If you’re not outgoing, then the thought of initiating a negotiation and stepping out of your comfort zone can feel especially uncomfortable. Below, we’ve laid out seven tips to help you beat pre-negotiation jitters and become a more effective and confident communicator.
1. Start with a Simple Introduction
If you’re naturally introverted, approaching someone to start a negotiation can feel daunting. You may know how you’d like the conversation to go, what you’d like to discuss, and the communication techniques you’d like to use, but when you’re mentally five steps ahead of yourself, figuring out how to open that conversation can feel impossible.
Rather than worrying about using humor or being overly clever, stick to what works. As far as introductions go, there’s nothing as universally effective as just saying “hi” and stating your name. When you take the initiative to introduce yourself and say your name early on in the conversation, you’ll earn more personal regard. Although it sounds simple, most people blow right past this first step and start somewhere in the middle.
How many times have you witnessed someone at an airport walk up to an airline clerk and state what they want?
- I’d like to get on X flight.
- I need to check these bags together.
Now think what a huge difference it would make if instead, they smiled and began with this simple intro:
- Hi, my name is Todd.
This intro sets you up to be seen as a human rather than an annoyance. Also, if the person you’re approaching isn’t a stranger, a no-oriented question can be an effective lead:
- Is now a bad time?
Getting your counterpart to say “no” quickly can help them feel comfortable and foster agreement without asking them to sacrifice their autonomy.
2. Be a Sounding Board
Putting pressure on yourself to carry a conversation can heighten your anxiety and make you less competent in the moment. Rather than focusing on what to say next, remember that people love to talk about themselves. Just because you’re engaged in a negotiation doesn’t mean that you and your counterpart have to talk in equal amounts. In fact, the more you can keep your counterpart talking, the more information you’ll have to inform your negotiating strategy.
Focus on being a sounding board. What can you say to them that will help them work through their thought process? The goal is to get your counterpart thinking out loud. What are they interested in? What do they find value in?
Ask a calibrated question to get them talking and then use verbal connectors to gain confirmation and encourage them to expand on what they’ve said.
3. Use Mirrors
One of the best verbal connectors is the mirror. Mirrors are an ideal communication technique to start with if you lack confidence, because they’re powerful, easy to execute, and neutral in nature. A mirror isn’t an affirmation or a negation of what someone has said—it’s a simple form of clarification. All you have to do is listen attentively and muster up the courage to repeat the last one to three words that were spoken and use an upward inflection (an inquisitive, questioning tone).
Person 1: In this blog post, we’d like to help readers understand the power of using a mirror.
Person 2: The power of using a mirror … ?
Mirrors are helpful because they ask for confirmation and encourage your counterpart to keep talking. They can give you space to think, help you get inside your counterpart’s thought process, or even test if they’re bluffing.
The more you use mirrors, the more they will become second nature. Once you’ve grown comfortable with using them, shift your focus to your body language. As you use a mirror, tilt your head slightly, lean forward, or raise your eyebrows and observe how different nonverbal cues make your counterpart more comfortable.
4. Practice Translating Insight into Verbal Observations
Next, work on translating the feedback you’ve gained into a verbal observation. Unlike mirrors, verbal observations address what was unsaid or implied—the underlying meaning of your counterpart’s words.
For example, when faced with an impending bedtime, a child might say that they’re not tired or that they need a glass of water. But what are they really saying? Maybe they’re enjoying what they’re doing and they fear that they’ll miss out on something when they go to bed. Or maybe they don’t like being alone and want an excuse to stay in your company. There are a variety of possible subtexts. Making verbal observations—i.e. using labels—will help you get to the bottom of your counterpart’s core emotional drives:
- It sounds like going to bed isn’t fun.
- It seems like you’d like some company.
Once you know the real emotion that’s driving your counterpart to behave in a certain way, you can negotiate more effectively.
Like mirrors, labels have a fairly simple structure. Rather than stating a verbal observation as a fact (which may come off as an accusation), start your label with “it seems like” or “it sounds like.” This neutral lead-up provides a verbal safety net and gives your counterpart the space and autonomy to correct you. Avoid saying “I get it,” “I understand,” or “I’ve been there.” These responses don’t demonstrate understanding, and they override your counterpart rather than encouraging them to elaborate.
By practicing using labels in everyday, low-stakes situations (like the example above), you’ll hone your skills and improve your flexibility and confidence under pressure.
5. Take a Cold Read
Extroverts tend to enjoy the stimulation of talking to others. They may even like the challenge of winning people over or capturing their attention with humor. If those impulses aren’t in your repertoire, then attempting to fake them can lead to emotional and social train wrecks.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to change who you are to be an effective negotiator. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t force it. What makes people likeable isn’t just humor or their ability to captivate an audience—it’s more basic than that. First and foremost, we like people that make us feel comfortable and understood. The most successful communicators know that demonstrating understanding can take a variety of different forms.
Conducting a cold read is a great way to establish trust and make a favorable first impression, regardless of your personality type. Once you’ve sized up your counterpart and the environment, conduct an accusation audit—i.e., come up with a collection of labels to diffuse any negative assumptions your counterpart might have about you.
I’m sure you’re used to being bothered and it’s not something you enjoy.
The beauty of a cold read and accusation audit is that you don’t have to worry about being awkward or sounding funny if that’s not your thing. By being preemptive with empathy, you’ll be more likely to win their attention and earn the benefit of the doubt.
6. Understand and Adapt Your Negotiation Style
Although the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” may be convenient labels for describing social tendencies, they don’t shed light on your negotiating style. In the Black Swan world of negotiation, there are three types of people: analysts, accommodators, and assertives. There are introverted assertives and extroverted analysts (and vice versa). If you’re focused on the fact that you or someone you’re speaking to is an introvert, then you’re ignoring key information that could help inform your communication strategy.
To become a more effective negotiator, identify what type of negotiator you are naturally and understand the strengths and pitfalls associated with that type. Then, attempt to incorporate all three negotiating styles into your communication strategy. On the flip side, identifying what type of negotiator you’re dealing with will give you a better sense of what strategies and techniques will be most effective.
7. Prepare the Right Way
The right type of preparation can give you the boost of confidence you need to be more at ease and flexible in the moment. That said, preparing well doesn’t mean over-preparing. In the time leading up to a negotiation, most people focus on collecting facts and information on their counterpart or dreaming up counterattacks.
Although it’s helpful to have an idea of your counterpart’s history, focusing on these details isn’t likely to give you an edge in the negotiation. An adept negotiator can learn everything they need to know about their counterpart in the negotiation itself. How? By taking cold reads, asking calibrated questions, and using mirrors and labels. These communication techniques are more effective for establishing trust, keeping a conversation going, and making your counterpart feel comfortable and in control than any single fact about them.
To prepare for a negotiation, focus less on your counterattack and more on your communication technique. What do you need to say to move things forward? How can you get them to open up about a certain topic? As you prepare for a negotiation, think about how you can deliver your message in a way that takes pressure off of you and builds rapport at the same time. Create a cheat sheet using the “5-4-3-2-1” model (prep five negative labels, four positive labels, three “how” questions, two “what” questions, and one no-oriented question).
Last but not least: practice, practice, practice. There are countless low-stakes opportunities to hone your negotiating chops so that you’re able to perform better in high-stakes, high-stress situations.