadership Institute's WSQ Certified Negotiation Course.

Please reload

Recent Posts

Please reload


Please reload