The ability to negotiate successfully is a crucial skill, especially in the business world.
Good negotiators are looked upon very favourably by employers and their peers, as they can get great results.
The business world is not the only place we negotiate, however. Even if you don’t know it, you’ve almost certainly been in a negotiation before – perhaps discussing a pay rise or even deciding what movie to see with your partner.
Working in employment law, I was called on to negotiate in many different situations. Sometimes it was working out a settlement when a person had been dismissed, other times it was trying to keep a person’s job in difficult circumstances. I certainly developed my negotiation skills in the role!
One quick disclosure before we begin, the book I mention below is an affiliate link meaning if you decide to purchase a copy, Downtown Money may receive a small commission.
Lets get started! Here are my top tips for how you can be a successful negotiator.
Ten Tips on How to Become a Master Negotiator
#1: Work out your negotiation style and play to your strengths
There are many different types of negotiators out there, and they can all be very successful.
The key is to find out what kind of negotiation style suits you, and then use it to your advantage – that way you will come across more confident and authentic when negotiating. Not everybody needs to be a tough and aggressive negotiator, oftentimes quieter, collaborative negotiators get just as good results. The key is to play to your strengths.
On the other hand, being aware of your negotiation style also means that you can be aware of your weaknesses and take steps to address them.
For example, sometimes collaborative mediators can give too much ground when negotiating, whereas assertive mediators may sometimes cause a good deal to fall through because they won’t budge.
You can take a test here to determine your negotiation style.
#2: Do your homework
One of the most important things to be successful in a negotiation is to come into it prepared.
Knowing what you are talking about is absolutely critical – making errors or being lost for words will make you look weak and unprofessional so prepare as much as you can.
I don’t like to have a script or prepare for exact questions, as negotiations are very fluid and things can change rapidly. Often, you might cover very different ground than you were expecting so I prefer to prepare more broadly.
If you do get absolutely stuck during the negotiation, try not to let any panic show. A simple statement like, ‘my apologies, I don’t have that information however if it is critical I can send it through later’ is best.
#3: Work out what your interest is
One of the biggest traps that new mediators often fall into is becoming welded to their position rather than negotiating with their interest in mind.
For example, in employment law, a client might want a $20,000 settlement for an unfair dismissal. However, it is worth asking more questions to find out why they want that particular amount – probably, it is because they need at least a few months’ worth of living expenses while they look for a new job.
In this case, your interest is getting your client to be financially secure.
With this in mind, when an alternative proposition is presented – for example, the employer is able to re-employ the person at a different site – you will be able to respond.
Harvard Medical School has released a helpful worksheet to help you prepare for a negotiation.
#4: Always know your BATNA
Probably the best-known book on negotiation is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury. This book coined the term ‘BATNA’ or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.
Essentially, it is your fallback position if the negotiation fails.
For example, imagine you are selling your house and you have two offers on the table. One is for $300k and the other is for $350k. During your negotiations with the $350k bidder, you have a strong BATNA as you can fall back on the other offer.
You would be surprised how many people go into a negotiation without knowing this crucial detail. Knowing your BATNA ensures that you have something to measure offers against, and protects you from accepting a deal that is not in your interests, or rejecting a deal that was a good offer.
Generally, if you have a strong BATNA you should tell the other side about it however if you have a weak or non-existent one, its best to keep it to yourself.
#5: Be optimistic
Another common trap to fall into is being too modest with your offers, especially early on in a negotiation.
You should always be optimistic and start with a high (but not ludicrous) offer.
If you don’t, the other side will likely think that you are weak and probably that there’s a reason you’re desperate to close the deal. Plus, starting too low doesn’t give you enough room to come down as the negotiation progresses.
The other key to being optimistic is to make the offer with confidence.
Make it seem like you really believe it is a great offer that the other side should accept. I’ve had offers I thought were pie-in-the-sky accepted off the bat. It’s always worth giving it a try!
#6: See things from the other side’s perspective
When negotiating, it is easy to get very caught up in your own position and why you need to reach an agreement.
It’s not uncommon for new negotiators to go into a negotiation with tunnel vision of their side, what they want to get from the deal and why they want to get it. Not only can this smack of desperation, but it can also lead to you missing opportunities or crucial information.
By understanding what the other side’s perspective is, you can use this to your advantage.
For example, in employment law, a company might have various reasons for wanting a negotiation to succeed before a case goes to trial. Firstly, trials are expensive and time-consuming. Secondly, they might be worried about their reputation if certain matters are put on the public record.
Knowing and understanding this perspective definitely helps you to negotiate better.
#7: Think outside the box
There is a famous story about two people who were arguing about the last orange in a shop. Eventually, they decided that the fairest thing to do was to cut the orange in half, which they did. When they got back to their respective houses, the first person peeled their half and ate the inside, throwing away the peel. The second person grated the rind to use in a cake, and threw away the fruit.
This story demonstrates why it is worth exploring ‘outside the box’ ideas.
Often in negotiations it is easy to get fixated on money above all else, but as mentioned earlier, there can be other offers too.
For example, in my line of work, things including references, re-employment and confidentiality agreements can all be non-monetary things to offer. Frequently, these can be what makes an agreement happen.
#8: Don’t take the negotiation personally
One of the biggest pitfalls of negotiating is taking a personal dislike to the other side.
Not only does this make the negotiation very unenjoyable for everybody, but it usually leads to both sides digging their heels in and refusing to budge. This is pretty much always terrible for the negotiation.
In business, it is worth remembering that the other side is also a person who is doing their job.
Not many people go into a negotiation wanting to be nasty to someone else, but they are also trying to get the best deal for them, just like you.
Try to have a thick skin and concentrate on the deal, not the person negotiating.
#9: Listen, listen, listen
When we think of negotiating, we probably think of ourselves talking and making arguments in the hopes of facilitating a great deal.
In reality, great negotiation skills are often more about listening than they are about talking.
When negotiating, you should always listen carefully to what the other side is saying, and look out for hints and clues that you can use.
For example, you might hear more information about what the other side is trying to achieve with the deal, or perhaps they might give away that they have a week BATNA. Therefore, it is definitely worth listening closely.
One good strategy is to use active listening, and summarize what has been said back to them. It checks your understanding, and also makes the other side feel like you’re really listening to them.
Forbes released a helpful article about how to listen more effectively here.
#10: Know when to walk away
It is always disappointing when you have invested a lot of time and effort into a negotiation and it doesn’t end in a satisfactory outcome.
Maybe the other side is unreasonable or they just don’t have the capacity to meet your demands. In these cases, it can be better just to walk away rather than to make a bad deal that you might regret later.
Don’t make the mistake of being so set on reaching a deal that you make a bad one.
In addition, the other side will sense your confidence from the outset when you are aware that no deal is often better than a bad deal.
This gives you strength during the negotiation.
In addition, it is not unusual for you to get a call later on, asking you to reopen the negotiations or reconsidering your final offer.
Now go out there and use these top ten skills to become a master negotiator and close some deals!
Let us know a deal you recently closed and how the negotiations went!
Georgie Mack is an Australian blogger who loves history, budget travel and red wine (preferably all on the
same trip). When she’s not writing about her adventures, gallivanting about the world or researching her
next trip, Georgie works as a lawyer, although she’s currently on a year-long career sabbatical living in