The key negotiation skills managers need, and how to develop them

two women using laptop in boardroom meeting

From forming solid relationships with colleagues to initiating tactical negotiations, we explore the vital qualities of a successful manager.

business woman leads discussion

Whether handling procurement activity or communicating with stakeholders internally, effective negotiation skills are a must-have for the modern manager. When it comes to these important workplace discussions, many people find it tough to be assertive. New hires, sales prospects and long-term clients all require dextrous, sometimes authoritative, communication and management, and so negotiation skills are essential in order to maintain relationships and create value on a day-to-day basis.

The idea of improving negotiation skills can be daunting to a lot of people and so they put off taking the time to sharpen up what’s needed behind the bargaining table. And while the initial idea may seem intimidating, there’s still no need to fear it in the workplace. There are plenty of manageable strategies that you can employ in order to get yourself negotiating with the best of them.

Here, we’ll present the key skills all managers need in their arsenal, as well as how to develop them to get the best out of your dealings through the working day.

What are some essential negotiating skills?

men shaking hands

Build a rapport

Small talk can so often be a formality or something to shy away from, but before negotiations can begin properly, engaging in it can be beneficial. Whoever you’re discussing things with, it may be a more productive conversation in which an agreement is reached more effectively if you spend a few minutes getting to know each other. The same goes for discussions over email; a brief introductory phone call can make all the difference.

Actively listen

Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next while the other party is talking, listening carefully to what is being said is essential. When they have finished talking, paraphrase what you believe was being stated in order to ensure you are on the same page. Take heed of what’s behind the message, as there may be implied meanings and difficult feelings inherent in what they’re saying. You might be able to acquire valuable information, and the other party may mimic these listening skills, too.

Problem analysis

Those who are effective at negotiation have the ability to analyse a problem and determine the interests of each party in the negotiation. Proper problem analysis identifies the issue, the interested parties and the outcome goals. For example, in an employer and employee contract negotiation, the problem or area where parties disagree might be in the salary or benefits that are being offered. Identifying the issues for both sides can help to find a compromise for all involved.

The anchoring bias

There is plenty of research out there that shows that the first number mentioned in a negotiation plays a huge role in the negotiation that follows. Avoid being on the end of the anchoring bias by making the first offer and trying to anchor the talk in the direction you want it to take. If this isn’t possible, then have alternatives in mind and be prepared to bring them up as needed.

Look for the tradeoffs

In certain negotiations, all involved can find themselves making concessions and demands on a specific single issue. If there are multiple issues involved, these can be used to get more of what you want. For example, try to identify issues that your counterpart cares about but that you don’t hold much value in. Once this is in your sights, propose making a concession on that issue in exchange for a concession from them that you value highly.

girl signs form with female colleague in office

What can you do to develop these kinds of skills?

Be proactive

If you’ve decided to take part in a formal training programme, then passively taking notes hoping you’ll retain what is being said isn’t going to help. How do these concepts relate to your own negotiations, and can you apply them to practices going forward? If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask for concrete, real-world examples, and take note of the concepts that keep cropping up again and again: research has shown that we have the opportunity to abstract lessons from two or more experiences. Thus, more proactive students tend to retain information when concepts are repeated.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Proper negotiation training might take you out of your comfort zone, especially if instructors have their students participate in role-play simulations in part to expose the flaws that are then needed to be worked on. However, this does not recognise a personal shortcoming and so, shouldn’t be viewed as troubling. The discomfort that results is a necessary step on the way to improving your negotiation skills; it will put you in a position to adopt better patterns of thinking that you can apply to your own negotiations.

business woman discussing with three colleagues in office

Preparation is key

Correct preparation for negotiation requires more than simply exploring what the other party’s wants and needs are; you should take the time to learn more about them and their background. If you don’t prepare effectively, you leave yourself open to unnecessary concessions, overlook real value and end up walking away from what could be beneficial agreements. If you have to set aside a number of hours every day to do your research and homework, then so be it.

Create a negotiation list of tasks to complete, for example. If you haven’t gone through formal training, then role-play the negotiation with a friend, family member or colleague. As part of this research, always determine other potential agreements, in the likelihood that you’re faced with providing alternatives during the discussion.

Practice makes perfect

When your training or research ends, the process of learning how to negotiate is not complete. It’s imperative that these new strategies become intuitive over time. As you prepare to transfer these skills to the workplace, think back on what you have learned and see what you can apply to other things, both at work and at home. Using these new practices in other applications can help them to become second nature, where they phase out older patterns of thinking.

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