What Are The Top 10 Skills That Every Negotiator Needs To Have?

Get good at these skills and you'll be able to get the deals that you want
Get good at these skills and you’ll be able to get the deals that you want
Image Credit: Sam Churchill

As negotiators we all want to get better. One of the challenges that we face in trying to do this is that we often don’t know what areas we should be working on. When you look at what negotiating consists of, there are many different areas such as negotiation styles and negotiating techniques and if we’re not careful, we can spend a lot of time working on things that won’t provide us with a lot of value. I’ve taken a look at what I teach my negotiating students and from all of that material I’ve boiled it down into what I believe are the top 10 skills that we all need to have in order to be successful negotiators.

It’s All About The BATNA

As a negotiator, you always have be taking the time to analyze and cultivate your BATNA. In all types of bargaining, your best source of power is your ability and willingness to walk away and take another deal. Before the negotiation starts, wise negotiators spend significant time identifying their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA, and then taking steps to improve it.

You Define The Negotiating Process

When a negotiation is starting, you don’t want to assume that you’re both on the same page when it comes to determining when to meet, who should be present, what your agenda will be, etyc. Instead, what you need to do is to carefully negotiate how you will negotiate in advance. Discussing such procedural issues will clear the way for much more focused talks later on.

Take Time To Build Rapport

You may feel as though you don’t have the time to engage in small talk at the start of a negotiation; however, doing so can bring real benefits, research shows. You and the other side of the table may be more collaborative and likely to reach agreement if you spend even just a few minutes trying to get to know each other. If you’re negotiating over email, taking the time to make even a brief introductory phone call may make a difference. This is one the most valuable negotiation skills to master.

Practice Active Listening

You’ve got two ears, use them. Once you start discussing things of substance, resist the urge to think about what you’re going to say next while the other side is talking. Instead, listen carefully to his or her arguments, then paraphrase what you believe they said to check your understanding. Acknowledge any difficult feelings, like frustration, behind the message. Not only are you likely to acquire valuable information, but the other party may mimic your exemplary listening skills and that has to be a good thing.

Get Good At Asking Questions

You can gain more in a negotiation by asking lots of questions—ones that are likely to get helpful answers. Don’t ask “yes or no” questions and leading questions, such as “Don’t you think that’s a great idea?” Instead, create neutral questions that encourage detailed responses, such as “Can you tell me about the challenges you’re facing this month?”

Always Be Looking For Tradeoffs

In a negotiation both parties are often stuck making concessions and demands on a single issue, such as price. Instead, you can capitalize on the presence of multiple issues to get both sides more of what they want. Specifically, try to identify issues that the other side cares deeply about that you value less. Then propose making a concession on that issue in exchange for a concession from them on an issue you value highly.

Look Out For Anchoring Bias

Research shows that the first number mentioned in a negotiation, however arbitrary, exerts a powerful influence on the negotiation that follows. You can avoid being the next victim of the anchoring bias by making the first offer and trying to anchor talks in your preferred direction. If the other side does successfully anchor first, keep your aspirations and BATNA at the forefront of your mind, pausing to revisit them as needed.

Make Use Of MESOs

During a negotiation, you want to present multiple equivalent offers simultaneously (MESOs) . This means that rather than making one offer at a time, you should consider presenting several offers at once. If the other side rejects all of them, ask them to tell you which one they liked best and why. Then work on your own to improve the offer, or try to brainstorm with the other party an option that pleases you both. This strategy of presenting multiple offers simultaneously decreases the odds of impasse and can promote more creative solutions.

Use Contingent Contracts To Get What You Want

Negotiators often get stuck because they disagree about how a certain scenario will play out over time. In such cases, try proposing a contingent contract—in essence, a bet about how future events will unfold. Propose a contingent contract that will penalize the other side for late completion and/or reward them for early completion. If they truly believes their claims, they should have no problem accepting such terms.

Always Plan For The Implementation Stage

Another way to improve the long-term durability of a contract is to place milestones and deadlines in the contract to ensure that commitments are being met. You might also agree, to meet at regular intervals throughout the life of the contract to check in and, if necessary, renegotiate. In addition, adding a dispute-resolution clause that calls for the use of mediation or arbitration if a conflict arises can be a wise move.

What All Of This Means For You

There’s no question that negotiators are always looking for ways to become better at what they do. However, the challenge that we are all facing is that it’s not clear just exactly how we can go about doing this. There are so many different aspects of negotiating that it can be hard to figure out where to start. In order to help negotiators do better, I’ve created a top 10 list of skills that if worked on, will help every negotiator become better.

The list of skills includes making sure that you know what your BATNA is before the principled negotiation starts. Making sure that you determine how the negotiation is going to unfold and making sure that you’ve established rapport with the other side before the negotiation starts. Take the time to listen to what the other side is telling you and then ask good questions that provide you with more information. During the negotiation you always want to be looking for tradeoffs that you can make in order to get a better deal. Don’t allow the other side to use an anchoring bias.

You can’t become a better negotiator overnight. However, if you take the time to work on these ten different skills then you will become better. Review the list and pick out the skills that you most want to work on and then get busy. You’ll be amazed at how much better you become at negotiating with just a little bit of practice.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: How do you think that you can tell if you have become a good listener during a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So just exactly how does a negotiation end? Either both parties give up and walk away with no deal being reached, or you are somehow able to use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to find a way to close the deal. It’s this deal closing thing that can be so tricky to do sometimes. In fact, we can find ourselves in situations where we have tried to wrap things up, get the other side to agree to a deal, and we’ve failed. When we find ourselves in this kind of a situation, what is a negotiator to do? Give up? Nope, you need to go back in there and try to wrap this negotiation up. You just might have been doing it all wrong.