5 Ways to Improve Your Negotiation Skills. How to Find Out the Secret Side of Negotiations

Rohan Mathew

When you find yourself in an oppositional situation where a resolution seems impossible, you have not explored all your options yet. Invariably, there is a way forward to end a deadlock if you have the necessary negotiation skills.

For alternative dispute resolution (ADR) professionals, negotiation is a primary skill as it forms the basis of most ADR outcomes. While you might not be a natural at negotiating, there are ways to hone your abilities and learn to become a crack negotiator that everyone turns to when they need help.

Here are some tips to improve your negotiation skills and some secrets as shared by top professionals:

Know yourself and your opponent

According to many top books on negotiation, you should approach this situation like a sports player. Think of yourself as a boxer. Before a bout, boxers study their opponent in great detail. They look for the other boxer’s strengths and weaknesses to know how to counter those strengths and take advantage of any weaknesses. They also examine their abilities to see where their strongest points lie and what they can do to overcome any weaknesses.

During the first round of a boxing match, both pugilists spend time getting a feel for each other, sparring and taking a few jabs. In later rounds, a boxer goes in for a final punch that will knock their opponent down.

Use a similar approach during negotiations. Unfortunately, you will not have as much time to study your opponent ahead of time as a boxer can. However, negotiators who learn to read people within their first few interactions know what to expect during the process and how to adapt their style. Negotiators who understand their own approach, strengths, and weaknesses can adjust their strategy.

You will not always win

Few negotiations end in an outright win for one party. Indeed, most are compromises, where both parties claim a partial victory after making some sacrifices. Therefore, entering a negotiation like a competition where the opposition needs to be annihilated will get you nowhere. This is an egotistical approach that will not yield the desired result.

Experts recommend that you approach negotiation much like you would haggling a price with a vendor. Start a negotiation by telling your opponent what you would like in an ideal scenario, understanding that it is unlikely to end this way. Keep the lowest point to which you are prepared to negotiate in your mind and do not reveal it. For example, you might go in with the idea to get half a million dollars for a client at a minimum. Start negotiations by insisting that you want a million dollars, so there is room for discussion and compromise.

Let your opponent talk

Your negotiating opponent wants to put their point across to you before getting to the nitty-gritty of a resolution. Allow them to do so by encouraging them to speak and asking open-ended questions. The more people talk, the more they give away. This could be an ideal time to note information that can be used against the other party during the latter part of negotiations. Listen actively to what your opponent says and engage with what you hear by asking follow-up or clarity-seeking questions.

Having a captive audience makes an opposing party feel powerful. They have an illusion of situational control, thinking that they are in charge of the negotiations because they are doing all the talking. The reverse is true as you are guiding the discussion by appearing to give some power away to your opponent.

Walk away when necessary

Negotiations do not need to be completed in a single session. If you gain new information that could affect your negotiation goal, ask to suspend the session and reconvene later.

Good negotiators also know when to completely walk away from negotiation because it will not yield a mutually beneficial resolution. Make it clear from the outset that you are prepared to walk away and seek alternative relief to resolve the dispute. When your opponent feels that you will continue negotiating no matter what, it makes them think they have the negotiating power. They will take advantage of this by making outlandish demands or offers.

Non-verbal communication

You say a lot, even when you are not speaking. This is called non-verbal communication and relates to facial expression, voice tone and pitch, hand gestures, body language, and eye contact. If you appear defeated, the opponent will take advantage of it.

As a negotiator, be confident in your approach. Use neutral facial expressions so no one can tell what you are thinking. Do not shout or speak with too much emotion as it makes your opponent think you are desperate for a resolution. Maintain eye contact throughout so you do not appear intimidated. Your wardrobe choice is also a form of non-verbal communication. Dress for success to boost your confidence.