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Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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You negotiate every day of your life. The word negotiate has its origin in the early 17th century: Latin negotiat- meaning ‘done in the course of business.’ It’s the business of our lives — not just our business lives — to reach agreements and compromises through discussion. Importantly, to resolve issues so all parties involved consider themselves winners. To graciously accept results when they are mutually fair and satisfactory.

Professional negotiators enjoy negotiating. We focus on researching, organizing and planning. Success enhances our self-confidence and motivates our optimism about future interactions. Wordplay and using our excellent verbal and written communication skills delight us. We use our time, energy and resources to full advantage.

Your Life Challenges

The identical negotiating skills, strategies and tactics apply to both your personal and professional lives. Yes, they differ in intensity, in how you communicate and in their emotional components, but success is sweet whether you are convincing your husband to buy a new car or motivating that rigid bank officer to give you his best loan terms.

Since our lives contain an ever-changing myriad of negotiations, we can’t overestimate the importance of setting priorities. Consider those all-too-often moments when you face the reality you can’t accomplish everything you’d like to achieve. Professional negotiators develop a vibrant sense of logic leading to decisions benefiting all parties.

The classic Pareto Principle is one key to negotiating success: It is the rule that 20% of what you do helps you accomplish 80% of your goals. The rule can be expanded to reveal that 20% of how you invest your time and energy will result in an 80% success rate in using both of them wisely and productively.

Embrace the Pareto Principle to establish your true and essential negotiating goals. Commit to performing with a negotiator’s mindset. Analyze the individual components of each goal to determine what actions, activities, resources and communications are essential on your path toward success. The more you know about your own needs, wants, reasons and abilities – and those of your opponents – the better you will focus on mutually beneficial results.

In Praise of Practice

Even the most successful (perhaps, especially the most successful) negotiators know the importance of practicing the communications aspects of their art. Personal appearance, vocal intonations and body language serve as foundations for conveying carefully crafted messages in conversations, discussions and presentations.

Audio and video recordings of negotiation practice sessions, when reviewed and critiqued, lead to understanding how to improve your communication skills. Testing out your words by talking with and getting reactions from friends can save you from misguided negotiations with other parties. Role-playing with colleagues can give you insights into what to keep and what to change when facing your opponents.

The Eternal Verities

Before you utter a single word to begin a negotiation, silently contemplate the eternal verities, those essential moral principles that make you who you are proud to be.

Remember that you are about to ask for what you want. Be certain that you want what you ask for.

Be willing to walk away, temporarily or permanently, but consider the people and circumstances involved before you take that first step. Requesting time to catch your breath, reconsider and think will dramatically benefit your outcome. Angry outbursts are anathema to positive results.

We professional negotiators prepare ourselves to seize moments of opportunity through detailed researching and planning. We are patient and forgiving with ourselves, our colleagues, even our opponents. We are willing to confess our mistakes, forgive ourselves, learn from them, offer apologies, start anew.

Magicians, Improvisers and Thespian

We’ve all been blessed with those days when the world is on our side. We are, in heart and mind, capable of being magicians, improvisers and thespians, in personal and professional negotiations.

Magic is not sleight of hand, but the right words that suddenly transform your teenager’s adamant no into a smiling yes.

It’s the day you attended a conference and were invited at the very last minute to join the panel on the dais: Your cleverly improvised responses to audience questions secured potential clients.

Feeling a bit out of sorts, you followed the rule of always trying to be your best. To paraphrase Shakespeare, every conference room is a stage. You convinced yourself to act confidently and closed a deal far before deadline.

Professional negotiators celebrate every victory – personal and professional, miniscule and major.

JB Shelton Photo
JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton) is a journalist based in Raleigh and Oxford, NC. She writes about children growing up and grownups reinventing themselves. JB teaches Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of JB Shelton-Spurr is available on Contact her at [email protected].

Copyright © 2014 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2014  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  April 2014