The days of fist-banging and the loudest voice winning are over and done. Although some might still use these tactics to negotiate everything from a business deal to what they eat for lunch, aggressive behavior has been proven unsuccessful in fostering win-win relationships that lead to productive and prosperous businesses.

The most effective leaders use assertive behavior to both lead and negotiate. But there’s often a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. How can you ensure you’re using the best practices to stimulate an environment that leads to the best result for everyone?

Assertive negotiator

The tricky two-letter word: “No”

The issue of when you should or shouldn’t say “no” is a controversial aspect of negotiation. Some people say that using the word at all is essentially a failure—but that’s not necessarily true. While it can come across as aggressive at times, it depends entirely on how you use it.

Tip 1: Build up to the “no”

You’ve been given an offer and you don’t like it. You want to continue negotiating but if you blurt out “no” there’s a chance you will come across as aggressive, and the deal will fall through. In a situation like this, you need to show respect to whoever is sitting opposite you before you turn them down.

Begin by concentrating on different aspects of the deal, pointing out the parts you do and don’t agree with, in a calm, reasonable manner. By concentrating on the hard facts, you are removing the personal aspect of the negotiation from the equation. This means that when it comes time to say “no”, there has been a clear line of logic and whoever you’re negotiating with is unlikely to be offended.

Tip 2: Learn to use a “no” situation

What about on the other side? You hear the word “no” and you think “OK, now’s the time when I have to start fighting to get my deal.” Right?

Well… no.

When you hear the word “no” coming from the other side, you should see it as an opportunity for progression. When people use this word, it’s generally because they’ve hit a barrier they’re unwilling to cross. By identifying what the issue is, you are then able to explore alternatives, giving the concession that’s important to them, while assuring a deal you’re happy with.

Understand when to apologize

This one may seem shocking but apologies can be a feature of the assertive behavior we’re looking for. Generally, we associate saying sorry with being overly submissive, and if you over-do it—or apologize unnecessarily—it will create a negative effect.

But when done right, apologizing is a very useful tool. The main objective of any negotiation is to create an atmosphere of trust and respect, and doing this requires honesty. The fact is, we all make mistakes at certain points, but how you deal with mistakes can turn a potentially bad situation into an advantageous one.

Apologizing in an assertive manner means acknowledging what you did wrong before offering a viable solution to help move forward with the negotiations.

Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Being an assertive negotiator should never be an act. To be effective, it needs to come from a real place. We’ve all met people who just seem like they’re trying too hard. Generally, this can be traced back to a feeling of insecurity.

This is exactly what happens when you step into a negotiation unprepared. Your mind begins to race, you think of everything you should have done, and bad practices and unwelcoming body language begin to creep into your style.

To avoid this, you have to prepare properly. This involves identifying what your real objectives are and knowing what you can—and can’t—accept. Alongside this, you should also know what their objectives are likely to be. This can help you come with a few real proposals that can move negotiations forward, while also helping you understand when the deal is not beneficial to you. After all, in a negotiation, knowing the right time to walk away is an art form in itself.

Remain flexible

You should prepare to be flexible and know the points where you’re willing to give way. There’s a temptation to believe that changing from your original path shows weakness but this isn’t always the case.

The difference is what you’re flexible with. As long as you are well prepared, and know the aspects you cannot compromise on, flexibility can be an assertive tactic that also fosters trust.

Be aware of your body language

Aggressive body language is a deal-killer, with the potential to turn even the most simple deal situation sour. And in a high-risk situation, it can be disastrous.

This is never more important than when the other party is behaving aggressively. You may be tempted to return the behavior in kind, especially if it’s an emotionally charged situation. However, the most important thing you can do is to remain calm, open and, above all, assertive. If you keep this as a standard in all of your negotiations, you will soon get a reputation as someone who’s good to work with.

Sealing the deal in a negotiation setting is generally a combination of a number of factors and plenty of hard work. Avoiding the pitfalls of aggressive behavior and becoming more assertive will help create the kind of atmosphere that makes sure all that hard work pays off.