How good are your negotiation skills?

Handshake symbolizing a successful negotiation

There are some skills that most business leaders take for granted, and negotiation features high on the list. People see it in binary terms, either describing themselves as good or bad negotiators, a judgment often based more on their level of self-confidence than a solid understanding of the process or demonstrable behaviour. Few see negotiation skills as an area for development. This strikes me as odd given the number of occasions a business leader is involved in a negotiation of some description and the impact on business performance. Like all the other leadership attributes, it’s a learnable skill.

Once you embrace the principles of a growth mindset and believe that you can improve your ability as a negotiator, you can step into development mode and start looking at it as a process rather than an undefinable talent.

There are various models to choose from, all of which follow similar established steps; I follow Scotwork’s 8-Step* process to a negotiation:-
1. Prepare
2. Argue
3. Signal
4. Propose
5. Package
6. Bargain
7. Close
8. Agree

*Scotwork® advanced negotiation process,

Prepare means taking the time to think and plan the negotiation, not focusing purely on the principal objective but considering the start and end-points, the participants, the power balance, the must-haves & must-avoids, the information held & required, the wish & concession lists, the agenda & logistics, your strategy & opening pitch. Of course, the size and significance of the negotiation will determine how much time and effort you invest in the preparation, but the adage applies. ”Fail to Prepare – Prepare to Fail.”

If you go into a negotiation under-prepared, you are likely to fall into the trap of disclosing too much too early, letting the other party gather important clues about your strategy and position. Once you’ve made your opening pitch you need to go into investigator mode asking probing questions and doing more listening than talking to scope out what’s possible and what’s important to the other party and why. At this point, you want to keep a flexible strategy to adapt to the new information that becomes available.

The next step is Argue, when you will challenge the statements from the other party as to why they can’t give you exactly what you are seeking to see what flexibility there is. You will also defend your assertions about why you can’t comply with their demands by disclosing more facts and information. This is an integral part of the process and can become quite intense; it’s important to remain calm, relying on your familiarity with your strategy and facts whilst staying focused to pick up further clues from what’s said, and equally important, body language.

You will learn to spot when the Argue stage has run its course, and that’s when you need to use Signalling to move the negotiation forward. Your signalling should be carefully crafted, so you don’t give any value away; at this stage, it’s about exploring what may be possible and what circumstances would be required to facilitate the hypothesised position.

Once you’ve sent and received signals, you will be ready to Propose. Again at this juncture, nothing is agreed; you are simply making or receiving a proposal to be considered. Once the proposal is delivered, you go back to inquisitive mode to discover how it lands, what parts are acceptable, which parts may need to be adjusted, what other variables need to be considered.

Packaging is a natural next step to the Proposal, when you start to build out and add value to the proposal by exploring what elements of your Wish-list the other party is prepared to bundle into the deal, in return for you offering concessions that are relatively cheap for you to give but are highly valued by the other party.

The Bargaining step is an interactive process of trading concessions to optimise the value of the package. Before you complete this phase, you should always check to make sure you’re not leaving any value on the table or missing any important information that may be pertinent to closing an agreement.

Once you have explored every aspect of the negotiation and have the best deal on the table, you are ready to Close. Bear in mind a negotiation may take place over several sittings, and it’s perfectly reasonable to call a time out to think or consult with your colleagues. To close, you summarise all the points agreed upon and ensure absolute clarity between the parties.

The Agree process is the natural conclusion of negotiation, but it doesn’t end with a hand-shake. It’s vital to record the agreement and agree on the next steps. Don’t slip at the final hurdle and let all your hard work start to unravel because, in your jubilation at closing a deal, you fail to nail down the details and actions.

Negotiating is a fascinating process that invites you to use all your attributes and skills. With coaching and practice, we can all improve our negotiation skills, resulting in better agreements leading to better results for you and your business.

If you want to improve your negotiating skills or other business and leadership competencies, please contact me for further information:

Andrew Clemence, Business & Leadership Coach

+44 203 287 3398




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