500 Words to Becoming a Better Negotiator

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By Paul Moya, Sanborn and Associates, Inc.

An essential skill for any leader is to be able to effectively negotiate during high stakes and difficult situations. While many people understand that this is a skill they can improve upon, most forget all applicable strategies as their emotions become involved and they react to the situation at hand.  Here are three simple steps you can follow the next time you are dealing with an important negotiation.

1. Be Reaction Neutral

The first step of any effective strategy is to not react to the demands/ accusations of the other party.  Behavioral experts often say that most people achieve sub par results in negotiations because they react and become defensive.  Then the rest of the negotiation is focused more on what people are defensive about rather than the original objective.   Instead, listen closely to each word the other party–whether a coworker, boss, or client–is stating and fully process the underlying notion of what message they are trying to get across.  Sometimes I force myself to pause and count before I respond so I am sure to fully embrace what is being said to me rather than getting caught up on the segments and reacting to those pieces alone.  Whatever you do to make it work for you, just make sure you stay level headed during the entire negotiation.

2. Step Onto the Balcony

The renowned Harvard University professor Ronald A. Heifetz teaches leaders to practice an approach called “going to the balcony.”  This legendary technique involves allowing oneself to “see the bigger picture and possibly break the spell of temporary hysteria within the group or crowd.”  While this strategy is usually taught as a defense mechanism when a leader is under attack, it can also be an important technique within any negotiation framework.  When you take a full step back and look at the issue from above, you can better understand the different stakeholders and their individual desires and needs at the present moment.  Once you  know what each person wants, you are better able to execute and achieve the results you desire.

3. Adjust the Prescription

A major mistake that leaders often make is believing that once they fully explain themselves (even if it takes a few tries), the other person will immediately change their opinion.  Thus, instead of approaching each situation differently and knowing when to reframe the approach, many people simply restate the same position that continues to fail.  Newsflash: If the other person does not agree with your solution or sales pitch, it is usually not simply because they didn’t understand you.  Adjusting the prescription is all about reformatting your approach after you fully understand where the other person is coming from and what they hope to get out of the situation.  Be humble enough to know that your first approach might not always work and, yet, courageous enough to try something new, even in the middle of intense negotiation.

So there you have it! You are now armed with three tried and true techniques that will help you to become a better negotiator and, ultimately, sell more products, have a greater influence, or even get that raise you want.  Just remember to keep your emotions calm and avoid the classic reactionary approach at all costs.

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One Response to “500 Words to Becoming a Better Negotiator”


  1. Joel Boggess says:

    Attorney and author Bob Goff coaches his clients to testify and/or present with palms open and facing skyward.

    Doing so, says Goff, makes it easier to remain calm, honest, and forthcoming. However, what do most people do? They bear down, clench their fists, and tighten their jaw.

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