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7 tips for improving your negotiation skills

by Fleur Iannazzo

When clients come to me for negotiation skills coaching, a significant number of them struggle to separate negotiation from ideas of fighting, argument and conflict.  The core of this is that many people – especially women – see negotiations as risky situations which threaten their relationships.  When you need to negotiate with your partner or employer – you may worry that asking for more could undermine your relationship.

To a great extent, this is a gendered problem – and is addressed in the excellent book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.  However, the concern about rupturing relationships through aggressive negotiation tactics is one that both men and women hold.

How you can protect your relationships and defend your interests in negotiations

Men and women can both benefit from techniques that Babcock and Laschever suggest.  Often you may have two goals in a negotiation – getting what you want out of the negotiation, and also maintaining the relationship with the person on the other side.  Below are seven ways you can do just this:

#1 – Reframe the struggle

If you go into a negotiation thinking of it like a fight – it’s very likely to increase your anxiety about the discussion.  Instead, try to think of it as a chance to share your ideas with the other side, and find out what their concerns and fears are.

#2 – Tell them what you want

You cannot read anyone’s minds, and neither can they read yours.  If someone doesn’t know what you want, they cannot give it to you.  When you walk into a café and order something to drink, you are quite specific.  Even if you are in a well-defined role as customer – the people in the café whose whole job it is to keep you happy and anticipate your desires – do not know if you prefer tea, coffee or decaf.  Do you want normal milk or an alternative?  Hot or cold?  Sugar?  Being as specific as possible helps others to meet your needs when they can.  And if they can’t, they may well offer you an alternative.  But you have to let them know what you want.

#3 – Work together

Take the time to find out about what motivates the other party in the negotiation.  Do they have other pressures (from bosses, budgets or partners) or desires that they want to resolve?  Discuss ways that you might be able to solve problems that affect both of you.

#4 – Don’t change how you normally behave

Sometimes we get the idea that we need to act aggressively, thump tables or general act in ways which we don’t think are our style.  If you feel forced to do this, it is far more likely to increase your apprehension about negotiation – and perhaps avoid it all together.  Instead, practice asking for what you want in your own words and in your own way.  This way, you don’t need to take on anyone else’s ‘tactics’ and stay genuine to your own way of being.

#5 – You are not responsible for the other side’s happiness

Whilst you have done some fact-finding about your counterpart’s desires and motivations – remember you are not responsible for them and their happiness.  Often, we over empathise with another person’s needs, and feel bad when we think we are denying them.  You are not responsible for their situation.  Trust the other negotiators to take care of themselves.

As Babcock and Laschever say: ‘Most people have no trouble saying no when they can’t or don’t want to do something, but are often eager to say yes if they can – and if they know what you want.’

#6 – Use emotion appropriately

Some people worry about becoming emotional in a negotiation.  Certainly, some emotions are contagious – for example if you walk into a room preparing for a fight, the other side might pick up on that and become defensive immediately.    Instead, use appropriate emotions – ones that will help you achieve your ends.  Communicating positive emotions – like cheerfulness, openness and optimism – can be a great way to put the other side at ease.  What’s more, people in a positive frame of mind are shown to be more creative in problem solving situations – which is what a negotiation is.

#7 – Disarm combative negotiators

Wherever possible, step to the side of your opposition.  Listen to their arguments and acknowledge their opinions.  If possible, agree with them when you can.  It is very hard to fight with someone who agrees with you.  This can be done without conceding your point – and you can move from being the enemy, to being on their side.  Remember, point #5 – you are not responsible for their happiness – but being listened to is very powerful.

These techniques might now always get you 100% of what you want – but they certainly take the combat stress out of negotiations and help you to preserve your important relationships.

I offer specialised one-on-one coaching to transform your negotiation skills over a series of 7 coaching sessions.  If you are interested, book in a free 30-minute chat with me to find out more.

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