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Top 4 negotiation skills professionals need right now

Why it matters:

Much of life is negotiable. These 4 skills will help you turn any negotiation into a win.

Negotiation Blog

Let’s get one thing straight: negotiating isn’t what it looks like in the movies or on television. There’s no pinnacle Erin Brockovich moment. No one is pulling devious, underhanded, Jack Donaghy-esque moves to gain a power advantage, and anyone who goes in with an attitude as ruthless as Gordon Gekko’s needs an adjustment, because they might end up burned…like Gordon Gekko.

No, negotiating isn’t what we typically think of. Brian Gunia, PhD, an Associate Professor at Carey Business School, agrees, “The stereotype of the effective negotiator is somebody who’s aggressive, who’s loud, who’s pounding the table—that’s just not right.”

So, what is negotiation really about? Gunia, a dedicated researcher of negotiations, believes it’s about striking the right balance between cooperation and competition.

We enter into negotiation, he says, “to solve a problem in coordination with somebody else.” A negotiation isn’t a battle. It’s a problem-solving exercise. Everyone’s at the table because they have some interests in common and some in conflict. Cooperation lets us discover the common interests and come to terms that benefit all involved. Competition allows us to secure outcomes that satisfy our own needs.

Gunia believes there are 4 skills you need to be an effective negotiator. These include:

1. Build Trust

Trust provides an honest platform for sharing information. Though it may feel counter-intuitive to trust another party by sharing potentially vulnerable information, Gunia believes “we overplay how untrustworthy the average person is.”

Building trust requires an earnest effort to humanize all parties involved before getting down to business. The technical term is “schmoozing.” Spend the time getting to know everyone on a personal level. When you put the person in businessperson, it shows that you care about them—and their interests, too.

2. Know How to Listen

Don’t feel pressured to immediately exchange offers. “That’s dangerous for two reasons,” explains Gunia. “Number 1: you’re making uninformed and potentially counterproductive offers. Number 2: you’re precluding the possibility of any open information sharing.”

Instead, listen to what the other side has to say. It’s more than just polite or respectful. Carefully reflecting upon their considerations helps to build trust, and any additional information you gain may open new areas for discussion.  

3. Be Creative

Not creative in the ‘you should sell that on Etsy’ sense of the word. In a negotiation, creativity refers to breaking out of the monetary mindset. Fighting about dollars and cents can get contentious very quickly. If both sides can’t agree on a number, talks can stall, relationships can sour, and problems can remain unsolved.

Instead, Gunia proposes that participants approach a negotiation as if it were a bartering trade. “When people actively think about bartering instead of a monetary exchange, they end up being more cooperative and more creative.” Think about what you can offer that they want—and what they can offer that you do.

An important determinant of creativity is research.

4. Research. Research. Research.

Research the situation. Do some background research or a situational analysis. Look at the industry and the market. What are the terms of similar deals? Based on the topic of the negotiation, determine what you need to know, and then know it.

Research the other side. Walk a mile in their shoes. Think about their underlying interests, what they may value, and what may motivate them to take a deal.

Research yourself. Understand your own reasons for entering into a negotiation and figure out acceptable terms. You can only get what you want when you know what you want.

What you find may open unforeseen possibilities and alternatives that can help the negotiation move forward. Remember, much of life is negotiable.

If you’ve been cooperative, listened and reflected, broken out of the monetary mindset, done your research, and still haven’t come to an offer that satisfies what you want, it’s time to unleash your competitive side. Don’t settle. Be firm in what you want. If it comes to it, walk away and go with a better deal.

Brian Gunia is a member of the Carey Business School faculty and teaches executive education courses in both Strategic Negotiation and Cross-Cultural Negotiation. Read more of his insights on his blog Life's Negotiable.

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