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How To Improve Negotiation Skills

How To Improve Negotiation Skills

Negotiation skills are vital for success in business. This is why it’s crucial to be able to effectively put forward your case, strike a deal and create favorable results for you or your organization.

Whether you’re going to your boss for a salary negotiation, trying to get a better deal with a vendor, or aiming to secure your company’s next big contract, you need to know how to negotiate effectively.

Successful business negotiation isn’t about striking a hard bargain or aggressively outmaneuvering the other party. It’s far more sensitive than that. You need to be able to consider the other party’s needs, goals as well as your own and work together to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

So how can you improve your negotiation skills to reach this win-win outcome? Follow these seven tips for improving your negotiation technique, and you’ll be well on your way to success at the bargaining table.


1. Be prepared

Preparation is a key factor in securing a positive outcome. Failing to prepare can be disastrous and it can lead to unnecessary concessions, missed opportunities, or in the worst-case scenario, a complete failure to reach an agreement.

You need to do your research on the other party, finding out who they are, what their organization does, how they operate, and most importantly, what they might look to get out of the negotiation. If you know the individual people you’ll be negotiating with, try to do some research on them too. In this way, you can tailor your lines of negotiation specifically to them.

Having the best idea possible of what the opposite party wants is an important first step to realizing your own goals. With that being the case, your goal should be to create a mutually beneficial arrangement by the end of the negotiation.

You should also think carefully about your own side of the negotiation. Ask yourself these questions during your preparation to ensure you cover every angle:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Is what you’re asking for reasonable?
  • What are your key arguments?
  • What conversational paths might these arguments open up, and how do you steer them to a positive outcome?

2. Practice and train

Once you’ve planned the ideas behind your negotiations, you should try and put them into practice. Get a friend or colleague to roleplay as the other party and do some practice negotiations with them to get an outside perspective. This will help you to potentially unearth some lines of argument that you may have not previously considered.

Undergoing formal negotiation skills training can also help you better prepare. There are a wide range of courses available that provide important training for negotiations. You may find them through your organization’s human resources or career development services, in academic programs, via online courses, or with a personal career coach.

Make sure to proactively engage in this training. Don’t just take notes. Actively consider the concepts, theories, and types of negotiation tactics that you have been taught and reflect on how they might be applied to your own negotiations. Take what you’ve learned and put it into practice; practice new techniques in informal situations in order to form good habits.

3. Consider multiple outcomes

You likely have a clear goal already in mind and successful negotiators should always consider alternative outcomes. An important concept in negotiating is BATNA: Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement.

Your BATNA is essentially your backup plan in case negotiations fall through. What’s your next best option if you can’t get what you want through negotiation? Not only does this limit the impact of a failed negotiation, it also gives you more bargaining power, as you’re more prepared to walk away from an unsatisfactory offer.

As well as your own BATNA, consider what the other party’s BATNA may be, and plan what you can offer them to ensure that your own proposal is a more attractive agreement to them.

4. Listen carefully

During the negotiation itself, you need to pay full attention to the other party. One skill you can put to use is active listening, a technique also used in conflict resolution, project management, and training.

Active listening skills involve carefully listening to the other party, observing their non-verbal cues, and offering affirmation through your responses and body language. Don’t just listen, show the other party that you’re listening carefully.

Avoid checking your phone or taking calls, make sure your body language is alert and attentive, and give verbal or non-verbal affirmation (such as nodding in agreement or using phrases like “I understand”).

You should also avoid falling into the trap of planning responses in your head whilst the other party is still talking. Doing so will simply distract you from what they’re saying, and could lead to misunderstandings or missed opportunities. Wait for them to say their piece, then deliver your own response when you’ve fully taken it in.

5. Don’t let mistakes get to you

Negotiations can be stressful, and it’s likely that at some point you may make a mistake of some form or other. When this happens, it can be instinctive to become defensive or flustered. This is only natural, but you should do your best to keep a level head.

Rather than dwelling on mistakes when they’re pointed out, accept them, address them, and move on to avoid the negotiation hitting a stumbling block. Remaining calm under pressure rather than allowing yourself to get flustered will help to maintain a productive, professional environment and lead to a more successful negotiation.

6. Emphasize connection and cooperation

At its heart, effective negotiation is about finding a mutually beneficial outcome for both you and the other party. To reach an agreement that creates a win-win situation, you need to work with your negotiating partner, not against them.

This negotiating strategy is known as integrative negotiation — a cooperative negotiation process where both parties work together to find an outcome that provides value to everyone involved. This negotiating style requires strong communication skills and a willingness to work cooperatively to find common ground.

Identify common goals and values, and work with these in mind. You should also remember to try and form a human connection. Don’t just deliver sales pitches, work to establish a personal connection in order to build trust and make it easier to create a win-win negotiation.

7. Be ready to compromise or concede

Unfortunately, sometimes it just isn’t possible to get everything you want from a negotiation. In these situations, try to remain flexible, identifying possible compromises and working towards these instead. Even if you don’t achieve all your goals, getting something is better than nothing.

You should also remain open to the fact that you may have to concede completely on some points. It’s important to recognize this. Pushing too hard on areas where the other party can’t or is absolutely unwilling to offer you anything can come across as aggressive, which may hamper your negotiations in other areas.

Lastly, be gracious in concession. Skillful negotiating means accepting you can’t always get everything you want, and moving onto more productive lines of negotiation. Negotiation is a vital skill, so it’s important that you get it right. Follow the above negotiation tips, and you’ll soon level up your negotiation skills to find mutually beneficial outcomes in all areas of your professional life.


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