The Art of Negotiation: Essential Skills for Positive Negotiation Outcomes

In your quest to become a first-class negotiator, there are five skills that will enhance your ability and drive results:

Skill 1 – Preparation and Strategy

The art of negotiation begins by knowing your audience, comprehending the issue(s), and determining a desired outcome.  Preparation is key!

Knowing your audience is the most important principle in negotiation.  Do your homework.  Find out as much as possible about the other person’s personality, negotiating style, and tactics.  In simplistic terms, there are three negotiator personalities that you will face:

  • Soft – uses a genuine style and is apt to yield to reasonable demands
  • Hard – applies pressure, makes threats, and sees you as an adversary
  • Principled – focuses on solving the problem rather than intentions or motives of the people involved

Wherever possible, learn what negotiation tactics he or she may employ.  Tactics range from bluffs to deadlines to a game of chicken.

It is also very important that you are well-versed on the matter(s) to be discussed.  If the other person senses that you lack knowledge about the details, you are a prime target for a bluff or another technique to create anxiety or uncertainty.

Top-tier negotiators come to meetings with a pre-determined strategy including target goals.  Of interest, your first offer is usually the most important as it serves as an “anchor” through which all subsequent offers will be judged.

Skill 2 – Active Listening and Body Language

Listen, listen, listen.  The best negotiators act much like detectives.  They ask probing questions and then stop talking.  They follow the 80/20 rule:  Listen 80% and talk only 20% of the time.  Active listening is more than just learning what the other side is saying.  It involves confirming your understanding of the other person’s statements and seeking further clarification.  Understanding the other side’s priorities is just as important as understanding your own.

“There’s a saying among negotiators that whoever talks most during negotiation loses,” says Bobby Covic, author of Everything's Negotiable!  Listening is crucial to building trust.

Reading non-verbal communication is also an essential skill in negotiation.  Body language and gestures often uncover inconsistencies with verbal communication.  Examples of incongruity include a nervous laugh, clenched hands, and leaning back when the issues get hot.

Skill 3 – Emotion, Empathy, and Optimism

Emotion plays a vital role in negotiations.  Effective negotiators recognize that their objectives can only be achieved by taking negative emotions out of the equation.  Frustration and anger lead to irrational behavior which escalates conflict and breaks down negotiation.  Shouting, threatening, and demanding are counterproductive.  Positive emotion, on the other hand, helps to maximize the opportunity for resolution.  Even if the other party loses their cool, stay calm, patient, and friendly.

Closely tied to positive emotion is empathy – your ability to sit in the other party’s chair so you may appreciate their interests, constraints, alternatives, and perspectives.  If you do not understand what drives them, it will be difficult to structure a viable agreement.

Successful negotiators are optimists.  They aim high and expect the best outcome.  Your optimism may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you expect more, you’ll get more.  Conversely, if you have low expectations, you will wind up with a less satisfying outcome.  Research substantiates that positive moods increase flexible thinking, creative problem-solving, and respect for others’ perspectives.

Skill 4 – Win-Win Solutions

Your goal should be to secure a good deal without taking advantage of the other party.  It is a mistake if you attempt to unfairly win at any cost, regardless of ethics, in a negotiation.  If the other person feels they’ve been cheated, it can damage your reputation and diminish your ability to negotiate with that person in the future.  This is especially true if you will be negotiating with the same party on a continuous basis.  That being said, use facts and principles of fairness to persuade others.  Arm them with ways to defend their decisions to their critics and create useful precedents for future negotiations.

Effective negotiators recognize that their objectives are better achieved if they elicit buy-in rather than compliance from the other side.  Win-win solutions require bargaining where “give-and-take” happens.  It is important that the negotiation is results-oriented.  In other words, what is the best long-term solution for both parties?

Skill 5 – Closing the Deal (the Agreement)

Negotiation is like a chess match as it not only requires a sense of the other party’s next move but several moves down the line.  In closing the deal, you must have an end game in mind which involves splitting the remaining difference.

In reaching an agreement, it is important that the other side has the capacity to follow through with the things they said they would do.  That being said, it is prudent that you put down in writing common interests as well as a comprehensive summary of the agreement.

The ability to negotiate successfully with prospects, clients, agents and brokers, colleagues, underwriters, claims teams, or others can make the difference between success and failure. It is a skill you must master. If you keep these five skills in mind each time you step into negotiations, you will be well on your way to earning a better income, eliminating frustration, and having a more satisfying career.

The art of negotiation…preparation, strategy, listening, empathy, and optimism.


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