The Leadership Blog

Unlock Success: Master the Art of Negotiation

courageous leadership leadership negotiation skills personal growth professional growth Nov 26, 2023

How would you rate your negotiation skills? Before you say you don’t have much experience at negotiation let me give you the official definition.  The dictionary defines negotiation as a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.  I suspect you have dozens of these discussions every day not only at the office but with family and friends too. If you haven’t put much effort into enhancing your negotiation skills here’s a reason you should.  LinkedIn’s latest skills report ranks negotiation in the top five in-demand skills employers are looking for in new hires.  That’s an increase of 67 percent from last year.

Every leader needs to be able to negotiate effectively and do it while keeping working relationships positive. The first step to successfully negotiating is to do your homework. Research the issue thoroughly and realize the value you bring to the situation...that’s your bargaining power.

I read a Forbes article this weekend that had the following five tips to enhance your negotiating skills.

1. Aim for a Win/Win

A win/win situation is where both parties come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial and works in the interest of both sides. This entails being ethical and fair with what you request and not taking advantage of the other's ignorance or misfortune to gain the upper hand. 

Here’s my favorite win/win real world example.  When I worked in Pennsylvania, I negotiated the deal for land to build a new public television station with a major New York City developer who was working with the Las Vegas Sands Corporation to redevelop the largest brownfield property in the U-S.  It was on the former Bethlehem Steel site.  It was my first time sitting in a Park Avenue office.  I confess to being a bit scared, but I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I was asking for the land for free.  I could always go up in price if they refused but if I offered any amount, they would never volunteer to give it to us for free.  During my research period I learned that the state of Pennsylvania had approved gambling and was going to award a small number of licenses. I was clearly the underdog in this situation, and this was the biggest deal I had ever negotiated.  I knew my competitive advantage.  Before asking for anything I worked to build a rapport with both entities.  I showed the quality of work we produced and demonstrated how we served our region through education and outreach projects.  I flew to Vegas to meet with Sands representatives and discover what they were looking for in a new community.  My research taught me the state of Pennsylvania was looking to award the gambling licenses to organizations that would give back to the community.  My competitive advantage was that if they gave the public television station, I represented the land for free, I believed it would help them earn one of the state’s gambling licenses.  I couldn’t promise them that would happen, but I made a persuasive pitch.  It took months and many visits, but they finally agreed to give us the land and eventually The Sands Corporation was granted a gaming license.  We both won.  

Here’s a tip.  Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated during a negotiation.  At one point the CEO of the New York City land developer made a comment about my handbag.  He said he knew I was a person of substance because of the label on my bag.  I found this hilarious, because I was carrying a fake $25 Louis Vuitton handbag. It helped me be seen as someone he could relate to. Remember to always dress the part.

2. Active Listening

There’s so much more to this than just listening. The difference between active listening and regular listening is that while you may hear what someone says and understand it on a superficial level, active listening takes it a step further and listens without judgment, criticism, or seeking to voice your own opinion. I admit this is hard for me, because I often want to voice my opinion.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve got to refrain. Look at their body language and listen for what’s not being said.  It takes a good amount of emotional intelligence to get good at this.  When they finish speaking, then it’s your turn.  Your words should only repeat back what you’ve heard and then ask the other party if you’ve understood them correctly or not.

I get lots of experience with this during every one-on-one meeting with my direct reports.

3. Ask for More than You Really Want

This is one of the most important skills in negotiating.  You have to be willing to give and take during a negotiation, so you’ve got to give yourself some financial wiggle room to do that. This can be challenging for me because I often want to jump straight to the bottom line. We need to fight that urge.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more than you’re willing to accept. In my land negotiation story above, I asked for the land for free, if they had said no, I was planning on coming back with an offer to buy it for $25,000 and then inch my way higher if necessary. Your willingness to give and take helps all parties feel good.

4. Establish Rapport from the Beginning

You want to have friendly communications and not hostile ones. I shared with you that I had many meetings with the developers before I ever asked for the land for free.  Relationships are built on trust and seeing commonalities.  Looking for shared values is another way to build rapport.  Focus on what you have in common as opposed to your differences.  This happens naturally for some and requires more work for others.  Recognizing which it is for you and putting in the extra effort if needed will give you a competitive advantage.

5. Honor Your Commitments

Do what you say you’re going to do. One of the deal breakers of any negotiation situation is lack of transparency. Be open and honest with the other party and expect them to honor the same commitment.

Ensure you deliver on whatever you’ve promised as part of your side of the deal, and don't try to back your way out of it. Going above and beyond is another important way to seal the deal.  I often include things for free that I refer to as added value.  Everyone wants a deal and when you negotiate with a heart towards service, you’ll often come out on top.

I call these five steps the foundation to successful negotiations.  The key is to never feel like you’ve mastered it.  It truly is an art.  The more you practice it the better you’ll be, and you’ll be more successful in life when you put the effort into improving your negotiation skills.