In short:

  • In business, negotiation skills(opens in new tab) no longer include the ability to win verbal duels in the boardroom. Today’s negotiation experts recommend using authenticity and compassion in your approach.
  • Winning negotiation tactics include establishing personal relationships with the other party and showing you understand their needs.
  • Resist the urge to pitch yourself or take a stance you’re not willing to change during negotiations, and prepare well so you’ll be in a strong mental and emotional position.

Negotiation skills are an unspoken expectation in today’s business world, regardless of your place in the executive hierarchy.

Whether it’s exercised during a client proposal, a product pitch or internal team mediation, effective negotiation strengthens relationships and allows for an exchange of lasting value between parties.

But the days of playing hardball in the boardroom are over. When it comes to modern negotiation, business leaders need to consider the nuances of today’s hypersocial, more sensitive business culture. There are no tactical scripts to follow, no proven strategies and no winners or losers. The goal is simply to approach the bargaining table with good intentions and a genuine interest in connecting with the other party.

Careful, wise negotiation benefits all parties and makes for balanced, positive interactions. These skills go far beyond wordsmithing your product or service–they include your approach, appearance and state of mind.

Here are seven tips to improve your negotiation skills so you can get what you want while making your customers and colleagues happy, too.

1. Negotiate as your real self, not your business self.

“The new common denominator in every negotiation is that it’s between two human beings,” said Zachary M. Cochran, a career coach at New York-based firm Cochran Coaching LLC(opens in new tab). “Since we’re all people, letting our guard down can sometimes mean being personal, transparent or vulnerable(opens in new tab). It’s possible to do this while still staying firm to your negotiation needs and convictions.”

“The new common denominator in every negotiation is that it’s between two human beings.”

Bring your authentic self to the bargaining table. Individuality, honesty and professional integrity are the new calling card. Cochran advises clients to list their strengths and weaknesses as a way of creating a sense of self-awareness prior to a negotiation.

2. Build trust by showing that you understand needs.

Cochran’s number-one piece of advice for his clients is to build trust with the other party before negotiating. Trust is the most important quality in any transactional relationship, he added.

“You should always be looking for ways to serve the other party,” Cochran said. “Focusing on what is most important to both sides allows for the relationship and communication to continue and for a better solution to be discovered and agreed to.”

“You should always be looking for ways to serve the other party.”

Julie Roehm is the chief experience officer and CMO at ABRA(opens in new tab), a national auto body and glass repair company. She agrees that demonstrating an understanding of needs is critical in negotiations.

“I’ve found the greatest success when I can show empathy for the other side’s needs and positions,” Roehm said. “By articulating what you think they need or want, and then either getting their buy-in or restatement of their need, you’ve gone a long way in establishing trust and goodwill.”

Expert negotiators establish trust
Expert negotiators establish trust by showing empathy for the other party’s needs.

3. Drop the pitch.

Once the negotiation is underway, resist the urge to sell yourself or your product, and hark back to being human, Cochran said.

Again, “Be yourself–a real human being with needs, wants and candor about what those are,” he said. “Dropping the pitch disarms people, and they respond more positively to what you’re proposing.”

“Be yourself — a real human being with needs, wants and candor about what those are.”

Jeff Chi is the CEO and co-founder of Krush Media Group(opens in new tab), a digital advertising company that works with brands and publishers. He credits his success in negotiations to authenticity–that means no scripts and no war-room tactics.

“The single most important thing with any business negotiation starts with understanding what is necessary for a mutually positive partnership between the companies,” he said. “If you can structure a beneficial deal for both parties, the deal will virtually find a way to sign itself.”

“When I was just starting out in the digital advertising space, I remember being given specific objectives by my superiors and was always encouraged to push for the best deal I could get for the company,” he continued. “I followed their instructions but quickly learned that thinking one-sidedly led to the deal not working or a short-term partnership at best.”

4. Prepare, but don’t assume a solution.

Preparation and research are paramount in modern business negotiations. This starts with the obvious: Learn details about the company you’re approaching, who you’re talking to and what they do. It often also includes brainstorming customized solutions before entering a negotiation, Cochran said.

“As a rule, an hour spent in planning saves ten in execution,” he said. “If we spent an hour brainstorming twenty-plus possible ways to come to an agreement — whether before the negotiation or [during it] with the other party — then we are almost certainly going to come to a better solution than if we both came to the table with one solution.”

Chris Cunningham, a longtime technology startup investor and founder of C2 Ventures(opens in new tab), stressed the importance of knowing your numbers backward and forward.

“Do more homework than your prospective client is prepared for,” Cunningham said. “Show value quicker than the next person, and always do what you say you’re going to do afterward, so the other party appreciates what you bring to the table.”

“Show value quicker than the next person, and always do what you say you’re going to do afterward.”

Some parties may encounter extra pressure to prepare prior to a negotiation. Take Chi Dixon, a successful advertising, marketing and events consultant.

“As a woman, and particularly as a woman of color, I find I need to walk in the door armed, prepared and ready to walk away if I have to,” said Dixon. “There’s no option to be ‘kind of ready’ or ‘sort of prepared’ in any instance.”

As a result, her advice — for all negotiators — is to study up on your audience, their business and their competitors, as well as your own. It’s a sign of respect toward both them and yourself.

“Know your worth,” Dixon said. “Nothing says ‘newb’ like showing up without the materials you need to close the deal.”

bold presenter
Prepare well for a negotiation, and you’ll immediately earn the other party’s respect.

5. Allow preparedness to pump you up.

Preparedness can serve the additional purpose of putting you in a stronger mental and emotional bargaining position. Anyone can sense when they’re in the presence of a negotiator who is certain and authoritative, Cochran said. Thus, a persuasive negotiator must radiate self-assuredness.

“Believe in yourself, because your business adversary or competition can smell fear,” Roehm added. “That belief and confidence only comes with a ton of preparation and analysis. Only then will your confidence soar, because you will have total command of the situation.”

Find ways to combat the negative emotions that often remove negotiators from a helpful headspace, like fear of rejection or low self-value.

“Sometimes I need to remind myself the reason we’re in negotiations in the first place is that a person wants something I can offer,” said Dixon. “That reminder allows me to go in confidently, protect my brand, product or services from unnecessary discounting and not be afraid if I need to walk away.”

“I remind myself the reason we’re in negotiations in the first place is that a person wants something I can offer.”

6. Take care of yourself.

Emulating confidence–and thus coming one step closer to closing the deal–requires more than just getting into the right mental state before a meeting. It involves how you present yourself physically, the warmth of your smile, the tone of your voice and your facial expressions while you’re both speaking and listening. These qualities deliver subconscious clues to the other party about your trustworthiness.

Mastering this area doesn’t require going to any great lengths, but rather simply taking care of yourself.

“Your mindset affects your body,” said Cochran. “If I haven’t slept, I’ll be more emotionally influenced, which could be to my detriment in a high-stakes negotiation. If I haven’t exercised recently, I’ll be antsy with nervous energy, and that isn’t good. Your body language matters, and when you’ve been taking care of yourself, you’ll naturally look more rested, poised and confident.”

“Your mindset affects your body.”

7. Practice active listening (without your phone).

The definition of active listening(opens in new tab) varies within marketing and sales circles, but in counseling and conflict resolution, it means devoting your full concentration to another party. That means avoiding your phone or any other devices during a meeting or call.

Active listening also involves waiting until the other party is finished saying their piece before mentally drafting yours.

In business negotiations, “listening carefully, as opposed to formulating a response while the other person is talking, gives you an edge because you’re able to understand motivation and KPIs to formulate more effective solutions,” Dixon said.

“Listening carefully, as opposed to formulating a response while the other person is talking, gives you an edge.”

Many business leaders underestimate the importance of listening deeply to a prospect’s concerns, comments and questions and responding in a way that doesn’t sound scripted, she added.

�� The bottom line

In the end, negotiation results in a win-win when you show the other party that you care–and when you genuinely do.

“When someone says, ‘I feel heard,’ those are beautiful words,” said Cochran. “That can only really happen when you’ve brought your authentic self to the meeting, done a good job at being present and conveying good intentions, and at that point, you can be sure everyone will walk away with something they need.”