15 Types of Negotiation Skills and How to Improve Them

Mastering the art of closing the deal — the right way.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Two men using their negotiation skills and shaking hands

Regardless your industry or seniority, there will have been (or will be) times when you hit a wall, with negotiation being your only way out. Whether it’s to ask for a raise, promotion or changes to the terms of your employment, successful negotiation can mean the difference between growing professionally or remaining stuck.

Although negotiating can be uncomfortable, it helps to know that hiring managers and other leaders view negotiation as another part of their job description. That is, they expect their team members to negotiate with them from time to time, so you have little to worry about when calling for a meeting with your supervisor.

In this article, we’ll discuss 15 skills which play a key role in the negotiation process and look at the reasons why it’s important to master them if you haven’t already!

What are negotiation skills?

Negotiation skills are soft skills which a person leverages during negotiation. When two or more parties discuss to reach an agreement that everyone finds acceptable, abilities like communication, empathy and problem solving all come together to maximize the value a person gets out of the resolution.

Although we often associate negotiation with skills like persuasion and bargaining, it’s not just active abilities that contribute to a successful outcome. Passive skills such as listening are also an essential part of the mix.

The importance of negotiation skills

Let’s look at some of the biggest benefits of being a great negotiator in the workplace, from advancing your career through to enhancing the quality of your work relationships.

1. It helps you reach your goals

Negotiation is essential in advancing your career and maximizing your earning potential. People who repeatedly fail to negotiate their starting salaries, for example, can miss out on as much as $750,000 over the course of their careers.

Similarly, if you wait for your employer to give you a raise or a promotion, you could be waiting much longer than is fair for you, especially if you’re the type of employee who takes initiative and goes the extra mile.

2. It can boost your confidence

The more you negotiate better terms of employment for yourself, setting the bar higher each time, the more confident and satisfied you’re going to feel in your professional life. This can boost your negotiation ability further, allowing you to then climb even higher on the ranks and increase your responsibility and authority within the workplace.

3. It can ensure that you’re treated fairly

Negotiation isn’t just for obtaining better employee benefits and salary raises; it can also help you influence and inform others’ decisions, resulting in more just working conditions.

For example, if you feel like your employer is not giving you the same growth opportunities as other colleagues of equal capabilities as you, bringing up the subject and advocating for fairer treatment could help you thrive.

4. It helps you minimize and resolve conflict

Being able to negotiate means being able to consider the other person’s point of view as much as your own. By doing so, you’re able to reach a resolution that’s desirable for both parties which can prevent conflict from arising.

When conflict does arise, negotiation skills can help reduce its intensity and duration. In the workplace, this can mean the difference between thriving and burning out, as frequent conflicts that cannot be addressed effectively are bound to drain you.

5. It helps maintain and improve relationships

Finding yourself in a situation that’s unfair or unfavorable towards you can lead to resentment building up. When you’re able to express that, however, and negotiate something better for yourself (be that a higher salary or responsibilities that match your qualifications and expertise), you can take away the tension.

In the workplace, and outside it, we all have to make compromises to maintain relationships that matter to us — and we do that by negotiating, a lot more often than we may realize.

Types of negotiation skills

For successful negotiation to take place, it takes several skills being put to good use at the same time, from emotional intelligence to communication and problem-solving skills. Let’s look at 15 important negotiation skills:

1. Verbal communication

Unless you’re unable to negotiate in person and end up doing so in writing, verbal communication is going to play a key role in the success of your negotiation ability.

The way you express yourself has to be clear and concise, delivering your message without overloading the other person with information, and giving them enough space to share their own views.

Your tone and pacing also play an important role: speak too fast or too slowly, too meekly or too loudly, and you can come across as either lacking confidence or being hostile.

2. Active listening

To a large extent, effective negotiation relies on your ability to listen. A lot of the time, people listen in order to respond, taking into consideration what’s being said and crafting a reply in their mind while the other person is still expressing themselves.

Negotiation, on the other hand, requires you to listen in order to understand, not to respond. That’s what active listening is: giving the speaker your undivided attention and trying to form as accurate an understanding as possible of their own situation and point of view.

3. Problem solving

There’s a reason they call negotiation an art! To be good at it, you need to master and employ several skills at the same time, one of them being problem solving.

The other party may present you with information or questions you hadn’t previously considered, forcing you to think on your feet and adjust your own demands or expectations on the spot.

4. Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation refers to the ability to exert control over your emotions. Although it’s perfectly reasonable to experience frustration, anxiety or disappointment during negotiation, letting it come to the surface in a way that impairs your judgment or communication will only harm the outcome.

You don’t want to resort to raising your voice, or making ultimatums or threats; instead, you want to approach the discussion with a sense of open-mindedness and respect.

5. Persuasion

Much like negotiation, persuasion doesn’t refer to one ability but rather to a group of skills that come together to influence the outcome of an exchange between two (or more) parties.

Your ability to persuade the other person to consider your own needs and meet you halfway relies on several things. Firstly, it depends on how effectively you can express yourself, vividly conveying your situation in way that makes relating to it easy. Then, it depends on expressing an understanding of the other party’s position and a willingness to create value for them too. Finally, it requires real-time evaluation of what’s being said and quick, accurate thinking to uncover common ground and mutually beneficial solutions.

6. Decision making

Many times, negotiation will require you to think on your feet. Being able to analyze information quickly and identify the best possible course of action is vital in protecting your best interest, so the faster you are at making informed judgment calls, the better.

Of course, the more prepared you are when you enter the negotiation, the more confident you will feel, which can help you navigate tough dilemmas more effectively.

7. Patience

Much like emotional regulation, patience falls under the emotional intelligence skills category. Practicing mindfulness — which means being grounded in the present — is a great way of exercising patience, as it keeps the mind from rushing ahead.

The other party may need some time to make a proposition or might require you to provide more evidence to get behind what you’re asking for, and the anticipation can get almost excruciating. The more you can stay in the moment and keep your thoughts from rushing, the calmer and more rational you will be.

8. Adaptability

Successful negotiators know they need to be adaptable. During the negotiation process, adaptability allows you to consider alternatives which you otherwise wouldn’t have. This flexibility is essential in maintaining trust with the other party, as you each do your best to meet halfway.

More broadly speaking, being adaptable can help increase your resilience, as it diverts you away from dwelling on what could (or should) have been and towards processing and accepting a new reality.

9. Integrity

In the words of Patty Gaddis, vice president of client development at Integrity Solutions: “Negotiations thrive on trust, which is cultivated through empathy and transparency… By empathizing with [your counterpart’s] concerns and openly communicating your intentions, you establish a collaborative environment where both parties feel valued and respected.”

Being honest about your intentions is indeed an excellent way of demonstrating integrity during negotiations. Communicating what you’re hoping to achieve, and why, is vital in getting the other person to understand and relate to you, which boosts your chances of achieving your desired result.

10. Planning

Without effective planning, it can become near impossible to reach your desired outcome during a negotiation. The more time you invest in the planning stage before you initiate a conversation, the better you can prepare for a series of outcomes.

Some things to do during negotiation planning include clearly defining your objective, gathering any supporting information that will help you achieve your goal, and brainstorming the various responses or questions that might come from the other party.

11. Strategizing

Strategizing refers to your ability to come up with actionable plans (or strategies) that allow you to achieve your goals. Popular negotiation strategies you should be aware of include:

  • Determining your best alternative to a negotiated agreement before initiating the exchange. This essentially refers to your back-up plan, the second-best outcome you should strive for if the negotiation doesn’t go as you had hoped.
  • Determining the zone of possible agreement. This refers to the overlap between your and the other party’s reservation price — in other words: the lowest offer you’re willing to accept and the highest offer they’re willing to make.

12. Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is another umbrella term that encompasses several soft skills, including problem solving, active listening and empathy.

The more “fluent” you are in conflict resolution, the less likely you’ll be to react defensively (or even offensively) when negotiation talks become heated. This makes for more positive and productive interactions.

13. Confidence

Giving off a sense of confidence can drastically help you achieve the outcome you’re hoping for during a negotiation. If you’re trying to negotiate a promotion, for example, you need to convey the faith you have in yourself to carry additional responsibilities. Unless you show your manager that you feel ready and capable, they’ll be less likely to get on board with what you are saying.

The following nugget of advice shared on the Harvard Law School website can be a helpful starting point in nurturing your confidence: “When we feel desperate to reach a deal, it’s often because we see no other way out of a difficult predicament. By taking steps to view the negotiation at hand from a broader perspective, we can ease our fears and make a better impression on others.”

14. Research

Using facts and figures to support your claims and requests can be useful during a negotiation. That’s because such information is harder to doubt or challenge.

If you’re asking for a raise, for example, doing a bit of salary research can help you arrive at a figure that’s reasonable and realistic for someone of your expertise. Gathering up data to support your own contributions to the company (such as any quantifiable achievements) can also help strengthen your case.

The more you consider and research prior to initiating the negotiation process, the more prepared and relaxed you will be, which will work in your favor.

15. Empathy

As the experts over at Shapiro Negotiations Institute write: “Using and expressing empathy isn’t always easy, and it’s more than just ‘being nice’ to others. In fact, to be empathetic, you don’t even have to like the other person or their viewpoints, or agree with them. You just need to genuinely understand their side of the negotiation.”

Indeed, you may not be your manager’s biggest fan, but you don’t need to be in order to be heard and understood by them. What you need to do instead is put your listening skills to the test, and show that you’re able to identify with their opinions or concerns, even if they’re different to yours. Expressing this can help strengthen the bond between you, making a mutually beneficial resolution all the more possible.

Types of negotiation skills

How to improve your negotiation skills

Though some of the skills mentioned may come more naturally to you than others, the good news is that there are steps you can take to develop a well-rounded set of negotiation skills that can help propel your career forward.

To become a stronger negotiator:

1. Always prepare

Prior to any negotiation, do your research. Set your desired outcomes and have supporting evidence to back up any claims you make. That will help keep your confidence up!

In addition, reading books on negotiation, listening to podcasts or even enrolling in an online course on the subject can be of help.

2. Practice

When something feels uncomfortable, our instinct a lot of the time is to avoid it. If you find negotiating a little awkward, you may be tempted to keep to yourself, pushing through undesirable situations for as long as possible.

However, the more you practice these skills, the more naturally they’ll come. Challenge yourself to engage in negotiations more often, and get a friend to hold you accountable!

3. Learn from past negotiations

Regardless the outcome of a past negotiation, reflecting on the experience can give you pointers as to where you can improve, or what you should do more of.

Think of the last time you negotiated with someone, in or out of the office. Consider if at any point you lost confidence, for example, and think of why; this can help you prevent it from reoccurring. Likewise, think what words or actions encouraged the other party to agree.

4. Build your confidence

The more you read, research, self-reflect and practice, the more confidence you’ll build in your ability. The same goes for making mistakes: accepting the outcome and striving to gain something from the situation can instill an even stronger sense of self-belief.

5. Develop your emotional intelligence

Successful negotiation requires you to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes. The more you can do that, the more value you can create in your propositions, achieving a win–win scenario for both parties.

Listening is a good place to start (and we mean really listening), as it allows you to better understand the other party. So does looking out for non-verbal cues, and being mindful of your own tone and body language at all times.

Final thoughts

Whether it’s after a job interview or with your current employer, effective negotiation can better your terms of employment, increase your job satisfaction long-term, and allow you to set and reach ambitious goals.

As we’ve seen, good negotiators are not only able to advance their careers and increase their earnings faster, but also resolve conflicts and build rapport with their colleagues more easily. Better work relations combined with better remuneration can act as a shield to your wellbeing and productivity, resulting in a more fulfilling career.

Can you think of any more negotiation skills or additional ways of improving said skills? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

This article is a complete update of an earlier version originally published on September 12, 2018.