To be a compelling and consistent negotiator, it’s important to keep learning new skills and evolving your approach as you grow. Even veteran negotiators can benefit from some expert tips. We’ve laid out six tried-and-true methods to help you fine-tune your negotiation skills and improve your effectiveness in business dealings.
1. Use Proven Techniques
As you approach a negotiation situation, it pays to know what tactics and techniques have been proven to be effective. If you come armed with a variety of negotiation skills, it’s easier to make minor tweaks and tailor your strategy to fit the context in real time. In contrast, trying out a new negotiating strategy in a high-stakes situation can spike your stress level, hinder your emotional intelligence, impede your confidence, and ultimately lead to negative outcomes. Rather than starting from a blank slate, master these nine field-tested negotiation strategies and practice applying them in low-stress and low-stakes situations.
2. Be Flexible
As you begin to master different techniques, it’s important to retain your flexibility. The most effective negotiators are not those who take a hard stance or follow a step-by-step playbook. They are those who use proven skills and techniques to tailor their communication style to fit the context at hand. Exceptional negotiators aren’t afraid to change their approach during a negotiation if they find that their current communication style isn’t resonating.
3. Prepare Smarter
Focus your preparation efforts on planning your communication strategy rather than doing extensive research on a subject’s history. If you have an effective communication style, you’ll learn more about the subject through the negotiation process than you would doing hours of independent research. Establishing common ground is less effective than using empathy to build trust through communication. It’s human nature to enjoy talking about yourself—skilled negotiators use this inherent tendency to their advantage to learn more about who they’re talking to and what drives their decisions.
4. Operate with Confidence and Emotional Intelligence
No matter how prepared you are or how much experience you have, controlling your own emotions in a tense moment can be challenging. Even experts consider it to be the most difficult part of the negotiation process. Nurturing emotional recognition and management skills—or emotional intelligence—can improve your professional relationships and strengthen your decision-making skills in emotionally-laden situations.
When negotiations become heated, focus on the process rather than your justifications. Making an effort to understand and dictate your emotions will help you remain confident, collected, and clear-headed in a negotiation. Attempting to understand the emotions of others will also allow you to recognize warning signals and respond in a way that resonates with your audience.
Learning to control your emotions doesn’t mean stifling them behind a silent grimace—it means investigating your emotional triggers and addressing those emotions in a constructive and positive way. If your negotiating partner begins to raise their voice or starts offering more blunt responses, summarize what they’ve said in order to demonstrate empathy with their perspective and get a “that’s right.” Understanding and articulating the reason behind this sudden emotional shift is often enough to disarm them and alter the trajectory of the conversation.
For example, saying, “I know you’re frustrated about X for these reasons.” Repeating their reasons back to them—even if you think those reasons don’t make sense—can provide the frustrated party with an opening to pause, reflect, and adjust their emotional register. In contrast, ignoring the frustration in their voice or becoming defensive yourself will likely cause that frustration to snowball. In this example, managing your own emotions and responding to the emotions of others works hand in hand.
5. Confirm Implementation
Oftentimes, negotiators are so focused on getting a “yes” that they overlook the “how.” A negotiation isn’t complete simply because you’ve reached a verbal agreement. First, make sure that your negotiating counterpart has verbally defined the agreement terms to your satisfaction. This gives them a sense of control and will help earn buy-in on the agreement’s implementation. That may mean understanding how to “let 'no' out slowly”—or being strategic about the sequence and timing of your rebuttal.
When it come to business deals, sending a follow-up email that outlines the agreed-upon terms or conversation is extremely useful. You can even negotiate with your coworkers to determine whose job it is to write the email and handle legal documents and exchanges. Taking advantage of these small negotiation opportunities is a great way to fine-tune your communication skills.
You’ve heard it before and we’ll say it again: Practice is the key to becoming a more skilled negotiator. In fact, continuing to practice even after you’ve learned a skill can dramatically improve your retention and enable you to apply that new skill in different contexts.
You don’t need to be involved in daily high-stakes business negotiations in order to practice the techniques that such situations require. In fact, basic negotiation tactics can be practiced outside of the office to strengthen relationships and help you hone your conflict resolution skills. Regularly practicing negotiation skills will ultimately help you achieve more consistency and increase your likelihood of achieving success when it matters most.
Putting It All Together
An agreement isn’t defined by a single word or number. Instead of fishing for a “yes,” remember to treat the negotiation process as a foundation for achieving a comprehensive and clear agreement. Both parties should walk away from the negotiation process with an accurate understanding of the terms and conditions. If you use proven negotiation tactics, hone your emotional intelligence, practice often, and remain flexible in your approach, your business negotiations will feel more natural and compelling and will position you to accomplish more.
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