7 Effective Ways to Develop Your Negotiation Skills

Close-up of two businessmen shaking hands

Negotiating is a skill that’s often associated with C-suite executives finalising big business deals behind closed doors. But in reality, it’s something we all do every day. From discussing who gets to wash the dishes to getting a better deal in the annual yard sale, we negotiate on a regular basis, except (quite ironically) in the one place where it matters most: the office.

So, if you find yourself tongue-tied, frazzled and always on the losing end of a deal, then here are a few simple ways to improve your negotiating skills and get yourself on the winning team.

1. Practise Saying ‘No’

Human beings are programmed to be non-confrontational. From a young age, we’re taught to follow orders or else get punished, and as adults, we’re taught the same thing. Time and again, we’re told to ‘let it go’ and ‘just go with the flow’ so we don’t upset the client or the boss.

This lifelong habit of avoiding confrontation and just saying ‘yes’ weakens your negotiation skills. But not to worry; you can still reprogramme your mind by practising saying ‘no’.

You can start with something small like going home on time or refusing to work extra hours, especially if you’re already raking in too much overtime. If that seems like a big step for you, then you can start by saying ‘no’ to that annoying colleague who loves sabotaging your healthy eating habits by tempting you with a piece of chocolate cake.

These might seem like small steps, but taking the opportunity to say ‘no’ to minor instances will help you say ‘no’ to bigger things – whether it’s disagreeing with your boss on your performance review or presenting a counter-proposal to your client.

2. Know Your Value

Part of the reason why most people have a hard time saying ‘no’ is because they’re not aware of their real value to the company. If you’ve ever wanted to counter an argument or disagree with a colleague but thought, ‘I can’t say that! I’m only an XYZ’, then you’re probably underestimating your worth.

One of the key elements in negotiation is knowing what you have to bring to the table. The more confident you are in your skills and experience, the more you’re able to leverage yourself.

For example, if you’re negotiating for a higher salary, show how you were instrumental to the company’s growth by listing down the projects you’ve spearheaded or helped lead. Also, make sure to include instances when you stepped up and took initiative so that your employers also see your leadership potential.

3. Study Body Language

There’s no question that body language is important. It makes your presentations more memorable, it helps you stand out during interviews and it also gives you that winning edge in negotiations.

In fact, sometimes how you act has a lot more impact than what you say. Indeed, 55% of effective communication primarily comes from body language, and most people retain information through visual rather than oral communication.

When it comes to negotiating, having the proper body language will not only make you feel more confident, but it will also make you appear more authoritative and memorable. So, always dress appropriately – and remember: slumped shoulders and downcast eyes are a definite no-no.

Similarly, learning how to read other people’s body language will guide you on whether you should push an agenda or wait another time. For instance, if a client’s brows are furrowed, and they have their arms crossed, then maybe it’s not the best time to suggest that budget increase.

4. Always Be Prepared

This short but effective piece of advice has been the Scout Motto for over 100 years but being prepared is equally essential in the world of business, particularly when mastering the art of closing the deal.

Preparation starts by knowing exactly what you want to get by the end of the discussion and by anticipating how the other party will react to your proposition. For example, if you hope to increase your client’s marketing budget, then you should be ready to present a detailed plan on how you can guarantee a return on investment.

Being prepared also means having your priorities in order so that you know which goal you should fight for the most. For instance, say you have two goals: increase profit by adding more clients and expand the team to balance the workload. If your first priority is to bring revenue in, then maybe you can help your team by negotiating for a more reasonable deadline.

When entering a negotiation, having a clear goal and being prepared for any possible outcome will help you achieve the best possible result.

5. Practise, Practise, Practise

As with developing any professional skill, the only way to be good at negotiating is to practise. Get a trusted friend or colleague to play devil’s advocate by pretending to be your boss or client. Having a second set of ears and eyes will help you prepare better and see other arguments you may have overlooked.

Once you’ve listed down all your points, practise saying them out loud so you know how you sound. When communicating something important, it’s always to speak slow.

Rehearse in front of the mirror so you know how you look and will be more conscious of your hand gestures. The more you’re comfortable with what you have to say, the easier it will be for you to say it when the time comes.

6. Listen First, React Later

Another great negotiation technique that most people forget is to listen first and react later.

Oftentimes, when we feel too strongly about an issue, we forget to hear the other side. But even if you firmly believe that you deserve a raise or that your idea is better than the client’s, there’s always something to gain from being patient and considering what the other party has to say.

Giving people the opportunity to speak not only makes negotiations less uncomfortable, but it also helps you decide on which proper avenues to pursue. For example, if you were planning to request a raise but your boss starts talking about downsizing the company, then perhaps you can negotiate other alternatives, like longer vacation leaves or cutting your workweek to four days.

Remember: the measure of a successful negotiation is when not one but both parties walk away happy.

7. Follow Up with a Plan

One of the most important things to do after a negotiation is to recap what was discussed and to clarify any points that still feel hazy to you. Once all points have been clarified, make sure to follow up with an email that lists down all the agreements made between both parties.

That way, you take hold of the discussion and make people accountable. It also removes that awkward step of having to remind your boss or client about what was agreed upon.

Apart from being concise, your letter should also include a list of action steps to make sure you’re both heading in the same direction. For example, if your client requested for an earlier deadline, your action step should indicate that you’ve reduced their revision privileges.

Negotiating can be intimidating at first, but by following these steps and with enough practice, you’re sure to master the art of closing the deal in no time.

How have your negotiation skills helped you? Share your stories in the comments section below.