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How to Improve Negotiation Skills

The Scotwork Team

We all use negotiation skills, even if we are not involved in sales or closing deals for our businesses. Negotiation is a part of everyday life, and so learning these crucial skills can benefit us all.

Like other skills, some people will have an innate talent for them and others will need to actively work to improve them. You can study countless negotiation strategies and other metrics, but if you don't take the time to improve your own negotiating skills, it could all be in vain.

Since they can bring such advantages to both a personal and professional life, everyone needs to take the time to develop their negotiation skills. According to Huthwaite International, 80% of businesses have no formal negotiation process, so it may be down to the individual to show an interest in improvement, rather than seek it out via their organisation.

Even if you already consider yourself to be a negotiating pro, there will still be some areas in which you can make an improvement, bringing benefit to your working and home life.

What are negotiation skills?

A negotiation is a discussion between two or more parties with a view of reaching a particular desired outcome. Negotiation skills are the skills we use during these conversations and debates.

They encompass many of the soft skills we use in our everyday lives. If you know how to listen actively and communicate effectively, you might have already begun to develop your negotiation skills without even realising it.

A skilled negotiator is someone who not only has a basic understanding of the various components of negotiation but also actively works to improve them and focus on the areas where they need more support. They have great communication skills and they know the ins and outs of what it takes to get a good deal across the line.

However, even those with a natural talent for negotiating should still take the time to enhance their skills and learn something new. No two negotiations will ever be the same, and practising and improving our skills can help prepare us for any outcome.

How to improve negotiation skills

If you have a goal of improving your negotiation skills, you need to approach it with a plan. Negotiation can cover a wide range of topics and skills. Simply choosing to improve "negotiation" without any strict plan could mean that key goals are missed and areas of detail are not expanded upon enough.

We've broken down this skill improvement into ten areas we think can deliver value to your learning. Some experienced negotiators might not need all of them, others might find them to be a useful foundation for learning more.

1. Set goals

When making any attempts at improvement, setting tangible and measurable goals is a great way of tracking progress. No matter what your planned endpoint might be, make the goals SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-bound

Whether you are starting from scratch or you already have some skills to build on, setting realistic goals can help to provide a plan to take you to the next level. With structure and purpose to your goal-setting, you can clearly see what it will take for you to see your desired improvement come to pass.

In terms of negotiation, it can be wise to consider precisely what you wish to see at the bargaining table. By having an understanding of what you wish to achieve from negotiations, and what concessions you are prepared to offer, you can create realistic goals for your attempts at bargaining.

2. Learn how to create value

Every successful negotiation will include a back-and-forth between all parties involved. Learning how to provide value and offer creative solutions can help to get a difficult negotiation back on track, and might even encourage the other party to come round to your side.

Creating value during the negotiation process can be done in several ways. You could take significant steps to try to establish trust (such as demonstrating your soft skills), or you might offer a creative compromise that wins over the other party.

You might even decide to look to the "uncommon ground"; where you and the other party disagree rather than come together. By taking the time to properly understand the other party's perspective, you might begin to understand them better, and will therefore find it easier to reach a compromise.

3. Work on those soft skills

Soft skills such as active listening and problem-solving are at the heart of the negotiation process. These are not specific to any one job, but properly knowing and understanding soft skills can help anyone to advance in their workplace.

Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) is highly valued nowadays. Not only will it allow a negotiator to read another party more easily, but it can also help them to regulate their emotions.

Even the most skilled negotiators can encounter difficult people and frustrating scenarios where it seems like there is no way forward. By investing time into developing soft skills, not only can a negotiator find innovative solutions to keep the conversation moving forward but they can also better manage themselves, creating a more agreeable dialogue overall.

4. Pursue learning opportunities

No one should ever turn down the opportunity to learn more. Those focused on developing those essential negotiation skills will be the ones who are unafraid to pursue new opportunities and fresh chances to learn.

Learning new negotiation skills can take many different forms. From countless books to podcasts and more, there is so much media already out there that can offer insights into how someone can navigate the world of negotiation.

You might even decide to seek out a mentor to pass on their own knowledge and experience. Being able to draw insights from someone right in front of you is too good an opportunity to pass up.

5. Don't neglect prep work

It is such a basic point, but it always bears saying. If you want to improve your negotiation skills, you need to ensure that you are doing adequate prep work before you ever sit down at the bargaining table.

Prep work can give you insight into the other party's interests, whether they use different negotiation styles, and what the outcome of the discussions might be well before they even kick off.

Thorough preparation is one of those essential negotiation skills that has to be investigated as no two people will have the same prep routines. Finding out what works for you will be essential if you are to become a successful negotiator.

6. Build confidence

One of the most underrated negotiation skills is confidence. The stereotype attached to salespeople and negotiators speaks of big personalities able to make quick decisions.

The reality is that negotiation often requires a lot of self-assurance. Things can change at the negotiation table extremely quickly. A good negotiator needs the confidence to occasionally make a risky suggestion with the hopes it will play off, or they might need to manage their emotions if something goes wrong. On top of this, they may just have to deal with their own anxieties before they even sit down to negotiate.

Understanding negotiation skills benefits us all, and an increase in confidence is just one of the reasons why.

7. Get in tune with your strengths and weaknesses

We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, there is no denying it. Even in a team, one person might have better communication skills than another, while another might have a host of tricks to pull on if they need to build rapport with a stranger.

No one can be expected to focus on and master every single one of the key negotiation skills, but that doesn't mean that you can't master a few of them. Knowing where both your strengths and weaknesses lie can make you better prepared for future negotiations.

Knowing your strengths allows you to notice an opportunity to step forward and use your strong skills to actively push towards your desired outcome – a situation that everyone wants to be in! However, knowing your weaknesses also allows you to prepare for scenarios where you might have to pull on these less-used skills. In doing so, you can avoid having to be on the back foot and you will be better prepared to turn discussions around to an area you are more confident in.

8. Get practice in

How can you expect to develop good negotiation skills if you never take the time to actually try things out? What might seem like a great idea on paper could be very difficult to manage in practice. What's more, you cannot practice active listening and other key exercises if you do not allow yourself to use them.

Practice can take several forms. Running test scenarios with a mentor or other members of your team can help you gain valuable insights into what works for you and what doesn't. Running test scenarios also allows you to explore a truly disastrous negotiation without any real-life consequences too! Mutually beneficial outcomes are not always possible but practiced effective negotiation skills could help to turn a deteriorating session around.

9. Don't be afraid to make mistakes

Across all industries, the average sales success rate is thought to be about 3%. That gives us plenty of room to make mistakes – and it is only from making mistakes do we truly grow. Learning to accept your mistakes, and potentially even welcome them, will help you to make more informed decisions that you can be confident were the right ones to make.

Even the most successful negotiators will have made mistakes throughout their careers. The reason why they have gone on to excel is that they are prepared to both make mistakes and learn from them. This is an essential skill not often discussed, but the confidence to move forward without the fear of making mistakes can change the way someone approaches their negotiations.

10. Take time to reflect

Taking time to reflect should become a practice for every negotiator. Engaging in a little critical thinking and applying it to a negotiation performance can help highlight some of the nuanced actions a negotiator might take.

After a negotiation session, whether an outcome was reached or not, take some time to reflect on your actions. What do you think you did well? Where do you think you could use some improvement? Did you use any negotiation tactics, and did they deliver the results you expected?

People can spend as much time as they want to try to improve their negotiating skills, but the only way they can measure any degree of success will be by reflecting on their behaviour. Walking away from the table with a good deal and a successful outcome will be good for your team and company. However, if you don't know how to replicate that behaviour, you might not be able to continue negotiating effectively in the future.

There's always room for improvement

No matter how high you rise and how many discussions you join, there will always be room to improve your negotiation skills. This is an area that we all benefit from. Even if the only time you ever negotiate is when discussing salary, you still deserve to know precisely what moves will suit you best.

Scotwork provides specialist negotiation training to businesses and individuals in the UK and worldwide. Our team's expertise is backed up by over 45 years of experience, and they are ready to help you whip your negotiation skills into shape.

Get in touch with us today to find out more about what we can offer your organisation.

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