Whether you realize it or not, you’re constantly negotiating in your personal and work life. From your salary and job description to dinner plans and laundry duty, it’s crucial to hone your negotiation skills to achieve your desired outcome.
We spoke with two experts from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business who shared important skills to learn, tactics to avoid and ways to better your negotiating abilities in the business landscape.
What are negotiation skills?
Our experts agreed that while there are a variety of useful negotiation skills to choose from, listening is the most important, followed by building rapport.
Cindi Fukami, a professor of management at Daniels, said that negotiation skills are like “interpersonal skills on steroids” and that listening comes first, like in many strong personal relationships. When you pair listening and asking questions, that’s the first step to success.
“Listening is an important part, and asking questions is the most valuable skill because we make so many assumptions about what they want and don’t want, and we could be totally wrong,” she said.
David Worley, executive director of Executive Education at the Daniels College of Business, said that negotiations shouldn’t be looked at as a battle, and that creating a relationship with the other side is crucial to long-term success.
“You have to be able to establish rapport because it’s very hard to say no to somebody you like,” he said. “To think of negotiation as a battle between people is a misstep right out of the gate.”
Why are negotiation skills important?
Our experts agreed that every part of your job, whether you realize it or not, involves negotiation. So, to be better at your job, you need to be a skilled negotiator.
Consider the importance of negotiation skills as they pertain to salary negotiations and sales—two of the more well-known examples of negotiation in the workplace—but that’s just skimming the surface of potential negotiation opportunities. Worley said that managing people is an important negotiation, specifically when it comes to asking them to take on more.
“Anytime you’re asking a team member to go above and beyond, if all you’re ever doing is asking that colleague to do more, that will fail,” he said. “What you need to do is ask them to do more in one spot and negotiate something that they value more in a different spot.”
As good managers are often good negotiators, non-managers should also learn these skills to help them grow in the workplace. Fukami said that if an employer isn’t willing to discuss salary or you don’t feel comfortable asking for more, there’s another key negotiation area that can help advance your career: your job description.
“Negotiate your job description. Think of the things that will get you promoted and build that in, and you’re doing kind of the same [as negotiating your salary]. You’re setting yourself up for promotion more quickly,” she said.
While you may not be in a sales role or one where negotiation is plainly evident, these skills are still crucial in a variety of interactions and can help you climb the ladder at your organization.
What are the qualities of a good negotiator?
Worley said many good negotiators are “intellectually nimble” and able to adjust on the fly during negotiations. Much like the previous point on listening, it’s crucial to be able to pick up on cues given to you by the party you’re negotiating with.
Fukami shared a similar point, adding that negotiators who are active listeners often reach a desired outcome more quickly than those who aren’t.
“A good negotiator is someone who can really focus on the other and be interested in every word that they are saying,” she said. “Why? Not because you want to agree with them, but until you know what they really want, you’re going to be wasting time.”
Ways to sharpen your negotiation skills
Fukami and Worley agreed that the only way to improve as a negotiator is to practice, both in actual negotiations and on your own, rehearsing your own lines to become more comfortable. Experience is the best teacher, but there are some things you can do in the meantime that will give you the upper hand when approaching your next negotiation.
Do your homework
The more information you bring to a negotiation, the better armed you’ll be to achieve your end goal. Fukami said preparation gives you data to help you bolster your point and gives you ideas of what you might do if this deal doesn’t go through. It may also help you decide what you’ll first concede to reach a deal and what you are unwilling to waver on.
“It gives you more information and ways to plan. It gives you ideas of other things that might be thrown into the deal,” she said. “Most of all, what preparation does is give you confidence.”
There’s an important balance to strike with confidence in negotiation. Come into a deal with too much confidence and you may deter the other side. Worley added that people with too much confidence are often poor listeners.
Alternatively, too little confidence may make it seem like you aren’t prepared and open yourself to be walked over.
“Confidence is a very important factor in so much of what we do, not for the wrong reasons,” Fukami said.
So, it’s important to find your sweet spot and believe in your pitch when entering a negotiation.
Before you even begin negotiating, Worley advised thinking about what you want the outcomes to be and how you might get there. By entering with that mindset, you’ll have a clearer picture of the path ahead and how you can achieve your goals.
“It’s also important to look at what the minimum viable outcome that would be acceptable to you is,” he said. “That may enable you to launch an effective counter offer down the road.”
Don’t think of negotiation as a win-lose
Our experts both shared that successful negotiations should be looked at as mutually beneficial for both sides, not as a win-lose proposition.
“It’s not a battle, not a war and not combat. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of that. It’s seeking to understand the other person and seeking to be understood yourself,” Fukami said.
She added that while compromise can be helpful, it also shouldn’t be the end goal. Compromise is not a win-win, she shared, and rather a lose-lose because you give up half of what you want to get half of what you want.
“You should ask, ‘Could we do better than that?’ The idea that compromise is where we want to end is not such a great idea. We want to use that and keep going to collaboration,” she said. If compromise is a lose-lose, Fukami said, collaboration can be looked at as a win-win scenario, as both sides get what they want.
Reaching that goal only takes two factors.
“If you want to collaborate, you need two things: very high stakes and something in common,” Fukami said. “If you have those, you have the tools it takes.”
There are times where collaboration isn’t possible and compromise is the best outcome for both parties. In that scenario, Worley said, it’s important to remember the shared small victories.
“Compromise is helpful because nobody likes to feel like they got nothing from [the negotiation],” he said.
Practice and learn from your past
When it comes to practicing, Worley said it isn’t as simple as rehearsing lines to improve your negotiation skills. There is something a step further that will elevate your performance.
“Most business skills are skills of practice,” he said. “One [way to improve] is to do it, but doing it is not sufficient. You also have to be meaningfully self-reflective of how you did.”
Fukami shared that body language and expressions are also important to monitor and that some people don’t realize the negative energy they are portraying during negotiations until they practice in the mirror.
Good negotiators are able to diagnose where they went wrong in a previous negotiation and use that failure to guide their future success. So, while practice is helpful, it’s equally crucial to realize your mistakes and cut them out of your negotiation playbook.
Fine-tune your negotiation skills at Daniels
A business school education can help you upskill in a variety of areas, including negotiation. Programs such as our Master of Science in Management and Denver MBA both offer a foundation of business fundamentals—and so much more. To learn more, contact us today.