Improving your Negotiating Skills: Tips learned in the Trenches

by David Wachtel

Improve your negotiating skills and learn what really interests people in a negotiation. Understand your negotiating style, and how to influence others who have differing styles.

At the beginning of sales or procurement negotiation skills training sessions, I ask students what makes them feel uncomfortable about negotiating. The answers generally are:

"I am afraid I won't get the best deal."

"I don't enjoy working with certain types of people."

"I am not always sure what needs to be accomplished in a particular negotiation and how to get there."

"I can get lost in the process. While getting bogged down in details, I lose track about what I really want to accomplish."

Here are some helpful tips to help you develop your negotiating skills:

Tip #1: Negotiating Skills aren't merely a series of compromises

Most people negotiate using a zero sum process. They determine what they want, raise that 10 or 15 percent, and then engage is a series of compromises to obtain to a result. The effort is on the position they take, and claiming as much of that position for themselves as possible. Their mission is not to get a satisfactory deal for both parties. It is to win. Many call that, "being a tough negotiator." It is extremely stressful.

The tendency is to negotiate from the viewpoint of positions. Most negotiators never really stop to ask why they want, what they want, or even consider why the other side is negotiating.

Fisher and Ury define skilled negotiating as "Back and forth communication where some interests are shared and some are opposed." The purpose of negotiating is seeing if you can get your interests achieved through an agreement. An interest is why you want something, not what you want. When negotiators start working from the standpoint of interests, they can begin to work with the other party to explore alternative solutions.

What I have found interesting is the number of students who find informing the other side why they want something uncomfortable. They compare it to showing their cards. Negotiating does not have to be arguing over who gets the most. At its best, negotiating skills involves two parties working to resolve a problem. The problem cannot be solved to everyone's satisfaction unless all parties comprehend it. Why the parties want something is where the process of problem solving begins.

Comprehending a negotiating process is important…but…

Tip #2: It is your people skills that can make the difference

  • First, you need to know how your behaviour affects others.
  • Next, understand that everyone has their unique preferred way of communicating and it may not be your way.
  • Effective skilled negotiators are those of us who can change their communication style to meet the needs of the listener.

At Hautacam Consulting, we utilize Inscape Publishing's DiSC© product. While DISC is not designed to assess negotiating skills, It is designed to describe a person's behaviour when their personality interacts with a selected environment, such as negotiating on behalf of your company or organization. Using this program, students identify their natural negotiating style and start to understand how others may view them. You begin to see why you may be more comfortable with one person and less so with another. It is easier to talk to people who have like/similar negotiating styles. We focus most of our time while learning styles to teach how to persuade people with less compatible styles.

The first step is to develop a level of understanding of the four DiSC© Dimensions of Behaviour attributes, and how they interact. They are:

  1. Dominant: Dominant people are good at making decisions. They desire to control their environment, and do so by solving problems and meeting challenges. They are very direct and they are good at telling. They are self-confident but can sometimes be seen as intimidating and arrogant. Questioning and listening does not come naturally to dominants. They tend to move toward goals without considering multiple solutions or outcomes. For that reason, others often view them as impatient and uncaring. They use a bottom line approach. They are good at stating why something will not work. As a result, they may be seen as negative. To dominants, results are much more important than how people feel.
  2. Influence: Like a person who is Dominant, influencers are good at telling but they use a less direct method. They want to convince and motivate you, rather than coerce you to do something. Rather than being task focused like a Dominant, they are focused on completing the task with people. Influencers see the possibilities in a plan or concept, rather than the pitfalls. At their best, they can be viewed as visionaries. The influencer may see the Dominant as "negative" and the Dominant may view the influencer as "unrealistic" or even "political". Both want to make the decision, and are leaders. Influencers like to make favourable impressions and want a relationship. They can appear to be impulsive and disorganized. Attention to detail is not an asset because they prefer to look at the bigger picture. Influencers are social, and usually know a lot of people. They want to get results, but their focus is on motivating people to get the results, together.
  1. Steadiness: Steadiness people, like influencers when looking at new ideas will see the positive aspects. Unlike the influencer, they do not like change even if it is positive. They see themselves as less powerful than their environment and feel that all will be well if everyone will just work harder, together, on the status quo. They are superb listeners, and consider things before responding. Like the influencer, they are focused on people. They are extremely dependable, solid team players. High Dominant and influence styles that negotiate with people who are in the Steadiness style have to be cautious as they like immediate responses. The Steadiness style likes to think before responding. They are very methodical, and reserved. They are opposites of dominants and influencers.
  2. Conscientious: Like Steadiness, they are introverted and reserved. But, like the dominant, they are task and control focused. When negotiating, your statements must be factual and have a point. They are perfectionists. Their approach is indirect, reserved, business-like, and diplomatic. Unless you can provide them with reasons supported by facts, they do not readily accept change. They believe that if people will follow processes and procedures, many problems will be solved and change becomes unnecessary. Facts and processes are most important and people are a secondary consideration.

An influencer, negotiating with a person who utilizes the conscientious style has to have accurate facts and support information. Detail is not a strong suit for influencers. Dominants have to have patience with the conscientious style, as dominants will desire to make a decision and get on with it. A limitation of the conscientious style is that in their zeal to get all the facts, they can appear to be indecisive.

Regardless of the intensity of one or two of the attributes that an individual may have, everyone possesses some of all of them. This is identified through the Classic Profile. This profile examines the intensity of each attribute in relation to the others. The negotiator gets a complete picture on how they tend to behave, and how to effectively communicate with different kinds of people. The Classic Profile includes an evaluation of how your style tends to behave in consideration of the following:

  • Emotions
  • Goals
  • Judging others
  • Influencing others
  • Value to an organization
  • Tendencies that can be overused
  • Behaviour under pressure
  • Fears
  • How to increase effectiveness

You may use one or several attributes less, because they feel uncomfortable. But to be most effective, learning how to use them when needed is an important chapter in developing your negotiation skills.

When people of different styles interact, it can be negative. The influencer, negotiating with a conscientious style makes a remark with a minor statistic about the quality of a product. It is questioned and cannot be supported. The steadiness style negotiating with a person in the dominant category wants to ponder answers to questions. While thinking, the dominant person begins to talk again, filling the silence, pushing for an answer or decision. An influencer, negotiating with a dominant will answer questions with a story or anecdote rather than using a shorter direct approach. All of these seemingly small things can become huge in the hands of skilled negotiator.

To maximize your negotiating skills, gain practice in not only recognizing the style of others, but also in fully understanding your own tendencies and being flexible when necessary is vital.

Being an effective communicator starts with being an outstanding listener…

Tip #3: The most potent negotiating skill is listening

You learn the interests of the other party through listening. Some styles are better at this than others, but the fact is that we are usually not good listeners. Most listen to reply, not to understand.

To illustrate this, consider the study that Dr. Albert Mehrabian, of UCLA, did on the ways we communicate when there is an incongruency / mismatch in communication:

  • Words: 7%
  • Tone of Voice: 38%
  • Body Language: 55%

Even good listeners are asking questions and trying to listen to the words. But when there's a incongruency words only comprise 7% of how we communicate. Communication is 93% non-verbal. It is no wonder that so much gets lost between the speaker's lips and our ears. Non-verbal communication is also important in determining the speaker's style.

Use questioning as the first step in learning the interests of the other party as you develop your effective negotiating skills. In order to be effective at asking questions, three things must take place:

  1. Understand where your questions are going. Most people find randomly asked questions to be unnerving and it makes them distrust you.
  2. Ask the other party if it is okay with them if you ask questions.
  3. Then tell them what information you want to know.

Use the three levels of listening to obtain information:

  1. Selective: we hear things that we believe are relevant.
  2. Responsive: this allows the other party know that you are, indeed, paying attention. It involves verbal and physical feedback, nodding, or asking, "Tell me more about that."
  3. Playback: restating what you think you heard and asking for confirmation. It is also beneficial to follow up with a confirming question. An example would be, "Have I gotten everything, or might there be something I missed?"

As you work through issues in the negotiation, playback can also be used as a "mini-close" making it more difficult for an issue to resurface later. "I missed that. When we talked earlier, we agreed on this. What did I miss? Do we need to talk about this some more so I can better appreciate its importance to you?"

Effective questioning skills and listening skills can provide solutions to the negotiation problem. By getting the other party to talk, and listening to their replies, a positive message is sent. This greatly enhances trust and keeps tension low. People will do business with you because you are perceived as:

  • Trustworthy
  • An adequate problem solver
  • Adding value to the relationship

Effectively seeking information through questioning skills and listening skills will help build these perceptions.

Tip #4: Develop a plan prior to negotiating

When I ask sellers or buyers on training skills sessions, I find that few people do any in-depth planning before negotiating. I am not referring to determining how much will be spent, how long to complete a project, or what their walk-away number might be. I am talking about detailed planning, which involves attempting to determine what the other side may want, and why.

Your plan should also include the following:

  • Try to establish the negotiating style of the other party (e.g. using a DiSC© style). This helps you think through how best to communicate and then go through the process of confirming if you were right. If you do not know the other party at all, you will have to make educated guesses and adjust as you go.
  • What are our/my interests? This is not what you want, but why. Make sure that you scrutinize all of your interests as there may be more than one.
  • What are the interests of the other side? A major part of the negotiation process is determining the other side's interests. This goes back to Fisher and Ury's definition of negotiations…where some interests are shared and some are in opposition. Opposing interests are what you negotiate.
  • What do I have that I can trade that is of lesser value to me and of higher value to the other side? In the give and take phase of the negotiation process, having considered these options ahead of time can make this less stressful. Those with lesser negotiating skillswill not have considered this, and will want to go through a series of positional compromises.
  • What are three options I can implement to move the negotiation from compromising to joint problem solving? These can all begin with, "What if we tried…?", or "What if we did this…?
  • What is the very least that is considered acceptable?

    You must establish:

What is our Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement? (BATNA)

This is vital to your negotiating skills development. You do not want to accept an outcome that is worse that what you may have done otherwise.

Your BATNA is what you can or might do if an agreement cannot be reached.

What you can accept in Step 6 has to be better than your BATNA. Otherwise, why negotiate?

Ask yourself what they other side's BATNA may be. Why are they negotiating with you? What is preventing them from doing it with someone else, or on their own?

Additional planning:

In the fall of 2004, Negotiator Magazine did a reader poll. One of the questions asked had to do with planning and it was revealed that as much as 40% of the time spent negotiating is internal. Sometimes, the most difficult part of planning and negotiating can be with your own team.

If you thought through in advance, you can compare where you are in the negotiation to your plan. You are also less likely to agree to an unacceptable outcome. If you find yourself getting lost in relation to your plan, you can caucus, take a time out, and rethink where you are.

Tip #5: Top 10 Factors for Successful Negotiating Skills

A professional acquaintance, Tony Nagle of A.G. Nagle Company, Inc., shared this list with me:

      1. Know what you want: The clearer you are on your interests and goals, the better your chance of success increases.
      2. Know the other side: Learn as much as you can about the people with whom you are going to be negotiating. Know their negotiating style (DiSC©), negotiation skills, their backgrounds, hopes, fears, aspirations, and their interests. Little things do not mean a lot, they can mean everything.
      3. Consider the timing and method of negotiations: Alter the game to win-win problem solving by negotiating skillfullly using interests, not positions.
      4. Prepare point by point: Negotiators who prepare will outperform those that do not.
      5. Offer benefits for accepting your offer: You are much more likely to close if you present the benefit…the "what's in it for them?" test.
      6. Frame your negotiation around one or two key points: Keep it as basic as possible by framing and reframing to keep things on track and reach agreements more efficiently.
      7. Know your BATNA: Your personal power comes from the ability to walk away if you are unable to reach an agreement. Effective negotiators not only know when to walk away, but also how to walk away leaving the relationship intact.
      8. Prepare options for mutual gain: Be creative. Find unique ways for both sides to get their interests met. "What if we tried this?"
      9. Listening is the most powerful negotiation skill: It will help you learn where your interests are shared with the other side, where they are in opposition, and get a satisfactory outcome.
      10. Use the power of the draft: Always put your negotiated agreements in writing.

Changing the way you think about negotiating (joint problem solving versus a series of compromises where one party may win and one may lose) is the first step towards leveraging your negotiating skills towards enjoying better results. Recognizing the reasons why people act the way they do, and having the ability to communicate to a broad range of behavioural styles offers the skilled negotiator the ability to be reach satisfactory outcomes more consistently. Following a process or strategy is fine, but understanding the styles of the people with whom you are negotiating, and changing your approach to communicate more effectively can be the key to success. Last, developing a plan in advance of the actual negotiation will give the negotiator more confidence, and lead to better and more consistent results.

David A. Wachtel is the president of Hautacam Consulting, Inc.

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6 of 7 people found the following comment useful:

Informative - 2013 Feb 5
Commentator: Jaral (Australia - Nothern Territory)

"thank you for such a great article with such useful information"

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14 of 16 people found the following comment useful:

INSIGHTFUL - 2007 Dec 15
Commentator: Teresa (Italy - Veneto)

"This article has explained at length how negotiation can be effective, and how it can become a win-win situation for both parties. It has equipped me with some skills that I have always overlooked."

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