Negotiations can be hard to navigate—but with the right skills and techniques, you can close deals like a pro. Learn techniques to prepare for a negotiation, plus skills to navigate tough conversations when you’re at the bargaining table.
As an adult in the workplace, negotiation is the only (acceptable) way to get what you want. But it can feel intimidating, and studies suggest that 40% of people actively avoid negotiation in their daily lives.
The solution? Be prepared. Negotiation is a skill like any other—so with a bit of practice, you can build your confidence and navigate tough conversations with ease.
Negotiation is a type of discussion that helps two or more parties reach an agreement. During a negotiation, people work to find an acceptable solution that meets their needs. This often involves some sort of compromise or “give and take,” in which each person makes concessions for the benefit of everyone involved.
Negotiations aren’t always about big business deals. They can be as small as deciding who should take notes during a meeting, or as big as finalizing a company merger. As a team leader, you probably negotiate on a daily basis. For example, you might use negotiations to:
Ask for a higher salary and better benefits.
Secure funds for a project.
Persuade stakeholders to prioritize your team’s work.
Discuss software pricing with a new IT vendor.
Decide which deliverables to include (or exclude) in a project.
Negotiation skills are the abilities and techniques that help you achieve a beneficial outcome during a negotiation. They’re typically soft skills—in other words, interpersonal skills that help you interact with others. That’s because negotiating is all about empathy and communication. During effective negotiations, you need to:
Understand their needs.
Clearly express what you want.
Negotiation skills can be divided into two main groups: techniques to prepare for a negotiation, and the skills you use during the negotiation itself. We cover each type below.
Negotiations can be intimidating, especially if you’re not sure what to expect. But while you can’t predict exactly how the other person will react, you can plan your own approach and ensure you have the information you need for a successful negotiation.
Here’s how to prepare:
Concrete goals help guide your negotiation—so you know what you’re advocating for and when you should walk away from the table. To set goals for your negotiation, ask yourself the following questions:
What’s the best possible outcome? Aiming high during a negotiation improves your chances of getting what you want. Think of the best outcome you can reasonably expect. For example, aim for the highest possible salary range for your title and experience when negotiating a job offer.
What’s the worst outcome I’m willing to accept? Most negotiations involve a bit of give and take, so keep in mind that your best-case scenario probably won’t happen. That said, it’s important to identify your bottom line so you know when to walk away from the bargaining table. For example, write down the most you’d be willing to pay for new IT software before negotiating costs with a vendor.
What happens if we can’t agree? Not all negotiations are successful. In case you can’t agree, determine your best alternative to a negotiated agreement—also known as your BATNA. A BATNA helps you understand your alternatives so you know when to accept or decline an agreement. For example, imagine you’re trying to sell your car to a friend for $10,000. If negotiations fail, you can still save $6,000 on a new car if you trade your old one into the dealership. In this case, your BATNA means you shouldn’t sell your car for less than $6,000.
Your angle is your negotiation strategy. It’s the doorway you’ll enter the negotiation through and the key points you’ll use to convince the other party to make a deal. Picking an angle beforehand helps you prepare what to say—so you can negotiate intentionally rather than just reacting to the other party’s approach.
For example, imagine you’re trying to convince executives to fund a new website infrastructure project. For this negotiation, your angle could be the cost savings those infrastructure improvements will generate. By improving how your website is built, you prevent bugs and spend less time and money fixing them.Read: Strategy vs. tactics: What's the difference?
Your negotiation style is the way you speak and act during a negotiation. Identifying your style helps you understand how others might view your behavior. Then, you can use that perspective to improve your performance.
To identify your negotiation style, think of how you’ve behaved during past negotiations. Are you usually afraid to ask for what you want, or do you tend to push too hard? Do you only consider the benefits of a situation, or do you focus too much on potential pitfalls? The most important thing here is to be real with yourself. Nobody is a perfect negotiator, and understanding your personal roadblocks help you make a plan to improve your communication skills. For example, you could work on your assertiveness if you tend to be timid, or practice active listening if you tend to push too hard.
When you know who you’re negotiating with, you feel a lot more prepared when you sit down at the negotiating table. If you haven’t met the other party before, do a bit of background research to figure out who they are, what they’re interested in, and what their bargaining constraints might be. This could be as simple as a quick LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Google search. For example, you could research typical salary offerings at a company before negotiating a job offer.
It’s equally important to understand your relationship with the other party. This helps guide your negotiating tactics—especially if you want to build or maintain a relationship in the future.
Here are some questions to consider:
To your knowledge, what can the other party bring to the negotiating table? What constraints do they have? What do they stand to gain or lose from this negotiation?
If you’ve worked with this stakeholder before, how have negotiations gone with them in the past?
What kind of relationship do you want with them in the future?
Who holds the most power in this negotiation, and how might that affect the negotiation process?
What outcome would they perceive as most beneficial, and why?
It’s easy to feel rushed during a negotiation—like you need to make a decision quickly or you’ll lose your chance for a successful outcome. But when you feel pressured to make a deal fast, you’re more likely to agree on a solution that doesn’t meet your needs.
Before your negotiation, document when you actually need to make an agreement or find a solution. This helps remove some of that time pressure during the decision-making process, so you can step back and make sure you’re agreeing to the right thing.
Here’s an example: Imagine you’re negotiating the terms of an IT contract, and your company needs to find an IT contract agency by the end of this month. If your negotiation takes place early- to mid-month, you don’t have to reach an agreement right away—you have time to pause the discussion and confer with your team as needed.Read: How to create a project timeline in 7 steps
You’ve done the prep work—now it’s time to buckle down and close the deal. These are the skills and tactics to flex once you actually hop on a call or sit down at the negotiating table.
In negotiations, it pays to treat people well. Showing respect helps build trust, develop rapport, and signal to the other party that you care about their point of view. When you’re respectful, it encourages the other party to do the same—making them more likely to listen to your proposals.
Here are some ways to bring respect to the bargaining table:
Practice active listening in order to understand the other person’s point of view.
Pay attention to your nonverbal communication—for example, make eye contact and nod to show you’re listening.
Use your emotional intelligence to understand and empathize with fellow negotiators.
Build rapport by introducing yourself and asking how the other person is doing.
Separate the person from the problem. Remember that outside this negotiation, they’re just a normal human being with their own struggles and experiences.
Questions help in three big ways:
They help you understand the other person’s proposal.
They show that you won’t settle for a less-than-effective solution.
They draw out why the other party wants to make a deal.
This last benefit is a tricky but important one. Posed the right way, questions can remind the other party why they want to work with you and incentivize them to make a deal.
For example, imagine you’re working with a vendor to buy analytics software for your team. To build their motivation for a deal, you could ask something like: “There are lots of analytics tools out there. How is your product different from your competitors?” By asking this question, you’re reminding the vendor of their competition and motivating them to fight for your business.
In every negotiation, there tends to be an eager party and a reluctant one. It’s better to be the reluctant party because it gives you more negotiating power. When you’re reluctant, the other person is essentially pitching their proposal to you—meaning they’re more likely to make concessions in order to bring you onboard.
By playing the role of the reluctant party (even if you’re not actually reluctant), you can prompt the other person to play the role of the eager party. Here’s how to do it:
Use body language. Eager parties tend to be tense and sit forward in their chairs. Instead, try to stay relaxed and sit back from the table. If you’re on a virtual call, drop your shoulders and lean back against your chair.
Speak slowly and softly. Eager people tend to speak quickly and loudly. Do the opposite to signal that you’re not raring to make a deal.
Qualify your language. This demonstrates that you’re not 100% committed. For example, say “If we could do X” instead of “When we do X.”
Be assertive. Assertiveness shows that you won’t settle for a solution that doesn’t meet your needs. You don’t need to speak loudly or aggressively to be assertive—you just need to stand up for your perspective in a calm and confident way.
Walk away. If you're able, pause the conversation to show that you’re not in a hurry. This can boost the other party’s sense of urgency and trigger them to make concessions they wouldn't otherwise make.
Assumptions can complicate even the most simple negotiation. To keep things simple, stick to the facts. Try not to assume anything about the other person’s motivations, what they might be thinking or feeling about the situation, or potential future scenarios that aren’t backed up by data. Assumptions are a normal part of being human, but a bit of self awareness can help you stay grounded and simplify the negotiation process.Read: The ladder of inference: How to avoid assumptions and make better decisions
Finally, remember that effective negotiations are about collaboration. Your goal isn’t to get everything you want and give the other person nothing—instead, you want to work together to find the best solution for everyone. In that spirit, here are some problem-solving techniques to help you explore options during the “give and take” process of negotiation:
“Expand the pie”—extend what you’re offering to accommodate the other party.
Suggest alternative solutions that might be a win-win for everyone.
Trade favors—agree to honor specific priorities from the other party.
Offer compensation to recognize where sacrifices have been made.
Find common ground—identify values you share with the other party.
Negotiation is a key part of collaboration. We need disagreements to push back on things that aren’t working and come up with new solutions to old problems. That means when you have the skills you need to negotiate confidently, you can bring your teamwork to the next level.
If you’re looking for more ways to improve your collaboration, learn how project management software can help your team stay connected—no matter where you are.Improve team collaboration with Asana