6 Essential Skills to Master the Art of Negotiation

June 1, 2017 •  6 minute read • by Saeed

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” ~ Don Vito Corleone

Negotiation plays a major role in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Most people think negotiating is the same as compromising. They are wrong. Successful negotiation is an art form that comes naturally to some, but must be learned by most. Whether it’s a salary increase or where you’ll spend your next family vacation, if you want to get far in your career and in your life, you have to learn to master the art of negotiation.

A skilled negotiator needs to demonstrate at least 10 essential traits:

1.     Empathy

2.     Responsibility

3.     Respect

4.     Flexibility

5.     Fairness

6.     Personal Integrity

7.     Patience

8.     Self discipline

9.     Humor

10. Stamina

Now, let’s break down the essential skills you need that enhance or impede any negotiation process.

1.     Skilled negotiators are well prepared. Preparation is the single most important element to successful negotiations. Careful preparation prior to the discussion lays the foundation for the desired outcome. Understanding the issues prior to discussing them develops inner confidence. That is the key to developing a position of strength. It also provides a complete and inclusive bank of knowledge to support and reinforce your position.

There are always trade-offs in negotiations. It is essential that you clearly define your limits. Identify the intended objective and set limits to achieve the objective. Lack of preparation will most often result in unexpected outcomes that may be far less than anticipated and in some cases counter-productive to the goal and purpose of the negotiation process.

2.     Skilled negotiators are skilled communicators. Effective communication plays a fundamental role in any interaction and is essential to successful negotiations. Effective communication skills include: the ability to listen and understand the intended message of the sender, clearly expressing your own thoughts and ideas in a way that is easily followed and understood by others, and accurately interpreting the messages expressed through body language. Discuss the concept in an open, receptive manner that allows the other side to hear and understand the message and appropriately respond to that message in a constructive way. Clarity is key: Present the issues clearly and check for understanding.  Listen actively. Clear your mind of pre-judgment and distraction so you can actively listen to the other person.

Effective communication is not limited to what say and hear. It also includes body language – messages or responses sent through facial expressions, eyes and body. Correctly interpreting body language is challenging, yet necessary to accurately understand the message delivered by the sender. For your part, pay attention to your posture. Make sure that your body language does not signal closed reception. Make direct eye contact with the speaker so that they know they have your full attention.

3.     Skilled negotiators ask good questions. If you enter the conversation with assumptions about what you know, you’ll miss vital opportunities to turn the conversation to your advantage. Ask questions that can help to identify key issues of the discussion. Use the information that was acquired during pre-negotiation preparation to formulate questions that can narrow the issues of the discussion. Use well-crafted open-ended questions (“what,” “why,” “how”) that get the other party talking and revealing.

Follow-up with questions that will require a more specific answer when responses are too general. A good questioner sets the pace and direction of the conversation. Keep your responses short and very specific to the questions being asked of you. Avoid inserting information that may be interesting, but not necessarily specific to the subject.

4.     Skilled negotiators are emotionally neutral. Emotional control plays a pivotal role in successful negotiations. The higher the perceived stakes in a negotiating process, the greater the chance that emotions will play an important role in the final outcome. Techniques to regulate your emotions become an important asset to ensure an optimal outcome. Regulating your emotions starts with understanding your own personal strengths and weaknesses, then building on those strengths while minimizing weaknesses.

Regulating emotions and maintaining emotional distance is necessary to be effective. This helps to neutralize the situation and avoid conflict. There isn’t a single technique that can be effective in all scenarios for self control; however, one of the best tips to maintain control is the all-time favorite that we practice with our children: ‘time-out’. Seriously. If you find things are getting out of control, create an opportunity for a time out. Make an excuse to go to the bathroom, get a file or get more info from another source. It doesn’t matter. Just give yourself some mental space for a few moments. The ability to recognize when a time-out is necessary is an important skill to cultivate. This helps you create emotional distance to allow a recharging of self-confidence and self control.

5.     Skilled negotiators find pain points and solve them. It’s a simple formula. Solve their problems and people will be grateful. That’s just a fundamental rule of business and life. But an important point to remember is that some people can’t put their finger on the specific pain point or can’t comprehend the larger picture of what is ailing them immediately. So, be ready to break down a complicated concept into more manageable parts– working systematically from ideas that can be readily understood, then building on that knowledge to the more difficult, or complex issues.

Sometimes, you have to translate and compartmentalize the issue in ways others can comprehend. But remember that no matter how persuasive your argument, the other side will not agree to your proposal unless it solves their discontent. People make decisions in order to solve a problem. Understand their pain and then show how your approach will help alleviate it.

6.     Skilled negotiators close the deal. Closing a deal is the ultimate goal to any negotiating process; however, closing a deal is not always possible. It’s important for any successful negotiator to recognize agreement or impasse and bring the meeting to a close. The final closing of any negotiation, either as the result of reaching an agreement or recognizing an impasse, is an important skill to learn and practice. A win-win is achieved through honesty and respect from both parties. But remember that a ‘win-win’ outcome is based on the subjective perception of a ‘win’ as defined in the initial objectives established during the preparation process. That is to say, each side moves to their final limits defined prior to the negotiation process.

Closing the deal means knowing when all elements of the objectives have been met and all that remains is to finalize the process to implement the plan. If an agreement has been reached, it is important that all elements of that agreement be briefly summarized prior to the conclusion of the meeting. If an agreement cannot be reached, it is essential that the outstanding issues be briefly summarized to assure that both parties agree that no further movement is possible. Like everything that is done well, a great negotiator will systematically demonstrate skills that can enhance the final outcome of a negotiation process. Using the skills outlined above, you will significantly increase your chances of closing the deal with a favorable outcome and avoiding a ‘lose-lose.’


In the real world, we win some battles and lose others. It’s important that we learn to deal with the frustration and discouragement associated with the lost battles to become more effective in the battles of tomorrow. Perhaps one of life’s most important lessons is the realization that not all people are agreeable and easy to deal with. There are difficult people in the world and our ability to recognize and deal with the many personalities we encounter can help us to be more successful in any interactions we may attempt. Unfortunately, people demonstrate traits, even as adults, that may be considered counterproductive or even childish.

Any discussion that requires a decision at some level with an expected or unexpected outcome involves and requires negotiating skills. Whether you’re building support or overcoming resistance, you’re negotiating. In the workplace you negotiate with colleagues and clients to obtain consensus and buy-in and in your personal life you negotiate with your neighbors, your family and your friends. The above set of skills and traits will help you be a stronger negotiator in the most challenging situations and with the most difficult people.

Unless you’re ‘negotiating’ with a toddler who is having a temper tantrum in the middle of the super market isle to the horror of standers by. In that case, I have no advice to offer. You’re on your own.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



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