The Art of Negotiating: One Person’s Perspective

by Steve Swanson
negotiation techniques

7 easy-to-follow techniques to improve your negotiation success

It occurs to me that the concept of negotiating often carries an unfair stigma by some. Perhaps it might be derived from a poor experience where one felt another person took unfair advantage. Another thought might be the perception of conflict associated with negotiating in the minds of some individuals.

The reality is that most of us engage in various forms of negotiation in great and small ways throughout our personal and professional lives. Webster defines the term negotiate several ways, two of which are useful to this discourse. Negotiate – 1) To treat or bargain with others in order to reach an agreement; and 2) To procure, arrange or conclude by mutual discussion.

On the surface, those definitions seem pretty reasonable. What’s all the fuss about then when it comes to negotiating? I suggest it has to do with our methods, tactics and perceptions. Often, I witness individuals entering into a process of negotiating with a fear of what they might give up – or lose if you will. Other times, I see people overcommitted to a fixed outcome and watch anxieties build when the path does not clearly lead directly to that fixed outcome.

There are readily available training programs to assist with technique development as it relates to negotiating. Certainly, there are a number of excellent books on the topic (“Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury, “Win-Win Negotiating” by Fred E. Jandt). Practically speaking though, there are easy-to-apply techniques that might improve your success at achieving mutually agreeable outcomes, both in your personal and professional life.

1. Define your alternatives to a negotiated agreement prior to negotiating with someone.

2. Listen for understanding. This sounds like a simple step, and it is. However, simple doesn’t always equate to easy. Let’s look at how we can apply this technique effectively. Listening for understanding is a frame of mind that seeks to understand what the other person is trying to communicate. Try paraphrasing what you’ve heard to the other person to confirm or clarify what you believe you heard. Focusing on your response, or reply, while the other person is speaking is a dead giveaway that you are not actively listening

3. Understand the motivators and needs of the other party. This does not suggest anything more than having a clear view, to the best of your ability, of what the other person is truly seeking. It’s hard to imagine how you will know you’re getting close to an agreement if you don’t fully understand what the other person is trying to achieve ─  which is not always obvious by the way.

4. Communicate concisely and effectively. Making sure your message is focused and easy to understand is paramount in assisting the other person in understanding and assessing your position.

5. Analyze your options and discuss scenarios to deliver your desired outcomes. If people feel heard and understood, it’s reasonable for them to allow for a greater number of solutions than if the opposite is true. You may need time for the development of various solution scenarios – or you may feel comfortable with offering them in short order. By discussing those scenarios you deem worthy of further exploration, you allow room for potential collaboration and compromise.

6. Maintain your objectivity. Being engaged and passionate about an outcome is not the same as losing your cool. Maintain your objectivity and, even if you have to break off negotiations, you might be able to come back again in the future. If maintaining a relationship is part of your desired outcome, losing your cool rarely improves the odds of achieving that goal.

7. Know when to fold. Make it a practice not to do bad deals in hopes of converting them to good deals, which is a common pitfall. It is clear that by avoiding agreements that don’t satisfy your intended outcomes, you will minimize any risk to your side of the table. There is nothing wrong with walking away from a bad deal.

Clearly this is not the definitive work on negotiating. Consider the use of any or all of these depending on the scope of your next negotiation. Like me, you may find the process and techniques add measurably to the quality of the outcomes. Add a couple of books to your professional development reading list. Strive to improve your capabilities in this area, and you will find an increase in your scope of influence and impact.

Finally, send me an email and share a recent success.


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