People

Six steps to become a famously good negotiator

Lisa Stephenson /

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Who Am I Projects founder Lisa Stephenson. Source: Supplied.

‘Negotiation’ is one of those words people can have a violent reaction too. It’s a bit like the word ‘networking’.

Many know they need to be effective at it, but no one really wants to talk about it. Unless you’re in a sales-focused role and thrive on the thrill of the results negotiating can bring, it’s very possible you have other ways of approaching negotiating that make it feel more comfortable.

Let’s not confuse negotiating with influencing or communication skills. Mastering the art of negotiation can literally change the results on your profit and loss sheet, inspire confidence in your people and demonstrate an ability to facilitate conversations that change the trajectory of your organisation.

If you are in a leadership role, it’s likely you spend much of your day navigating the needs of many, and the various demands on your time. In fact, you might even feel like you don’t have the time to read this article! My work as a success coach has shown me negotiation skills can be challenging to develop for a few common reasons. The first is a concern it will cause conflict and tension, potentially with highly valued clients or stakeholders. The second is because to manage a negotiation well requires time, energy, preparation and focus, which is often in short supply. And third, when people feel they haven’t been successful at negotiating, they worry it will be career limiting as there’s sometimes a link with performance, brand and salary.

If you are considering how to future-proof your career, or perhaps you are working towards a promotion, consider what would be different for you if ‘effective negotiation’ was part of your unique positioning statement. If you consider all the people you’ve worked with across your career you can no doubt bring to mind people who should never have been allowed in the room to participate in negotiations, but you can also likely identify just a few who blew your mind. Being someone who negotiates skilfully says ‘I am grounded’, able to consider the big picture while getting into the detail, and importantly, that you can operate in a way that is respectful and builds trust. Who wouldn’t want to be famous for that?

Here are six strategies you can start implementing immediately, which will help you improve your negotiating skills.

1. Learn from others

Get a mentor. Negotiating is not something that comes naturally to most, and those who are great at it often have years of experience behind them. Invite them to observe you in action and provide feedback.

2. Focus on the relationship

Not many people want to be negotiated with. Set up trust and a mutual win-win agreement. What will success look like for the other person? It should feel like a collaboration. Connect, be curious and share before you even attempt to negotiate.

3. Listen and watch

We miss so much when we go in focused on the result or feel time pressured. The most common feedback I hear from people when negotiations go wrong is people didn’t feel heard.  

4. Brand is king 

Your reputation precedes you. Consider what decisions and assumptions have been made about you before you even enter the room. Do your research and find out what blockers might exist because of who you are, and also understand what positive attributes the other party is already excited about you bringing.

5. Add value

Is the experience better for everyone because you are in the negotiation? In our current environment in Australia, people are really wanting to see integrity, trust and knowledge. Being prepared by knowing how you will inspire, provoke and support the negotiation is critical to you being successful.

6. Ask great questions

Often, better questions are the answer.

Being a legendary negotiator is not about knowing all the answers. Great credibility can come from asking questions nobody knows the answers to. This demonstrates innovative thinking and the ability to create new thoughts. It shows you are robust and insightful.

You will not regret investing time in building your ability to navigate a successful negotiation. If you are one of those people who groan at the mention of having to increase your skills, it only takes a few well-planned strategies to create the momentum you need, so get on it!

NOW READ: Beat your landlords: Twelve tips for those negotiating a commercial lease

NOW READ: Securing the best deal: The crucial difference between negotiation and sales

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Lisa Stephenson

Lisa Stephenson is the author of Read Me First and the founder of the global, Australian-based consulting firm Who Am I Projects. She has decades of experience as a global speaker, leadership consultant and success coach.

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