By Paul Bramson, CEO — The Paul Bramson Companies
Negotiation skills are a neglected practice. People often shy away from it because it makes them uncomfortable, and yet, negotiation is something no one can truly hide from. Negotiation skills are a necessity for any major life event, whether it’s negotiating a job offer, a higher salary, a budget increase, stronger work-life boundaries, the price of a new home or car, or even conflict resolutions whether it be personal or professional. In fact, a recent study found that most employees feel they need to improve their negotiation skills.
I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to get training and coaching around negotiation and to continue practicing and testing your skills. The biggest pitfall you can make is thinking that you can negotiate effectively based on instinct. Trust me, you cannot. The best negotiators hone their skills and then test them out to gain overall experience to make them the best they can be.
The top sales skills in the graph above are influencing and negotiating. We are talking about negotiating here, but let’s take a beat to talk about influencing as that is at the heart of every negotiation. Your ability to influence someone is the key to aligning and creating a collaborative experience.
Influencing is something you need to learn, hone, keep up-leveling, and practice, practice, practice. It is about understanding the person you are talking to, and being able to guide the conversation to a mutually beneficial conclusion. This is called collaboration. So…how effective are you at influencing?
Why you should test your negotiation skills
Effective negotiation requires navigating complex conversations and making informed choices. Practicing allows you to test those skills and train your brain to assess multiple points of data in real time by considering various perspectives, analyzing their different options, and strategically evaluating each potential outcome. When you’re able to implement these aspects of negotiation during conversations, you can better influence others in decision making that is productive and beneficial to all parties involved.
Additionally, being able to pivot during a conversation is integral because negotiations are not a step by step process and they very rarely go as smoothly or in the straight line one wants them to go in. Conversations ebb and flow and the key is being able to adjust in the moment and take the best course of action throughout the discussion.
As you test your skills, you flex different muscles by trying different techniques and styles. Through this work, you gradually develop a stronger sense of self-confidence when negotiating. With your practice, your voice gets more direct during the negotiation conversation as you’re able to more clearly express your thoughts around your optics, stand your ground when necessary, and effectively articulate your viewpoints.
Why most people neglect negotiation practice
The truth is that many people possess the misconception that negotiation is a natural talent. Let’s be clear…it’s 100% a skill. While some may appear naturally adept at it, like any other communication skill, learning how to negotiate properly takes time and practice.
Before I started my company, I knew that I needed to be a really good communicator — from public speaking to talking to clients…negotiation was part of that. Another challenge I’ve noticed is people often fear failure and rejection. Negotiation involves stepping outside your comfort zone, taking risks, and facing potential rejection. However, for many, this fear can be paralyzing, causing them to shy away from practicing or attempting negotiation altogether. It’s important to remember that you can’t move forward without making mistakes along the way.
Three common negotiation mistakes
In my career, I have noticed three major mistakes people make when attempting to negotiate:
1. Failure to prepare
Anytime you need to ask something of someone, preparation is key. Jotting down your main talking points is helpful to staying on track during the conversation, and so is considering how the other person might respond. What do you ultimately want to achieve and what and when is your “walk away” from the negotiation table?
This is where role-playing exercises are vital to practicing your negotiation skills. Your mentor or personal ‘board of advisors’ can help you identify potential roadblocks so that you’re best prepared to address them if and when they arise.
2. Limited emotional intelligence
Now, I’m not saying you need to be an expert at all five elements of emotional intelligence, but understanding them and working to improve them will greatly help bolster your ability to negotiate effectively.
All too often, I have witnessed people fail to exhibit active listening or empathy during negotiations. Negotiation is a two-way street that requires you to manage your own emotions (we’re all familiar with personal triggers) while also handling external relationships.
3. Being too rigid
Flexibility is key in negotiations. Having clear goals and objectives are important, but being inflexible with your demands can hinder progress and turn people off.
Successful negotiators understand the art of compromise and collaboration and finding mutually beneficial solutions. Remaining open to alternative ideas and remaining flexible in your approach creates opportunities for win-win outcomes that satisfy both parties.
The goal of healthy negotiations is always striving for a win-win outcome. Three strategies to test and improve your negotiation skills
These three strategies will help test and improve your negotiation skills:
1. Role-playing exercises with a colleague, trusted advisor or group
Role-playing is an excellent way to simulate real-life negotiation scenarios and practice different approaches. If the first time you’re having the negotiation conversation is during game time, I have two words for you — good luck. This takes practice and if you want to negotiate like a PRO — the simulations or role-plays are a must. Choose a negotiation scenario relevant to your personal or professional life, assign roles to participants, and engage in simulated negotiations.
By taking turns playing different roles and receiving constructive feedback, you can gain valuable insights and refine your strategies. This kind of hands-on practice builds confidence, sharpens your skills, and prepares you for real-world negotiations.
2. Seek real-life negotiation opportunities
Negotiation opportunities are all around us, waiting to be seized. Look for situations where negotiation skills can be applied, such as persuading someone to see a movie they don’t want to see or eating at a restaurant you don’t want to go to. Practicing on a bigger stage could include a salary negotiation or business deal.
For each negotiation, set specific goals, define desired outcomes, and be ready for potential concessions . Reflect on your negotiation process after each interaction, note things you did really well or felt great about, and identify areas for improvement so you are always learning from your experiences. This active engagement with real-life negotiations allows you to test your skills in practical scenarios and refine your techniques based on real-time feedback.
3. Seek feedback and mentorship
The most underrated tool to have in your negotiation arsenal is an unbiased mentor, advisor or coach who can provide you with guidance and feedback. These individuals can help you incorporate their feedback into future negotiations and continually refine your approach. By seeking mentor relationships and embracing feedback, you will benefit from the wisdom and experience of others, ulimately accelerating your growth as a skilled negotiator.
Negotiation is not just about reaching an agreement — it’s about building relationships, understanding others’ perspectives, and finding mutual wins. By honing your negotiation skills, you will sharpen your communication, decision-making, and empathy, enabling you to handle difficult conversations and create positive outcomes. Embrace the challenge, step out of your comfort zone, and actively look for opportunities to test and improve your negotiation skills.
You’ll be negotiating like a PRO before you know it.
About the author: Paul Bramson has been described as a powerhouse on keynote stages and in training arenas. He is distinguished as being one of the most effective speakers, trainers, and executive coaches in the world today. Paul is considered a global authority and thought leader in the areas of sales, leadership, communication, interviewing, and negotiation skills. With over 25 years of experience in educating, speaking, and coaching, Paul has a unique ability to connect with professionals, leaders, and teams at all levels, providing them with valuable insights and empowering them with the latest knowledge and skills. His sincere and passionate approach to his work is evident in his ability to engage and inspire global audiences. Paul grew up in Boston, graduated from Boston University, and currently lives in Atlanta, GA.