4 Ways to Practice Your Negotiating Skills

A LinkedIn survey found that, when it comes to negotiations, we’re a mess. Twenty-five percent have never negotiated in the workplace; only 37 percent of men and 26 percent of women felt confident in their negotiating abilities. Looking at 2,000 professionals in eight countries, including Germany, Brazil, India, and South Korea, the study found Americans are the most anxious about negotiations. I’m not picking on our friends in the States; I’m even going to make a wild leap and say that this applies to North Americans as a whole. But practice makes perfect. If we can brush up on our skills before sitting down at the table, the results can be much more favorable – and less anxiety-inducing.

All interactions are negotiations. Whenever you’re interacting – whether you’re talking to your supervisor about a raise or talking to your teenager about curfew – there are elements of negotiation. When we can develop these skills, it will help not only in negotiations but in everyday situations.

  • Conflict Coaching. The best way to test your skill level is to work with a conflict coach. Is there an issue in your life or work that is not going as well as you’d like? Engage a coach to help you go through it. The key is learning the communication skills that will help you resolve conflicts, disputes, and issues. Conflict Coaches can also help you clarify your interests, intelligently speculate on the interests of the other party, consider alternative perspectives and establish or improve your BATNA.
  • Role Playing. Practice. You can do this with your coach, coworker, trusted friend, or, if you’re really hard up, some of your kids’ stuffed animals. Practice your approach, your communication skills, and how you might react to different situations that might arise.
  • Books, webinars, courses. Resources like Difficult Conversations: Taming the Abrasive Manager can be helpful. Classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People, Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, and articles from the Harvard Business Review (including “Negotiating for Results” and “Value Negotiation”) can give you some pointers.
  • Understanding interests vs. positions. If you really understand the difference between interests and positions, it changes the way you communicate. Instead of focusing on what you want, you try to understand what the other party wants. If you keep talking at the positional level, you don’t learn anything about the other party – and they’re not learning anything about you. Communication is restricted, and so your chances of a mutually-satisfying resolution are limited.

Focusing on positions makes communication a one-way street for both parties. You are simply “talking at” each other. What are the other party’s hopes? Fears? Needs? Values? Desires? Interests? By asking about the starting points of their reasoning about the solution, it develops trust and sends the message, “I care about what you think & need. I’m not demanding something from you; I’m here to try to make an exchange of mutual benefit.”

Negotiation comes down to effective communication; if we can approach situations with a willingness to engage in two-way communication, understand the interests of other parties, and work towards a solution, you’ll not only see success at the negotiating table, but in many other situations you encounter.

You might be interested in …