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How to be successful at negotiations


Being able to successfully negotiate is absolutely critical if your business is going to grow and flourish now and in the future.

Often wrongly associated as simply a sales tool, good negotiation skills will maximise positivity across all areas of a business and are vital for an organisation’s overall effectiveness.

To make sure that your negotiation skills are up to the job, you need to understand the characteristics of a successful negotiator, how to plan a successful negotiation and how to make sure that you keep the value gained from successful negotiation in the follow up process.

Five key negotiator skills

Great negotiators all exhibit some common behaviours. As behaviours can be learnt, this means that by practicing these behaviours anyone can increase their effectiveness in negotiation situations. There are five key skills to employ in any negotiation: listen; be prepared; be curious; be in control and be assertive.

  1. Listen – The old adage that you have two ears to one mouth and should use them in that ratio goes double for negotiators. Great negotiators listen effectively to really understand the position of the other side so that they can then use this information to come up with innovative solutions to the challenge ahead.

  2. Be prepared – The hard work in a negotiation happens up front, before the two parties actually get together to thrash out a deal. If you plan and prepare carefully then you are better able to deal with any challenges to your position and also to know the limits of your authority and what you can give away.

  3. Be curious – If you’re keen to explore different and innovative solutions then you’re more likely to find a solution that is truly win-win.

  4. Be in control – Great negotiators are in control of their emotions and their responses. While showing emotion can be used to demonstrate empathy, any display of anger, excitement or dismay, will undermine your bargaining strength.

  5. Be assertive – Great negotiators know what they are there to achieve and whilst they are more than prepared to work with the other side to find a mutually beneficial solution, they are not prepared to sacrifice their own rights to a successful outcome. They are prepared to deal with challenges and say no when they have to.

Planning the negotiation

There are a number of key areas to consider when planning the negotiation.

  • Relationship objectives - People often make the common mistake of thinking that successful negotiation results in them getting their own way, but given that often there is a requirement for the two parties to continue working together after the negotiation it is imperative that the negotiation concludes with a positive relationship between the two. You need to really want the best for both parties to have a successful outcome.

  • Defining the challenge - Part of the planning process involves defining the challenge ahead, including thinking about the objectives you’re trying to achieve, defining your perfect solution, realistic solution and walk away point, and working out how you’re going to measure both short and long-term success.

  • Position analysis - Analysing your current position will help both in terms of framing the potential solutions and also in thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of any potential bargaining position. There are a number of tools available to analyse the current position, a simple one being a standard SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) combined with PES TLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental) to help focus in each area.

    Thorough position analysis will enable you to identify the things that you can give away for free. Think about the things that you offer as a business that the competition don’t offer (e.g. single point of contact or specific invoicing procedures). Many times companies forget that their high standards of service are actually a bargaining chip.

  • Information gathering - Once you have analysed your own position you should think about the party you are dealing with. Doing your homework on them is essential. If you are negotiating with them frequently then best practice would be to have a “permanent file” or up to date knowledge management system with the key information constantly kept up to date. Information can be gathered on anything from informal conversations to financial position to market reputation.

  • Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement – BATNA - This is different to the walk away point that you identified earlier. Instead this is the option that you will default to in the event that the negotiation is unsuccessful. For example, this might be staying with the same supplier or same location, continuing to lease rather than buy outright or a different solution altogether.

    The reason that you need to know your best alternative is that this will have a direct bearing on how aggressive you can be in the negotiation itself. If you have a strong fallback position then you can happily push for a solution that is close to perfect, secure in the knowledge that if you don’t get to an agreement you have a good default option.

Following up after the negotiation

Poor follow up undermines the best negotiations. There’s no point in the team having negotiated a great deal if there is no enforcement of terms and conditions, delivery of excellent service or everything else that was hard won. Here are some key things that need to happen post negotiation.

  • Get it in writing - Make sure that you capture all key points from the negotiation and distribute as soon as possible whilst still fresh.

  • Brief the team - Ensure that the team/individuals responsible for deliver or ongoing management of any contract are fully briefed on the key details of the negotiation. In particular they need to know about any sticking points where the other side may struggle to deliver, any key concessions won and anything unusual.

  • Dates and deadlines - Make sure that all parties are clear on timelines and deadlines. If there are key dates and dependencies then flag these on a timely basis and reinforce the impacts and consequences if they are missed.

  • Enforcement - Manage the consequences of poor delivery. Too many hard won penalty clauses, cancellation fees etc are not followed up on or enforced. If they were worth arguing for in the negotiation then they are presumably worth enforcing.

Watch and learn

A great way of developing negotiation skills is through speaking to and observing other negotiators. Find the people in your team or organisation who have strengths in your weak areas and talk to them, work with them and find out how they developed.

Play to your strengths

If there are areas where you are strong in the above behaviours then look to develop them further and play to your strengths. This will give you some quick wins and build confidence.


The best way to build behaviours is by practice. Shops, markets, deciding the office coffee run – all provide safe environments to practice with no real adverse consequences to getting it wrong!