Some of my colleagues recently attended a Transformative Mediation course. When they offered to share their learnings with the rest of the team I felt sceptical, thinking it would be a bit ‘tree-huggy’. As they went through the key points from the course I realised these were valuable tools that can benefit any negotiation. I thought I’d share them to help you to be a better negotiator:

Step 1 – listening actively

The first, and most important, technique to master is active listening. This may sound obvious, but many of us do not actively listen – rather, we listen with one ear whilst planning what to say in response. With active listening you really listen, focussing all your attention onto the other party and what they’re saying. Good eye contact and audible feedback (“uh-huh”, “yes” etc) acknowledges that you’re hearing the speaker. It shows respect and, vitally, helps you properly listen to what is being said.

Additionally, by maintaining good eye contact you can pick up on the non-verbal messages and signals that may be important to the topic being discussed. During your negotiation you will, ideally, assign someone with the role of note taker so that you can concentrate on what your counterparty is saying. If this is not possible you should ensure notes are kept to a minimum and that you do not spend the entire time with your head down scribbling. Learning to touch-type can be helpful, as it enables you to focus on the other party while your hands work away recording your notes.

Step 2 – asking good questions

The next skill to tackle is questioning. Very often you will be negotiating with a party who is not in the same industry as you and you will find that the ‘common language’ you thought you had is not so common. Terminology can be used differently across different organisations and acronyms can mean different things to different people even within the same organisation! So don’t be afraid to ask “When you say X, do you mean this?” Or “Could you just explain what you mean by Y?” Seeking clarity will help you avoid future problems.

Detailed questioning will also allow you to delve into the core of a problem. It helps you identify, and hopefully understand, why the other party might have a particular sensitivity over an issue. Often, their drivers are not what you think – so if you fail to question effectively, you can waste valuable negotiation resources solving the wrong problem! By getting to the bottom of what they’re trying to achieve and why,. Good questioning skills assist you and the other party in finding a solution. So if in doubt, ask questions!

Step 3 – summarising to confirm understanding

Steps 1 and 2 are brought together to deliver maximum negotiation benefit by regular practice of step 3. Summarising takes time to master, and requires you to have developed your listening and questioning skills to a high level. How do you do it? As you progress through your negotiation, summarise your understanding of each point as it’s concluded, wrapping up with a final summary at the end. After each summary, check back with the other party that your understanding corresponds with theirs.

By repeating, reflecting and summarising key points of agreement (or even unresolved points of disagreement), you cement the progress you have made with the other party. If misunderstandings have occurred, the summaries will draw these out and allow for them to be corrected before the meeting comes to an end.

Depending on the scale of the negotiation, you may wish to assign someone with the role of summariser. However, since you may find yourself with the part of negotiator, note taker and summariser, you should acknowledge the need for all roles and plan your meeting/negotiation accordingly.

And finally – “listen like a cow!”

My favourite take-away from this training share was “Listen like a cow” – wide eyed, big ears and mouth shut. By opening your ears you will find, more than not, that you open your mind and are more adept at finding creative solutions to what previously may have seemed to be huge stumbling blocks.

Some simple and effective tools. Happy negotiating! And remember, if you have an important negotiation coming up and would like some help preparing effectively, or support during the negotiation itself, just ask. We’re always happy to help. You may also wish to take a look at our intensive negotiation workshop .

Marion Blackmore
Principal Consultant