The First Steps to Becoming a Skilled Negotiator


If you’re new to negotiation and The Black Swan Method™, the first step to becoming a skilled negotiator is enrolling in our online class, Negotiation 9™ (N9™). This class teaches the nine core skills that are foundational to becoming a world-class negotiator.

Are you brand new to the N9? Here’s a brief primer on each skill:

a businessman negotiating a contract with a female counterpart

1. Labels™ 

Labels™ are a communication technique in which you identify emotions, dynamics, and motivations that exist in the conversation but have not yet been verbalized. For example, if your counterpart seems rattled and distracted, Label the emotions, and or the dynamics behind the behavior,  “It seems like you’ve got a lot on your mind.” “It seems like something of importance is distracting you.”

2. Mirrors™ 

This is a technique in which you reflect the last 1-3 words the other side says with either an inquisitive tone or a declarative tone. If your counterpart says, You won’t be able to beat this price, you can Mirror™ the last 1-3 words, “beat this price?”, or even the last word, “price?” Your tone should reflect if you are Mirroring as a question or as a statement.  

3. Dynamic Silence™ 

You can use silence to create awkward tension that your counterpart fills with additional information. Dynamic Silence™ is best used in conjunction with other N9 skills. Simply count one one thousand, two one thousand in your head, and your counterpart will fill the air before you get to 10. If you go past 12 seconds, you've missed something important that your counterpart was trying to convey to you. Label this dynamic. 

4. Paraphrasing 

Paraphrasing occurs when you take the other side’s words and repackage them so they know you’re listening.

5. Summary™ 

A Summary™ is a thorough synopsis of what your counterpart said. It’s so comprehensive that your counterpart has no choice but to respond with these two magical words: "That's Right"™. 

6. Calibrated Questions™ 

These questions begin with what, how, and sometimes why and are used to shape the way your counterpart thinks. For example, you might ask: “What is this going to look like moving forward?”? This is a thought-shaping question That directs your counterpart to a thoughtful response. Here, one-word answers won’t suffice.

7. “I” Messages 

These messages are designed to help you draw a line in the proverbial sand with persistent, counterproductive behavior.. Here’s the formula: When you [do this counterproductive thing], I feel [like this] because [the reason the behavior is bad]. Here’s an example: When you consistently blow off our meetings, I feel like we’re wasting our time because it seems you’re not taking this deal seriously.

8. Encouragers 

Encouragers are simple acknowledgments that prove you’re in the moment, such as nodding your head and saying mm-hmm. Encouragers keep your counterpart engaged in the conversation and lets them know you are listening.

9. Tone of Voice 

Tone of voice plays an important role in negotiations. People are six times more likely to do business with people they like. An Accommodating tone, light and friendly, should be used for the majority of the negotiation. Shift to the Analyst, “Late-Night DJ Voice,” when you need to get a serious point across and when you make an ask. The Assertive tone should not be used during negotiations. An Assertive tone will come across as challenging and accusatory, not a good tone for negotiations.  

Building the Foundation for the Next Level

The Black Swan Group embraces the Shu-Ha-Ri approach to learning. This concept comes from martial arts, and it suggests that there are three stages to mastery.  

When it comes to The Black Swan Method, the N9 represents the “Shu” of the learning journey. These foundational skills work well across all three negotiator personality types, particularly the Quick 2+1™

Learning negotiation skills is like learning a new language. Trying to learn a second language is complicated, and you might feel very uncomfortable practicing it for the first time.

The Black Swan Method is similar. As you learn the skills, you develop neural pathways for a new way of thinking. These teachings will open up your brain, but you have to practice them. We recommend low-stakes practice—such as using the skills with your family, friends, and colleagues—so there’s not much on the line.

Once you’ve mastered the N9, you can continue your education with our “Ha” and “Ri” offerings, CAVIAAR™ and Tactical Empathy™. Now that you know the foundational skills negotiators need, read about the top three negotiation mistakes to avoid.

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Barbara Thomas

About The Author

Barbara Thomas, having joined the team in June 2021 after retiring from three decades of service with the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD). During her time with the department, Barbara worked as a patrol officer and was selected to the SAPD Hostage Negotiation Team, where she served for 14 years. She was also assigned to the SAPD Training Academy, where she taught various academic subjects to police cadets. Additionally, Barbara worked undercover while assigned to the Repeat Offenders Program. During that time, she was also assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, where she worked with federal agencies on terrorism-related activities. On top of this, Barbara worked as a recruiter for the SAPD’s Recruitment Unit. Upon being promoted to the rank of Detective Investigator, she was assigned as a Uniformed Evidence Detective where I processed crime scenes. She was then selected to the Crisis Response Team, where she worked as a Family Violence Detective and was also assigned to work with the Joint County and City Domestic Violence Task Force. Prior to and during the beginning of her career in law enforcement, Barbara was an active duty and reserve member of the United States Air Force (USAF) for a combined 14 years of service. In her first job after technical training school, Barbara worked as a jet engine mechanic servicing B-52 Bombers and KC-135 Tankers. She then cross-trained into the intelligence field where she worked as an intelligence analyst.