6 Questions to Improve Your Negotiating Skills

Women negotiating in conference room.

Being an effective negotiator is a skill you can learn. The key is to understand the micro-skills effective negotiators utilize. In the Conflict Negotiation course I teach in the Georgetown Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications program, we spend equal amounts of time learning and applying these skills. Asking the right questions (and actually listening to the answers) is one of the most effective techniques negotiators can employ.

When you think about asking questions, you usually focus on getting information from your counterpart. It is equally important to ask questions that allow you to evaluate that information effectively. Too often, we rely solely on our intuition, in spite of research about our biases that shows us how wrong we are when we do so. Here are six questions you can ask yourself to protect yourself against becoming overly influenced by your own feelings while leveraging empathy, data, outside resources, and your prior experiences as assets in the negotiation.

  1. What Does Your Body Tell You?

    Take a moment to breathe and notice your own sensations. “SBNRR” will guide you through this process: Stop, Breath, Notice (your body sensations), Reflect [on what you are feeling, even label it], and then Respond. Avoid negotiating if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (“HALT”). If possible, engage with your counterpart when you are at your best during the day (e.g., in the morning for you, if you are a “morning person”).

  2. Who Is Affected by the Outcome of the Negotiation and How?

    Considering the impact on others forces you to widen your focus. Make a comprehensive list of all the people who will be affected (in addition to you and your counterpart) to improve your understanding of the consequences of a proposal.

  3. What Data Do You Have?

    Facts can help you make an informed decision. While intuition has a place, in order to negotiate more effectively, approach your negotiation as an investigation. Engage your rational mind by focusing on concrete information. What facts do you know or has your counterpart presented?

  4. How Can I Put Myself in My Counterpart’s Shoes?

    Often, we are so invested in our own perceptions that we assign little or no value to the other person’s point of view. A good way to shift your perspective is to reverse role play. You play your counterpart in the negotiation and have another person play you. As you have to listen to what “you” are saying, and honestly take your counterpart’s perspective, you are likely to get some real insight into their thinking.

  5. What Resources Do I Need?

    Recognizing you don’t know everything and asking for help is a sign of strength. Some proposals are difficult to evaluate because we lack enough data or experience. A credible outsider might have information or experience you lack. Some negotiations benefit from the use of a mediator or facilitator to help (or challenge) both parties to see their value and priority conflicts in a different light.

  6. What Can I Learn from Experience?

    Look back on your negotiation history, and ask if you’ve ever been in a situation like this before. What are the similarities or differences? Looking at your negotiation experience generally, when have you been most successful?

To succeed, start small: Use one or two questions consistently. With practice, you will become more comfortable and more effective. As you increase the number of questions you rely on automatically, you will also increase your negotiating effectiveness.

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