Ten Tips to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

by Autumn N. Hancock, Esq.

Negotiations are something that most everyone encounters in business and in everyday life. Whether it’s negotiating the terms of a business transaction, negotiating on behalf of a client at a mediation, or negotiating whether your child is allowed to stay up for 10 more minutes, honing your skills in this area is important.

As a mediator and an attorney, I’ve been involved in thousands of negotiations. This list is a very abbreviated version of what I have learned.

Here are 10 tips to help improve negotiation skills:

1. Be Prepared. You can never be too prepared. Even if you are a professional negotiator who has done this thousands of times, each set of facts is different. It’s important to prepare before each negotiation so that you can make well informed offers and decisions. In addition to knowing everything about the issue you’re negotiating, it’s helpful to learn as much as you can about the person on the other side. What are their needs? Why are they there? What are their risks. The more information you have, the stronger you will be in your negotiation.

2. Ask for What You Want. I once worked for a large litigation firm where a partner told me, “Women make less than men because they never ask for what they want.” While I disagree with his statement for many reasons, we all have to be careful not to fall into this trap. If you don’t ask for what you want in negotiations, it’s impossible to achieve your best outcome. Be assertive, but not aggressive. Start by letting people know what you or your client wants to achieve without anxiety and without inserting any feelings or accusations.

3. Aim High. If you expect more, you allow yourself to achieve more. I’ve worked with several successful negotiators who always open negotiations with an extreme stance. They use this strategy to gain a stronger starting position. Of course, this comes with the risk that the other side will walk away from the negotiations at the very outset. It doesn’t usually end this way though. People who ask for more than they expect to receive most often end up with a more satisfying result.

4. Stop Talking. This tip is the hardest for me personally but it’s so important. In order to be an effective negotiator, one must be a good listener. Successful negotiators gather information, they ask questions and then they stop talking. Ask open ended questions to the other side. It’s when you listen that you can learn the information you need to resolve the issues. Many negotiators follow the “70/30 rule” – talk 30 percent of the time and listen 70 percent of the time. Also, after you ask for what you want – STOP TALKING. Let the other side respond to your ask. If you keep going, chances are you will talk them out of giving you what you want. Embrace the awkward silences.

5. Don’t Focus on Your Reasons- Think About Theirs. If you spend your time focusing on the reasons that you need to resolve this situation, you may be working against yourself. In your mind, because you’re focused on your pressures, you will make the other side appear more powerful. While you need to be aware of them, don’t focus on the limitations of your position, focus on the strengths. If you think about the pressures being felt by the other side and the reasons that they need to make a deal, you will enhance your power and your negotiation position.

6. Satisfy Their Needs, Not Their Demands. Instead of responding to the demands being made by the other side, think about that they truly need to be satisfied. Look at the situation from their perspective and think about what concessions you can make that will add value for them but will have a very low cost for you or your client. Look to satisfy the basic needs of the other side. Focus on their needs, not their wants. This will allow a lot more negotiation room for your side to achieve its best outcome. Once you’ve figured out how to meet the basic needs of the other side, show them that their needs will be met.

7. Be Persistent. Negotiation requires an attitude that is persistent. Be resilient, especially under pressure. Often, the other side will try several strategies to move the negotiations in their favor, but a successful negotiator will be persistent and will stand firm. Eventually, this persistence will begin to break down the obstacles put up by the other side and will allow you to move forward towards a satisfactory outcome

8. Take Your Time. If you are in a hurry, you are more likely to make mistakes. If you have the most time, you will have the advantage. If the other side is in a rush to conclude the negotiations, and you are nonchalant about time, they will believe that you are not under any pressure. It will appear that you don’t need to make a deal. This is very likely to induce the other side to concede more and more in their position to entice you to agree.

9. Give Up Your Desire to Please. This means, don’t be willing to give away anything just to feel like you’re giving. Only concede when you’re getting something in return. When you give without receiving something in return, the other side will feel empowered to ask for more and more. Giving something up without asking for something in return is self-defeating. Make the other side earn the things you’re giving them by giving something up themselves. This is how you will work toward a beneficial resolution.

10. Be Ready to Walk Away. If you never consider walking away as an option, you will be more inclined to give in as a method to make a deal. Don’t be willing to take just any deal. Always negotiate with the knowledge that you can walk away if you can’t come to an agreement that is satisfactory. This will give you strength that the other side will feel

Do you have a tip you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below or send us a message!

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