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Want to be a good business negotiator? Make yourself an even more valuable asset for your employers by exploring and mastering these 8 negotiation skills!
Want to be an indispensable business professional—someone your company cherishes and relies on? Master the eight key business negotiation skills described below, and your employer will see you as a really valuable asset!
This article covers the following topics
What business negotiation is
Who businesses negotiate with
Bargaining zone negotiation skills
Listening and empathy negotiation skills
Negotiation skills for building consensus
Negotiation skills for closing deals
Diplomats, ambassadors, and other government negotiators hash out treaties, trade agreements, or truces with their counterparts in other countries. Business negotiators, by contrast, mainly work out deals with other company reps, vendors, or employees. Business and government negotiators often use the same negotiation skills in their day-to-day work, though their responsibilities are extremely different.
When you get right down to it, the goal of all business negotiation is profit: increasing and securing earnings from the work you do, for the company you work for, the enterprises you invest in, and so on. In best-case scenarios, business negotiators can strike fair deals where everyone profits equally. In less-than-ideal situations, business negotiators are needed to protect their associates from being exploited by employers or forced into bad-faith arrangements.
Often, companies will ask their most seasoned business negotiators to help with these sorts of business dealings:
Collective negotiations. Often between a company’s management and representatives from a labor union.
Employee contract negotiations. Such as non-solicitation agreements, non-compete clauses, etc.
Merger negotiations. Two companies work out how they’ll combine their assets, workforce, organizational structure, and product brands.
Supply chain/procurement negotiations. A company tries to reach agreements with suppliers/vendors about the cost, delivery speed, and quality of material shipments.
Internal negotiations. Here a professional builds consensus with colleagues or stakeholders about a certain business strategy, decision, or transaction.
Sales negotiations. Here a business professional closes a deal with a client or customer over the sale of a certain product or service.
Whatever form or shape your company’s negotiations take, you’ll need to master these skills if you want to be a great business negotiator
Now let’s take a look at 7 negotiation skills that will make you a valuable asset.
The first two skills we’ll look at are related to so-called “bargaining zones”. This is the realm between what you can concede at the negotiating table and what you must insist on. The first big bargaining zone skill is client-negotiator communication, that is, getting the client to clearly explain the deal they want you to close while setting realistic expectations for them. With this skill, you’ll know exactly what terms, goals, and proposals you’ll be negotiating, and how important each one is.
Once you know what your upcoming negotiation is about, you’ll need bargaining zone skills that let you measure how important each negotiation goal is. One way to do this is to sort all your negotiating goals into a priority matrix like the one below.
Priority matrix for outlining your negotiation’s bargaining zone
Negotiation goals that are important and must not be bargained away
Negotiation goals that are important, but can be bargained away as a last-minute compromise.
Negotiation goals that aren’t important, but that clients won’t want you to bargain away.
Negotiation goals that aren’t important and can be bargained away as an early, casual compromise.
Once you know how important each goal is, you’ll know what you should work on and prioritize during the upcoming negotiation.
The next two skills involve hearing and understanding your counterparts across the table. First, you’ll need listening skills that let you grasp and remember information the other party shares with you. Of these skills, active listening is super important. By mastering this skill, you can help negotiators explain their thoughts and goals better by giving them space to respond and asking them polite questions that encourage them to talk more.
Empathy, specifically, a thoughtful, measured empathy, lets you understand the goals and desires of your counterpart across the table . One very useful empathy-related communication skill is emotional awareness, where you pay attention to a person’s body language, tone of voice, and behavior to see if they’re happy, agitated, etc. Other empathy-focused techniques may have you imagine yourself in the place of the person you’re negotiating with, and then use that perspective to anticipate their tactics.
The next skill we’ll look at speaks to the ability to find common ground. To have business negotiations where both sides are better off in the end, negotiators need to trust their counterparts. Negotiation skills that let you find common ground are a key way to build this trust. The first “common-ground” negotiation skill you should master is building rapport with your counterparts, through polite body language, friendly tones of voice, establishing commonalities, etc.
Sometimes you’ll negotiate with a client or professional who clearly distrusts you. Alternatively, you might disagree with the proposals or suggestions made by the other negotiator. In such tense negotiating scenarios, it’s easy to offend the other party by accident and cause the negotiation to fall apart. To keep that from happening, master the skill of using tactful communication that won’t offend the other party, but still lets you express your disagreement. The key to tactful communication is using non-judgemental language that doesn’t imply the other party’s proposal is greedy or unreasonable (even if it is greedy and unreasonable).
Another useful skill for building rapport during negotiations is the art of making tactical concessions. Never let the other party in the negotiation walk all over you. At the same time, though, softening one of your demands or accepting a demand the other party makes can give your fellow negotiators a sense of accomplishment and make them more willing to compromise later on
Sometimes, negotiations just don’t go well. The person you’re negotiating with is rude, or paranoid, keeps trying to sucker you into bad deals, makes promises they can’t keep, etc. In situations like these, canceling the negotiation is much better than agreeing to a proposal that’s unprofitable or exploitative. This raises the question: when should you walk away from the negotiating table?
To avoid getting suckered into a bad deal, learn to keep an eye out for “warning signs” that hint the party you're negotiating with isn’t acting in good faith. For example,
The other negotiator refuses to or evades answering your questions.
The other negotiator doesn’t quote specific numbers about the values, costs, or profits of significant transactions.
The other negotiator is trying to rush the deal and seal it too quickly.
The terms the other negotiator proposes are different from what's listed in the contract document.
The other negotiator proposes arrangements that are unethical or outright illegal.
If you spot these or other similar warning signs, put the contract negotiations on hold and give yourself space to do extra research and decide if this deal will actually benefit you or your company in the long run.
To put negotiations on hold (for instance, by asking for a recess so you can consult with your clients), you need to be assertive and polite. Never imply that the other party in the negotiations is being unreasonable, but firmly reject any attempts to pressure you into a half-baked agreement.
Once you master the art of business negotiation, make sure your employers know you’ve got the skill. During job interviews where recruiters ask about your work history, mention moments in the past where you resolved a workplace dispute, settled on a price with a customer, or worked out a compromise with an employee. You might even get to show off your negotiation skills to employees when you (politely) negotiate for salaries, promotions, extra benefits, and so on.
According to this CNBC article, 58 percent of American job/promotion seekers accept the initial job offer they receive without trying to negotiate it, but 85 percent of Americans who reply to their job offers with a counter-offer get at least some of what they ask for.
Portfolio websites and job boards like LinkedIn are also good ways to promote your negotiation skills. On your profile for these websites, list specific negotiation skills you have, mention past negotiations of yours that went well, and copy/paste testimonials from old employees and clients about how much your negotiations helped.
To learn more about how to promote your negotiation skills with new employees, check out Career.io’s Resume Builder service.
Professionals who can negotiate are in high demand among businesses in nearly every modern industry.
Business negotiators might be asked to close deals with third-party businesses, resolve disputes between their company and employees, oversee the merger of two companies into one, etc.
To be a good business negotiator, you need to master skills such as establishing bargaining zones, listening to clients/negotiators, and compromising on the right goals at the right time.
Seasoned business negotiators know that walking away from a negotiation is better than successfully closing an unprofitable or exploitative deal.