The Negotiator Magazine

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Tom Hayman

I recently helped my son buy his first truck.  Like most 19 year olds, he was anxious to just get the negotiations over with and drive away in his new, shiny status symbol.  I of course was more interested in the actual negotiation itself and getting the best deal possible since I was going to be on the hook financially for awhile!  But I also wanted to use this as a learning experience for my son.  During the negotiations I patiently explained my strategy and tactics to my son.  When it was all over I knew I had realized my objective when my son turned to me and exclaimed “I can’t believe what you just did – I’ve GOT to take your class on negotiation!”

Skilled negotiators do things differently vs. average negotiators, usually because they’ve been better trained in the art of negotiation.  Take any profession and the best practitioners usually have the most training and/or experience.  So what have skilled negotiators been taught to do differently?  What do skilled negotiators look like?  How will you know one when you see one? 

Here are some of the characteristics of skilled negotiators.  Professional negotiation training can teach you all of these attributes (and more!).

  1. Ask questions.  Skilled negotiators spend twice as much time asking questions vs. average negotiators.  They probe to clarify issues and to understand underlying drivers and reasons for the “position or stance” a given party has taken.  Talented negotiators also try to understand what the other side wants so they can develop a solution that satisfies all parties.
  2. Active listening.  Active listening is repeating back what someone said to ensure understanding.  You can use phrases like “Let me make sure I understand what you just said …” or “Let me summarize my understanding of what you just said.”  This shows that you really are listening and trying to understand the other party.
  3. Make positive comments.  Skilled negotiators make many more positive comments than average negotiators.  They do this to emphasize and build on the “good” in the negotiation to make it easier to deal with the “other” issues.
  4. Explore more options to test limits.  Often times in a negotiation you don’t have any idea what the other side wants.  It’s important to zero in on the boundaries or limits by safely offering up options to the other party to test their reaction.  Using questions like “Suppose my client did such and such, would your client do such and such in return” or “What if my client would do this, would your client agree to that”?  Skilled negotiators often explore many options before they find the one that works for both sides.

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February 2007