Top 10 Negotiation Skills You Must Learn to Succeed

Absorb these integrative negotiation skills to improve your outcomes.

By — on / Negotiation Skills

negotiation skills

Increasingly, business negotiators recognize that the most effective bargainers are skilled at both creating value and claiming value—that is, they both collaborate and compete. The following 10 negotiation skills will help you succeed at integrative negotiation:

Negotiation Skills

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Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

1. Analyze and cultivate your BATNA. In both integrative negotiation and adversarial bargaining, your best source of power is your ability and willingness to walk away and take another deal. Before arriving at the bargaining table, wise negotiators spend significant time identifying their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA, and taking steps to improve it.

2. Negotiate the process. Don’t assume you’re both on the same page when it comes to determining when to meet, who should be present, what your agenda will be, and so on. Instead, carefully negotiate how you will negotiate in advance. Discussing such procedural issues will clear the way for much more focused talks.

3. Build rapport. Although it’s not always feasible to engage in small talk at the start of a negotiation (particularly if you’re on a tight deadline), doing so can bring real benefits, research shows. You and your counterpart may be more collaborative and likely to reach an agreement if you spend even just a few minutes trying to get to know each other. If you’re negotiating over email, even a brief introductory phone call may make a difference. This is one of the most valuable negotiation skills to master.

4. Listen actively. Once you start discussing substance, resist the common urge to think about what you’re going to say next while your counterpart is talking. Instead, listen carefully to her arguments, then paraphrase what you believe she said to check your understanding. Acknowledge any difficult feelings, like frustration, behind the message. Not only are you likely to acquire valuable information, but the other party may mimic your exemplary listening skills.

5. Ask good questions. You can gain more in integrative negotiation by asking lots of questions—ones that are likely to get helpful answers. Avoid asking “yes or no” questions and leading questions, such as “Don’t you think that’s a great idea?” Instead, craft neutral questions that encourage detailed responses, such as “Can you tell me about the challenges you’re facing this quarter?”

6. Search for smart tradeoffs. In a distributive negotiation, parties are often stuck making concessions and demands on a single issue, such as price. In integrative negotiation, you can capitalize on the presence of multiple issues to get both sides more of what they want. Specifically, try to identify issues that your counterpart cares deeply about that you value less. Then propose making a concession on that issue in exchange for a concession from her on an issue you value highly.

7. Be aware of the anchoring bias. Ample research shows that the first number mentioned in a negotiation, however arbitrary, exerts a powerful influence on the negotiation that follows. You can avoid being the next victim of the anchoring bias by making the first offer (or offers) and trying to anchor talks in your preferred direction. If the other side does anchor first, keep your aspirations and BATNA at the forefront of your mind, pausing to revisit them as needed.

8. Present multiple equivalent offers simultaneously (MESOs). Rather than making one offer at a time, consider presenting several offers at once. If your counterpart rejects all of them, ask him to tell you which one he liked best and why. Then work on your own to improve the offer, or try to brainstorm with the other party an option that pleases you both. This strategy of presenting multiple offers simultaneously decreases the odds of impasse and can promote more creative solutions.

9. Try a contingent contract. Negotiators often get stuck because they disagree about how a certain scenario will play out over time. In such cases, try proposing a contingent contract—in essence, a bet about how future events will unfold. For example, if you doubt a contractor’s claims that he can finish your home renovation project in three months, propose a contingent contract that will penalize him for late completion and/or reward him for early completion. If he truly believes his claims, he should have no problem accepting such terms.

10. Plan for the implementation stage. Another way to improve the long-term durability of your contract is to place milestones and deadlines in your contract to ensure that commitments are being met. You might also agree, in writing, to meet at regular intervals throughout the life of the contract to check in and, if necessary, renegotiate. In addition, adding a dispute-resolution clause that calls for the use of mediation or arbitration if a conflict arises can be a wise move.

What negotiation skills would you add to this list? Leave us a comment.

Negotiation Skills

Claim your FREE copy: Negotiation Skills

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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13 Responses to “Top 10 Negotiation Skills You Must Learn to Succeed”

  • What has fascinated me since I attended Dr. Mandell’s class is the extent to which negotiation permeates our daily lives. It appears that many individuals are unaware of just how many things are, or should ideally be, outcomes of negotiation. Too often, people assume that negotiation only occurs when parties explicitly declare, ‘We are now going to negotiate.’ When I delivered a presentation based on what I learned in class, it took some time for the audience to recognize how numerous aspects of both their professional and personal lives are shaped by implicit negotiation.

  • Pon U.

    What has been interesting to me since I took Dr. Mandell’s class is how much negotiation is part of everyday life. Few people seem to realize how many things are, or at least should be, the result of a negotiation. Too many think that no negotiation is involved unless the parties say, “OK, we are going to now negotiate.” I gave a talk based on what I learned in class and it took a while for people to see how many more aspects of both their professional and personal lives are the result of implicit negotiation.

  • Michele G.

    I would like to have permission to pass your 10 skills along to some of our top business customers. Would that be possible?

    • Gail O.

      You can find more information about our courses in the Executive Education section of our website.

  • Derek P.

    Except when it’s a ridiculously low offer. Your opponent will always find a way to justify even a ridiculous offer, and, if you start a conversation on such an offer, you have been anchored! Find a way to ignore the low offer, such as pretending you didn’t hear it?

  • Have a well planned concession strategy:
    1. Take the time to think about what concessions the other side might ask of you.
    2. Leave yourself room – this means you better understand how to anchor and where your target is for a great outcome.
    3. Rationalize your concessions to avoid the” buffoon factor” and cause credibility loss. You don’t want to be arbitrary.
    4. Take careful consideration on how big or small your concessions should be…there is an entire process for this.
    5. Ask for something in return…this should be an exchange of valuable assets to help both parties meet their most important priorities.

  • Raphael L.

    With regards to anchoring if you are victim to it, an effective antidote is to insist on justification by asking “it would be helpful to us if you could explain how you arrived at that value?”. This completely neutralizes the anchoring effect! Try it! It works like magic!!

  • Pon U.

    I had a book of yours it was a short read, concise, I loved it! Thank u! Management book from Barnes n noble.


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