Secrets to Being a Great Negotiator – at Work & Everywhere else

secrets being great negotiator
Secrets to Being a Great Negotiator

Some of us shy away from negations – others thrive on them but, at some point or another, every man will have to put his foot down and get some seriously well-worked words out.

“Never forget the power of silence, that massively disconcerting pause which goes on and on and may last induce an opponent to babble and backtrack nervously.” – Lance Morrow

We’ve all seen one or more top-grossing Hollywood movies where the lead character is a talented hostage negotiator that screws up, only to redeem himself later. However appealing and powerful this role may seem – it’s not only FBI agents or hostage negotiators that negotiate regularly – we all do it. The difference is that these people undergo extensive training on how to negotiate – while the rest of us learn through trial and error. The good news is that you don’t have to figure things out on your own – you can learn from the best – people who mentor others on how to negotiate for a living.

If you look at any successful man there is one skill that he is guaranteed to have – that of laying down a killer negotiation each and every time it suits him to do so. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a high-powered lawyer, an accountant or an average Joe– chances are your making negotiations on a regular basis. We negotiate with banks to try and get better interest rates on our mortgages and car loans – we try to get the sales clerk to agree to exchange an item when the warranty has expired. We negotiate with our employers to increase our salaries or give us some extra time off work. We negotiate with our employees and try to get them to work harder while they try to negotiate with us for better wages and promotions they don’t always deserve. Think about the last time you bought a car – did you simply walk into the dealership and accept the first deal you were offered? Probably not – you probably had a good look at the car, took it for a test run and then negotiated the price down. If you didn’t do any of the above than chances are both your bank balance and ego took a big blow – and there is no better way to get over that than to get busy working on your negotiation skills. Truth is that we learn a lot more from screwing up a negotiation than we do from winning one. As with all things in life, experience is the best teacher – and the more you consciously participate in negotiations the better you’ll become at it – and the more you improve your negotiations skills, the more results you’ll see materialize in your life and the more your confidence will grow.

Be confident

You walk into a room full of businessmen – you glance around the room and immediately notice several others have their attention fixed on what one guy is busy saying. He isn’t the best looking, he isn’t the richest and he isn’t even the funniest – but one thing’s for sure; he’s got confidence – and lot’s of it. Confidence is the key to be getting what you want and achieving the success that others can only dream of – and without it you're not going to get very far. Confidence is extremely important for every aspect of life but it becomes the deciding factor in any negotiation. The minute the guy sitting across the table from you, senses that you're not too sure of yourself or of the words coming out of your mouth – he’ll launch an attack like a wolf on an unattended baby lamb. However, if you believe in yourself and what you stand for – than chances are that others will believe in you too. If you're not a naturally confident guy – pretend to be or better put “fake it until you make it”. Being nervous is absolutely natural – and instead of letting it disadvantage and cripple you – use it to your advantage. How? By drawing strength from it and using it stand your ground and get what you want. It’s important that you clearly distinguish between confidence and arrogance – no one likes an arrogant prick – so don’t kill relationships by automatically assuming you have the upper hand. On the opposite side of the scale is desperation - don’t sound desperate and don’t beg. As with lacking confidence, showing your desperation will not get you what you need – it is always better to walk into the negotiation in full faith that you can walk away from it if your conditions are not met. Walking into a negotiation with the idea that your life depends on the outcome will never work in your favor. If you want it a great deal more than the other side does – you've already lost – so perhaps it’s better to re-evaluate the situation entirely and come at it from a different angle.

Do your research

Here’s a fact; in any negotiation there are two parties present and each side wants something that the other has or, can provide. If the other party does not want anything from you, then you have already lost the negotiation – game over. Before you even get to the negotiation table you need to do some homework. Know exactly what it is that they want from you – and play on it. You also have to know exactly what you want and more importantly, what the other side would consider as a “win”. There is absolutely no way to ensure that you’ll fail then to show up unprepared. For every minute that you spend in a business negotiation be prepared to do a minimum of one hour’s worth of research for it. You may think you don’t have the time to prepare so thoroughly but time management is a skill and this 9 tips on increasing your work productivity will tell you exactly how to do it. Prepare not only your own offer in detail but all the possible outcomes of the negotiation – from the best to the worst case scenario – and make sure you have a plan-B. This will not only ensure that you never go in unprepared but also that you feel ultra-confident no matter which direction things end up heading in. Just as professional boxers do; you should know every single detail about your opponent before entering the proverbial ring. Know their weaknesses but don’t ignore their strengths – be prepared to attack but remember how to defend. When you walk into that room and sit down take your time to analyze your opponent – get a feel for what emotional state he is in. Is he nervous? It probably means he feels that he has a lot to lose. Is he quiet? He’s probably the one with the upper hand – and he’s thinking about how to break it to you. Is he overly keen to get the deal finalized? He may be hiding something. You will always notice things when you know what to look for – so look at the body language and let your instinct guide you.

Watch your body language and dress appropriately

Apple’s founder may have been able to pounce around in his jeans and sneakers but unless you're the founder and CEO of a million-dollar company – you better leave those sneakers in your gym bag. If you want to deliver a powerful impression than you have to dress appropriately for the occasion. Formal meetings warrant a suit and tie paired with some appropriate accessories and classic oxford shoes. If the negotiation that’s going to be taking place is somewhat informal than don’t be afraid to skip the tie and suit jacket – there is nothing that screams “desperation” louder than a man who walks into an informal negotiation dressed like it’s his wedding day. In addition to ensuring you're appropriately dressed, you have to pay particular attention to body language. Always sit upright, make good eye contact, don’t keep your arms folded across you chest and always pay attention to your hand gestures. This 15-minute video by Allan Pease will demonstrate why body language is so important and give you some crucial tips on how to use body language and how to gesticulate in the most effective way possible. If we really consider what Allan is saying in this video you’ll clearly understand that the way you deliver information is more important than the information itself.

Practice varying tactics

As with many things in life using surprise and initiative can work to your advantage and may even be the key to success. Rather than give the other guy the chance to think too long and hard about things – you could make the first move. Make your offer or state your position and then make sure that everything that follows remains on point. Don’t trail off and start talking about matters that are not important or anything that indicates you're willing to back down or give in. The trick to using this strategy is to make sure that the other party is taken aback by your decisiveness, confidence and your persistence. Once again, this doesn’t not mean that you should intimidate anyone, be rude or aggressive. Reading your offer or key points from a piece of paper looks unprofessional – so make notes if you have to but, never read them and, if you absolutely have to, make sure you don’t mono-tone the entire thing. Another tactic that is particularly effective in negations is using repetition or rather, the law of iteration. This is essentially where one repeats themselves over and over again until the other side becomes subconsciously programmed to believe and accept your proposition. Different strategies and tactics will work for different kinds on negotiations and for different kinds of people – use your instincts to guide you.

Learn to adapt

What if you go into the negotiation and get some unexpected curve balls thrown your way? What if something the other person says or does changes the equation completely? Then your only option is to adapt and respond appropriately. Chances are that if you had prepared thoroughly well ahead of time – you would be able to anticipate the unanticipated but if not you have two options – and both leave the ball in your court. The first would be to adapt and quickly work out what the best course of action is – and this s where silence and deliberation is your best friend. Don’t be in a rush to respond – and since it is the other party who brought upon these changes – you are entitled to take your time to consider. This is when it could work out in your favor to tell them you need some time to look things over or consult with anyone you need to. Don’t seem to taken aback by the new developments – simply state that you need some time to think things over and ensure that the other party feels as though another meeting will surely lead to a final conclusion. If you think that asking for more time may jeopardize you're deal then the best thing to do is to go in with a plan-B. Your plan B should never show up until absolutely necessary – and when it does it needs to be delivered with the same confidence that plan-A was delivered. Don’t be afraid to ask questions but do so in a very calm and respectful manner. Listen carefully to what you're being told, deliberate on the answers carefully and then when you're ready – go in for a second attempt.

Build a relationship

Remember that to be a great negotiator you don’t have to be a jerk – actually quite the opposite. If you're a pleasant individual and people really like you – they’ll naturally want to please you – and therefore give you exactly what you want. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that you don’t be overbearing, rude, egotistical or anything that will make others feel intimidated. You have to show enthusiasm and passion in order to truly make a connection. Another important way to truly build a relationship and establish rapport is by using open-ended questions. This is essentially where you would use a question that does not have a yes or no answer, nor one that begin with “why?”, which psychologically indicates that someone is being interrogated and will close them off. An open-ended question is “Could you help me understand what you mean by explaining that further”. It gives the person a false sense of power while effectively forcing their hand into providing more information.


Listening is something that everyone thinks they do well – but the majority of people have a long way to go. You have to really listen to what the other side is saying and then take a moment to pause while you consider what is really being said before replying. As mentioned, pausing before speaking is one of the most powerful tools to ensure that people take what you say seriously and that you don’t used presumptions and preconceived notions to steer you off course. Pausing also makes people nervous s this is an effective way to get the other side to babble off to try and fill in the awkward silence. It is during this babble that you should let them talk they’ll soon realize they’ve weakened their position – it is here that you need pause for a few seconds before restating your argument as you did before – clearly, slowly and with confidence. Show that you are paying attention by maintaining good eye contact but also by paraphrasing and using the words “alright” and “I see” or “I understand” when the other side pauses. Paraphrase by repeating what the other side just said or quoting them. You can also repeat the last portion of their sentence or the main idea of what was said in order to show that you are truly listening.

Know when to stop

Knowing when it’s time to walk away is just as important as being an effective negotiator. When a deal is simply taking too much of your time and isn’t showing any signs of materializing – chances are high that it will fall through. This is the best time to walk away – ever so politely, and move on to something that deserves your time and energy. If you can sense anger, resentment, irritation or even an unsavory attitude coming from the other side – reschedule the meeting, or, close things off and save yourself the time and hassle of playing with people that have no interest the game.

It’s not easy to become accustomed to using these above strategies – particularly if your new to negotiating however, by implementing these into your everyday life – you can become good – even great, in no time. Star by using consciously positive gestures when you speak to people, use good eye-contact and pay attention to your body language in all your daily interactions. Start studying the body language of others too – and note how this reflects their emotions. Use pauses before talking – and observe the effect that this has. Practice being confident without seeming arrogant and next time you find yourself in a negotiation you’ll instinctively know how to handle it like a professional.

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