5 Key Negotiation Skills

Negotiating occurs in everyday life, but nowhere is it more critical than in business. Poor negotiation can ruin a company just as quickly as losing key customers. While most negotiating skills can seem like common sense, it's not uncommon to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and end up ignoring your basic instincts. Emotion, luck and magic play no part in a successful negotiation. It takes astuteness, homework, unwavering discipline and street smarts. These keys will unlock your ability to get the best deal possible in the majority of circumstances.

Below are five key skills to optimising any negotiation process.

1. Know Your BATNA.

In both integrative negotiation and adversarial bargaining, your best source of power is your ability and willingness to walk away and take another deal. Before arriving at the bargaining table, wise negotiators spend considerable time identifying their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA, and taking steps to improve it.

2. Negotiate the negotiation.

Don’t assume you’re both on the same page when it comes to determining when to meet, who should be present, what your agenda will be, and so on. Instead, carefully negotiate how you will negotiate in advance. Discussing such procedural issues will clear the way for much more focused talks.

3. Build Relationship.

Although it’s not always possible to engage in small talk at the start of a negotiation (particularly if you’re on a tight deadline), research shows that doing so can bring real benefits. You and your counterpart may be more collaborative and likely to reach agreement if you spend even just a few minutes trying to get to know each other. If you’re negotiating over email, an introductory phone call can make all the difference.

4. Active Listening.

Once you start the discussion, resist the common urge to think about what you’re going to say next while your counterpart is talking. Instead, listen carefully to their arguments, then paraphrase what you believe they said to confirm your understanding. Acknowledge any difficult feelings, like frustration, behind the message. Not only are you likely to acquire valuable information, but the other party may mimic your exemplary listening skills.

5. Ask The Right Questions.

You can gain more in integrative negotiation by asking lots of questions—ones that are likely to get helpful answers. Avoid asking “yes or no” questions and leading questions, such as “Don’t you think that’s a great idea?” Instead, craft neutral questions that encourage detailed responses, such as “Can you tell me about the challenges you’re facing at the minute?”.

Regardless of the deal any negotiation can throw a curveball, but your willingness to prepare the basics and to practice and master the skills above will nearly always set you apart from your counterpart. Like we said, business often swings in the momentum of negotiation. Deals can be won, lost, or worse, ruin your marketplace credibility. Always take time prepare for any negotiation, plan out your approach, and remember to utilise these 5 skills to give you a foot up in any situation!