How to Improve Negotiation Skills in the Workplace

BUSINESS & MANAGEMENT   |   4 minutes  |   May 29, 2019

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If there’s more than one person in a room, and more than one opinion – which is typical in most workplaces – then having effective negotiation strategies at your disposal will stand you in good stead. It’s no wonder we see skilled negotiators portrayed in highly volatile scenarios in popular culture: The ability to negotiate can disarm potentially explosive situations in the office, and being able to negotiate a mutually acceptable outcome between two parties is a highly desirable skill to offer any organisation if you’re a leader or manager.1

Negotiation skills can be used in almost every aspect of work:2

  • Salary negotiations with a new employee
  • Finding an agreeable time for a vacation or leave
  • Negotiating an employee termination
  • Discussing a change in work schedule for an individual or team
  • Contract negotiations for unions, suppliers, freelancers or consultants
  • Negotiating a deadline with your boss
  • Solving team conflicts
  • Sales negotiations with a customer
  • Legal settlement negotiations

Additionally, in the age of Industry 4.0 and digitised manufacturing, the days of barking out orders and receiving submissive agreement are long gone.3 The workforce of today needs to feel that their input is valued and considered – and rightfully so.4 However, leaders need to have the skills to navigate through the rough waters of conflict with skill and maturity to keep the team on course, so that they reach their objective in one piece.

Chris Vos, CEO of Black Swan Group and a former top FBI hostage negotiator, believes that because we enter negotiations emotionally, we often take ourselves hostage in a negotiation before it even begins. Instead, he advises to see it as a process-driven exercise.5 Skilful negotiation can be learnt. Here is how you can develop these skills in the workplace:

1. Be clear on boundaries

If you understand what’s important to you and what your ‘non-negotiables’ are, then it will be easier for you to communicate on what you’ll deliver and what you expect from others. Emma Langton, a mindset coach, says, “Getting great boundaries in place doesn’t mean shutting people out with imaginary brick walls, or being harsh and rigid. It means providing clear guidelines, so that the person you are negotiating with feels safe and secure. This will also help you to be absolutely clear on what you will and will not negotiate on, which adds confidence to the process.”6

2. Always come prepared

Do your homework before the negotiation starts by gathering enough information to have a clear understanding of what a good deal or personal agreement could look like.7 Ask your colleagues, team members, and leader these questions for their insight and leadership.

  • Is the negotiation you’re preparing for real, or an exercise by executives to simply confirm the status quo with little or no intent for change?
  • Ask yourself if you’re being included in negotiations simply to test better terms for their actual ideal candidate – not you. Voss says that if you don’t know who the fool in the game is, it’s probably you
  • Find out what the best deal really is. Your counterpart has information you don’t have, and probably need, and also has their own idea of what a good outcome is. Finding out these things is vital to a deal

3. Ask for more

If the counterparty asks for more money, ask for more productivity from them in return. If a customer wants a lower price, sell them more products. It’s easier to negotiate for more once the other party believes they have already won. Ryan Stewman from Break Free Academy says, 

“Let them win the first negotiation, and they will usually be happy enough to let you win two to three more.”8

4. Practice, practice, practice

Negotiation is a skill that can be learnt, and as with any skill, practice brings improvement.9 Rehearse what you want to say, and your response to any counter arguments they might bring, before the negotiation, so that you’re calm and prepared with strategic responses on the day.

5. Identify your own personal negotiation style

Know yourself and your emotional triggers well, so that you aren’t derailed by anything that the other party says or does in your efforts to reach a win-win outcome.10

6. Play your power cards

There are certain perceived powers that can influence negotiations in your favour:

  • Rare: People want something more when it seems they can’t easily get it
  • Indifference: Appearing as though it doesn’t matter whether you buy/sell can help
  • Confidence: Having the courage to be ready to walk away from a negotiation if necessary will often bring the other party to offer better terms11

7. Play fair

Think long-term in your negotiations with suppliers. A quick win with lowered costs is great, but if you always negotiate below cost, you could damage your reputation and relationship with suppliers. Dave Schulhof of Red Hot Penny says, “If a supplier can’t cover their own costs the result can be poorer quality of service, which ends up costing you more than the discount you achieved. Negotiate fairly and ensure you get the product and service you need. Remember good business involves treating everyone well.”12

8. Define and confirm

During negotiations, build relationships by using the ‘that’s right’ strategy. Your goal is to define and confirm what the true intentions are of what’s being offered in the negotiation talks. However, if you hear your counterpart saying ‘You’re right’, rather than ‘That’s right’, while negotiating, then change tactics. ‘You’re right’ is often used when people want to protect a relationship, but have already shut down communication.13

9. ‘Yes’ is not always success

‘Yes’ can often be a counterfeit yes in negotiations, as pushing for it often makes people feel like they’re being led into a trap, especially in a sales pitch. ‘How’ is a more accurate sign of success. For example, if your sales pitch is a selling-the-problem approach,14 the person you are speaking with might say ‘So how do you suggest we fix it?’ Aim for ‘How’ instead of ‘Yes’.15

Your success in business is often determined by your ability to negotiate, and the painful reality is that if you or your employees don’t know how to negotiate, then you are more likely to become the victim of better negotiators.

Educating yourself and your team in negotiation will set you up for success, and empower your team to produce win-win outcomes in everyday situations. This can be done through digital platforms like online learning, or through mentorship and skill-transferring sessions in the workplace.

You and your team may not have to deal with business-altering negotiations on a daily basis, but it’s quite likely that smaller negotiations happen regularly, such as sharing an idea with the team in a project meeting. The likelihood of every person agreeing with every idea from the onset is not high, but if you and your team are empowered with negotiation skills, it can result in a greater win-win outcome for everyone.

  • 1 Doyle, A. (Dec, 2018). ‘Negotiation skills and why employers value them’. Retrieved from The Balance Careers.
  • 2 Doyle, A. (Dec, 2018). ‘Negotiation skills and why employers value them’. Retrieved from The Balance Careers.
  • 3 Marr, B. (Sep, 2018). ‘What is Industry 4.0? Here’s a super easy explanation for anyone.’ Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 4 Perry, D., et al. (Apr, 2018). ‘Leadership for an industry 4.0 world’. Retrieved from FMS.
  • 5 Goldston, N. (Dec, 2018). ‘3 innovative ways to improve your negotiation skills and get better results in the new year.’ Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 6 Coleman, A. (Jul, 2018). ‘Seven tips for stronger negotiating skills in business’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 7 Goldston, N. (Dec, 2018). ‘3 innovative ways to improve your negotiation skills and get better results in the new year.’ Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 8 (Dec, 2018). ‘15 ways to level up your negotiation skills’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 9 (Dec, 2018). ‘15 ways to level up your negotiation skills’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 10 (Dec, 2018). ‘15 ways to level up your negotiation skills’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 11 Cy, S. (Feb, 2019). ‘How to negotiate your way to a win-win every time: negotiation by Brian Tracy’. Retrieved from Medium.
  • 12 Coleman, A. (Jul, 2018). ‘Seven tips for stronger negotiating skills in business’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 13 Goldston, N. (Dec, 2018). ‘3 innovative ways to improve your negotiation skills and get better results in the new year.’ Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 14 Bailey, D. (Jul, 2017). ‘How to sell the problem before selling the solution’. Retrieved from Medium.
  • 15 Goldston, N. (Dec, 2018). ‘3 innovative ways to improve your negotiation skills and get better results in the new year.’ Retrieved from Forbes.