It’s easy to only think about negotiation when big events arise like when you got a new job or land a promotion and begin talks about your compensation and benefits package. But in reality, we are always negotiating, all day, every day.
Practice negotiation skills every day and you won’t feel as much pressure when faced with bigger negotiations. Big or small, negotiations require the same tactics or skills. Here are some everyday negotiation skills you should practice.
1. Listen Actively
Carefully listen to what the other party is saying. Find out their views and motivations, instead of jumping in with what you have to say or responding to what you assume they want or need. Maintain eye contact, maintain good posture as you listen. Active listening will not only provide you with valuable information that will give your discussion direction, but it is also likely to encourage the other party to listen as well when it is your turn to speak.
It’s not enough to just paraphrase what the other person is saying. Identify key terms that your opponent or colleague is raising and repeat them in a technique called mirroring. Mirroring is an excellent technique for building rapport as it lets the other party know you are paying attention and considering the views they are expressing.
3. Master your Voice
The right tone and inflection of your voice will deliver your argument and point of view as intended. If you use an overly assertive voice, you may be perceived as immovable and unwilling to compromise, which, in the end, is counterproductive. On the other hand, an accommodating, thoughtful tone, encourages collaboration. Go for something in-between - straightforward but soothing - when you want to use when communicating terms or points that are dealbreakers for you. Use an upward vocal inflection when asking a question to convey interest or curiosity. Speak with a downward inflection when you are conveying facts and dealbreakers.
4. Ask the Right Questions
Posing questions that will get you helpful answers is key to getting ahead in negotiations. The right questions will alter the power dynamic to your force and encourage the other party to consider your position. You want to stay away from closed-ended, yes/no questions that leave no room for discussion. The same goes for leading questions which will make the other party feel pushed to respond in a specific way. Instead, ask calibrated questions, such as how and why, for a detailed response that encourages discussion.
Acknowledge and give voice to your negotiating partner’s feelings and views through labeling. “It seems that……” is the structure of a good label. These labels let the other person know that you have understood their points and the motivations behind those points, and/or, gives them the opportunity to correct your understanding if you aren't quite understanding their motivations. Avoid labels with first-person pronouns like “I think”. Such labels give the other party the impression that you are only looking out for yourself and making your views and interests a priority.
6. Draw on Silence
Mirroring and labeling with both have maximum effect when followed by some silence. Allow a few moments to pass before chiming in. It lets the other party know you are allowing the discussed points to settle in before offering a response or counterargument. Uncomfortable silences will more than likely arise during your negotiation, and more so where either party throws in an outrageous anchoring bias or an ultimatum. Don’t rush to fill these silences. Remain silent for a few moments and it will effectively defuse the moment.
7. Present Multiple Offers Simultaneously
Present several equivalent offers at once, as opposed to presenting one offer at a time. This strategy reduces the chances of reaching an impasse. Even if the other party were to reject all your offers, you can ask which offer they liked best and work towards improving it, so you don't have to start over at the beginning. With some brainstorming, all parties involved can finally agree on an option that works for everyone. In order to be able to do this, you should define your BATNAs (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and have them in the back of your mind before you begin your negotiating. Present these alternatives as counteroffers for final-offer talks.
8. Play Reluctant
In most negotiations, there will be a reluctant party and an eager party. By taking on the role of the reluctant party, you may be able to force the other party to be the eager one. Use your body language, manipulate your voice accordingly and ensure everything you say is qualified and subdued, with no excitement. Negotiations happen every day, inside and outside board rooms. Do a lot of practice and over time, with these and other negotiation skills, you can be a master negotiator no matter who you are up against at the negotiation table.
Heidi Souerwine, CMP, is the Executive Director of ASAP and manages content strategy for ASAP and its portfolio of products, including the APC, EA Summit, EA Ignite, and PACE. Prior to moving to Maine and joining the ASAP team in 2017, she spent 15 years in Washington, DC managing training and events from 10 – 10,000 attendees for international membership associations, non-profits, and the federal government. Heidi is passionate about needs-based program development, purposeful event design, and cultivating active community and engagement.