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5 must-have qualities for effective negotiation skills

28 Jun, 2021 Face-to-face meetings, negotiation

The art of the deal – negotiation – requires creativity and skill. It tracks a fine line between conflict resolution, compromise, and avoiding an argument. At various points in all our lives, we need to engage in negotiation. How do we polish this key skill? Here, we look at some of the primary qualities required for effective negotiation skills.

What is negotiation?

People negotiate daily, often without considering it a negotiation. Negotiation takes place in organizations, including businesses, non-profits, and within and between governments as well as in sales and legal proceedings, and in personal situations such as marriage, divorce, parenting, etc. Humans learn aspects of this from their early days.

Negotiation is communication between two or more people or parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome over one or more issues where a conflict exists with at least one of these issues. Negotiation is an interaction and process between people who wish to agree on matters of mutual interest, while optimizing their individual benefit. This beneficial outcome can relate to all of the parties involved, or just for one or some of them. Negotiators need to understand the negotiation process and other negotiators to increase their chances of success. They need to reach agreement, avoid conflict, establish relationships with other participants, gain profit where relevant, and maximize mutual gains.

Negotiation is aimed at resolving points of difference, to gain advantage for an individual or group, or to craft outcomes to satisfy various interests. Compromise is reached by putting forward a position and making concessions to achieve an agreement. The degree to which the negotiating parties trust each other to implement the negotiated solution is a major factor in determining whether a negotiation will be successful.

Many people associate negotiation with sales skills used typically by sales representatives and real estate agents, but it is also a key skill in many widely-varying jobs. Some prime examples include lawyers, construction project estimators, purchasing managers, and so on.

PR practices requiring effective negotiation skills

PR professionals frequently negotiate during their daily work. For example:

  • We all have negotiated our own employment contracts. On the other side of the desk, managers negotiate the pay and conditions of new employees.
  • PR consultants negotiate with clients about potential contracts and renewal of current contracts.
  • PR firms negotiate with banks and other sources of finance about funding and fees.
  • PR freelancers negotiate prices with PR firms or corporate PR staff as well as other clients.
  • Senior PR executives negotiate with stakeholders about the cost or nature of activities in a project to satisfy the stakeholders.
  • PR managers negotiate over the cost of equipment, media monitoring, etc.
  • Relationships are negotiated with legislators and government regulators about public issues.
  • Just about all PR professionals pitch news stories to journalists, and then negotiate the details.
  • Negotiation takes place with active social media participants about issues raised in posts.
  • PR website administrators negotiate with people who approach them to post guest articles and links in their website.

5 essential qualities of effective negotiation skills

Take heed of the following qualities if you’re interested in sharpening your negotiation skills:

  • You need to be specific. If you are expecting the other party to deliver on their part, then you also need to be able to deliver on your part. Ensure when you propose something, that you can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If your proposal is vague, then it’ll be much more difficult to come to a mutually agreeable point.
  • Curiosity. Asking questions, and being curious and inquisitive is going to do your negotiations a world of good. This gives you a chance to understand what the other party wants to achieve, as well as testing their assumptions, concerns, and priorities.
  • Preparedness. No one wants to walk blind into a negotiation. If you haven’t done your homework, that is going to show from the onset and will most certainly work to your detriment. Preparation means that you understand your opposition and what their objective is so that you can maneuver and wear it down. Also, you need to think long and hard about what you want to achieve. This does not necessarily manifest as your central aim, but proper preparation also includes points you are willing to budge on – and aren’t (and by how much).
  • Listening well. Negotiators need to listen intently. Asking the right questions is vital, but listening to their responses are equally as important. After all, that’s why you asked the questions in the first place, right? There is nothing worse than a disruptive negotiator who chooses to speak over others rather than listen and adapt. If this becomes a tactic, then it will often lead to poorer outcomes and missed signals, as well as painting yourself as belligerent and rude.
  • Perseverance. Being a good negotiator requires a lot of positive qualities, but it’s also a game, and like any game, it takes time to win. Sometimes, getting the result you want from a negotiation is going to be decided by who is willing to pass the most time in order to reach their desired outcome. Of course, this should always be done with a smile, but it’s those whose smile endures who succeed.

3 tips for successful negotiation skills

Here are 3 practical tips you can use to increase your effective negotiation skills. This helpful source provides many tips and good advice on negotiation techniques:

1. Switch from “we” to “I” during negotiations

The difference between “we” and “I” may seem subtle, but it can make a world of difference during negotiation. Perhaps think about this beforehand as to when you can say “I” as opposed to “We” so it doesn’t make you sound egocentric

We tends to be a bit formal while I introduces a more personal, comfortable, human tone  — like you are chatting.

Said another way, We = a manager from my organization. I = I’m letting my guard down (or at least signalling that I am).

It’s imperative to humanize yourself during a negotiation… and the best negotiators know this.

2. Say “approved price”

– or “approved cost,” “approved fee,” “approved package,” “approved contract terms,” “approved conditions,” “approved arrangements,” etc. Not “list price” or “standard price” or “our price.”

One word can make a world of difference. In fact, according to data, sales cycles stretch out by 19% when the phrase “list price” or “typical price” or “standard price” is used at any point in the discussions. Instead, try saying APPROVED PRICE. Swapping out “list” or “typical” or “standard” for APPROVED makes the other person believe the price is more set in stone. Using “approved” signals someone more senior than you has set the pricing, already determining what’s possible and reasonable.

Bottom line: The approved pricing implies it can’t be changed easily, so there is no need for the other person or group to spend time negotiating about it. Even sales proposals need to be couched in the right terms, or risk falling into a negotiation stalemate.

3. Repeating or mirroring a specific phrase from the other person

Building rapport, making a human-to-human connection — helps your opposite number to feel comfortable with you. It is vital to obtain information from them while avoiding confrontation. One of the best ways to do this, to get the other person talking more, is to use the mirroring technique. Mirroring phrases is simply repeating back the 1-3 main words from one the other person. Having them repeat their own words eliminates friction. Bonus: It also means they are talking more… and you are talking less. When doing this, use an “upward voice tone,” indicating you are asking a question. Here is what it might sound like:

  • Other person: “We’ve gone to a great deal of effort to get this package right for you, despite some supply shortages.”
  • You: “Supply shortages?” You have ‘forced’ your buyer to expand on their point WITHOUT saying, “Can you expand on that point?” or “What do you mean by …?” which sounds forced and awkward. And it obliges them to share with you some details that may have weakened their case.
Imitation is more than the sincerest form of flattery

Research has proven that mirroring also applies to body language you can use for more effective negotiation skills. It is a powerful way to establish and strengthen rapport. Mirroring is behavior that copies someone else during communication with them – in displaying similar postures, gestures, or tone of voice. It may include imitating gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, pace of delivery, accent, attitude, choice of words, metaphors, or other features apparent in an interpersonal exchange. Phew! That’s a lot of opportunities for mirroring.

Mirroring happens very naturally when people are speaking. A listener will typically smile or frown or nod their head along with the speaker. So when you are negotiating with someone, seek to mirror their behavior.

But it needs to done sincerely. If you fake warm feelings toward someone by mirroring, they are likely to realize the dissonance at some point. So wait a few seconds before you imitate them, and do it in a natural way.

In future, try to remember mirroring with the people you deal with – your boss, your spouse or partner, your friends and your work colleagues – when you are negotiating with them.. Try to gauge whether extra rapport develops between you. Do it often enough and it will become automatic – and people will like you better, creating stronger interpersonal relationships as well as warmer feeling from the person you are negotiating with in business.

How to adapt to remote negotiating

Negotiating in most business situations has changed with the arrival of the pandemic. Much interaction has gone virtual. For a start, you have limited opportunities to observe the body language of other parties when you are in a Zoom meeting. Milan Prilepok, global leader of McKinsey’s negotiation services, makes several helpful suggestions for remote negotiations, including:

Arrange shorter, more frequent meetings. It is easier to program an hour of everyone’s time several times for remote meetings than to find a day or half day that you would have in face-to-face negotiations. And you don’t have to travel!

Prepare a detailed agenda. This is more difficult than previously due to remote discussions. Prilepok recommends writing your agenda in conjunction with your negotiation counterpart. He notes that both parties need to outline how the business outlook has changed due to the pandemic, and should explain how their organization is placed at present, and the future issues they believe they are likely to face.Arrange ahead to use video technology compatible for both parties, and familiarize yourself with the equipment usage. Sorting out technical hiccups is immensely frustrating for other parties, and reduce trust in your professionalism.

Set up communication back channel/s like Slack or texting so your team can compare notes discreetly. This helps you to shape the conversation, to focus on particular aspects, or so your team can coincide thoughts about taking a break. But don’t use the messaging channel integrated into the videoconferencing tool, because you may all-too-easily fall into the trap of sending your own team’s internal messages to the other party in error.

Allow time for breaks because changes to business conditions resulting from the pandemic may lead to discussion of new information that has surfaced during the negotiation.

At the conclusion of the virtual meeting, allow enough time to confirm agreed positions and to discuss any further contact.

In conclusion

Negotiation is a skill used throughout our lives, including in many professional capacities. If engaged in a situation where negotiation is required, then follow the above tips that relate to clearly communicating your intent, being inquisitive, being prepared, listening, and reading cues, while also persevering through the potentially long-winded negotiation process. Sharpening these skills and adhering to them will provide you with a strong advantage when you intend to reach a mutual agreement

Further reading

This WikJob article may also give you further insights on negotiation skills, especially in relation to your own job.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from

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