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11 Skills of Effective Negotiators

This article is part of our series on negotiation. Read the first piece in the series, “An Introduction to Negotiation,” here. Read the second piece, “How to Use Principled Negotiation,” click here.


Negotiation is an integral part of everyday life. Whether interacting with friends and family members or leading in the workplace, skilled negotiators possess a core skillset. Here, we examine the essential skills for effective negotiators.

Effective Communication

Negotiation is impossible without communication. But to practice effective communication skills, negotiators must ensure the negotiation communication between parties is happening, and is happening efficiently. Negotiators must also be able to clearly and accurately describe their position and the interests behind them.

Active Listening

Speaking and writing is just one part of communicating – active listening skills are an equally critical component. While it may be tempting to silently prepare your counter-argument to an opposing party while they speak, this is ultimately much less effective for cultivating empathy and truly hearing other views. Instead, to actively listen, a negotiator must be able to paraphrase what the other party spoke about and acknowledging any underlying emotions that may be involved. Not only does this help shape your perspective of the other side, but it also generates rapport when the other party feels heard.

Problem Solving

Instead of honing in on a single solution that solves only your position, a skilled negotiator can consider multiple solutions to meet diverse interests. Negotiators should cultivate a perspective of the other party to help focus on solutions to everyone’s issues.

Creativity

Creative thinking goes hand-in-hand with adept problem solving. Skilled negotiators relentlessly pursue innovative solutions that result in a win for everyone involved. This isn’t always limited to your own brainstorming, either. Negotiators can seek expert opinions across multiple disciplines or professions to help broaden the scope of the solution set and inspire other creative options.

Open-Mindedness

Throughout a negotiation, opposing views will be presented. From assessing the interests of all parties, determining the objective criteria, developing solutions and making a final selection, it is likely that your views and ideas will not be the only options to prove valid against objective criteria or meet all needs. Being open-minded allows you to consider alternatives and more easily come to an agreement.

Ask Good Questions

One of the best ways to shut down communication is to ask a closed question, where the other party can only answer “yes” or “no.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that will encourage people to share more detailed thoughts and options. For example, instead of asking “You didn’t hit your sales goals this quarter, correct?” ask a more neutral question like, “Can you tell me about some of the challenges your sales team faced this quarter?”

Preparedness

Effective negotiators must have carefully prepared and analyzed the problem, their interests, their BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), and multiple solutions and outcomes. A critical component to asking good questions is preparing them in advance. You should also prepare by understanding the person you are negotiating with.

Relationship Building

Relationships are a critical component of effective negotiations because they can make all the difference in whether a negotiation feels collaborative or combative. Establishing rapport with you and your counterpart can provide real benefits, according to Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation (PON). While not every negotiation affords enough time to kick off with small talk, even setting aside a few minutes for a brief introduction can start the negotiation on a more conversational tone. Throughout the negotiation, using interpersonal skills to communicate and act persuasively without being manipulative can also cultivate stronger relationships. This means even in a heated negotiation, effective negotiators avoid confronting, intimidating, blaming, interrupting, threatening or making anyone feel defensive.

Awareness of Bias

Anchoring bias, according to Harvard PON, refers to the inherent bias throughout the process toward the first number mentioned in a negotiation. To avoid this, effective negotiators should aim to present the first offer, and if you don’t, then you must keep your goals and BATNA top of mind.

Patience

Adept negotiators take their time, focusing first on all the areas where they can find agreement before digging into areas with issues. You’ll also need to exercise patience when asking questions to take the time to ensure you truly understand the answers before moving on. Other parties can impose a great deal of pressure pushing to reach an agreement, but good negotiators refuse to be rushed into an agreement that doesn’t offer the best possible outcome.

Emotional Intelligence

The first step to managing emotions is to recognize them, in yourself and everyone involved. Understanding the trigger for those emotions can also help reach a prudent agreement. Remember, both parties hold some core emotional concerns like a desire for autonomy, precisions, belonging, meaning, and status. When emotions take over, the negotiator may rush to accept a decision or move toward a more combative all-or-nothing stance. In a fraught situation like a negotiation, exhibiting your emotional intelligence can ultimately make you more likable to the other party, improving their perception of you and your ability to collaborate well. According to research by professors from the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, people with higher emotional intelligence were more likely to leave their negotiation counterparts more satisfied with the negotiation outcome by inducing positive mood states.

Cultivating these negotiation skills will equip you to not only follow the procedures and practices that provide a framework for a successful negotiation, but will equip you with the abilities necessary to successfully seek a win-win solution in even the tensest negotiations.

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