How to Improve Negotiation Skills: Essential Tips You Can’t Ignore

Written by Neil Clothier

‘How can I improve my negotiation skills?’ Negotiation Skills’ - It’s a question posed by many salespeople keen to improve their negotiation skills and win more all-important deals.

As conductors of the largest body of directly observed research into live commercial and contract negotiations, Huthwaite continues to help clients improve their revenue and margins, with many attributing their success to our Negotiation Skills programmes.

This programme focuses on the development of key negotiation skills to ensure businesses conclude more face-to-face deals. which develops the face-to-face skills of negotiators and, ultimately, creates more effective deals.

So, if you’re wondering how to improve your negotiation skills, you’re in luck.

In this article, we’ll delve into the 10 negotiation commandments that’ll help you convert more deals for your company:

  1. Sell first and then negotiate, if you have to
  2. Never concede, always trade
  3. Win-win is not fifty-fifty
  4. Power is in the head
  5. Prepare and plan with care
  6. Identify and use your levers
  7. Logic is not persuasive
  8. Don't just cut the pie, grow it
  9. Develop your behavioural skills
  10. Keep all the balls in the air till the end

Essential tips to improve your negotiation skills

1. Sell first and then negotiate – if you have to

If you can sell your buyer an unchanged solution at the full, quoted price, why negotiate? However, in major business contracts, this is rare.

Usually, the buyer will signal the start of a negotiation by saying, "I'd like to do business with you if…" Average negotiators will have already given things away to achieve this position; the skilled will not.

2. Never concede, always trade

Effective negotiation involves movement by both parties towards an outcome. Avoid 'giving' something without 'getting' something in return. When you need to move from any stated position, make a conditional offer such as "I might be able to move on X if you’re prepared to move on Y." This is particularly important towards the end.

The seductive sight of a deal can tempt the unwary into unilateral concessions.

 Gain invaluable insights into negotiation methods with the whitepaper, ‘Developing Effective Negotiation Skills’, and achieve your desired outcomes.

Download your copy

3. Win win is not fifty-fifty

We're all encouraged to aim for win/win, but what Huthwaite actually wants to help our clients achieve is the best possible deal for them that still allows a win for the other side.

Top tip: Before entering a round of negotiations, have a clear idea of what success looks like for you and the other party.

4. Power is in the head

Many sellers feel that negotiating power lies with the buyer. However, having worked with buyers, I can tell you that they often say the opposite. They need the service being sold and can rarely afford the deal to fall through either.

Power is a perception. If you feel powerful, you are powerful, and you behave accordingly. If you feel weak, the reverse applies. If power is about perception and feelings, you can manage and control it.

Tip number five explains how skilled negotiators generate and manage their feelings of power.

5. Prepare and plan with care

Skilled negotiators do a number of things before a negotiation.

  • They develop a credible fallback that describes what they will do if this particular negotiation fails entirely.
  • They identify as many negotiable issues as possible, prioritise them and develop a negotiable range for each
  • They calculate the cost of concessions for each negotiable issue to avoid impulsive and expensive mistakes in the heat of battle.
  • They repeat the whole process, but this time they try to think like the other party.
  • They spend time identifying 'common ground' and plan how to use it in the negotiation.

Therefore, they manage their feelings of power and identify the possible overlaps, trades and levers to give themselves the maximum flexibility to bargain.

Book a free consultation with a negotiation expert – Book now

6. Identify and use your levers

A lever is something that costs you less than the value the other party places upon it. It can therefore be traded for something that you value.

Comparing the priorities on each negotiable issue identifies those levers. Linking issues and obeying the second negotiation commandment make sure that you use them.

7. Logic is not persuasive

This applies in every aspect of life, as any parent will tell you! Skilled negotiators know it too.

They don't browbeat the other party or use long chains of logical arguments. They have only one or two key reasons for any particular position they adopt. They do, however, prepare lots of smart questions to probe the other side's stance. Their objective is to create doubt in the validity of that stance in the first stage of persuasion. They accomplish the second stage and create movement by offering flexible trades and using their levers.

8. Don't just cut the pie, grow it

A good deal is a creative deal. It creates additional value to whatever the two parties each bring to the table. Ideally, that value is created at the expense of a third party.

For example, the competition or the taxman! When planning, skilled negotiators generate a wide range of creative options in considering how each negotiable issue might be settled.

They look 'outside the deal' for extra value.

9. Develop your behavioural skills

Preparing and planning are fine, but we all face impromptu negotiations with no time for either. When this happens, all we have to fall back on are our personal negotiating skills.

The stereotypical image of the negotiator as a hard-faced and intractable character is incorrect. Skilled negotiators have wide behavioural repertoires and the flexibility to match their behaviour to suit the situation. Our programmes help develop this behavioural flexibility.

10. Keep all the balls in the air till the end

However tempting, avoid settling issues as you go, particularly the minor ones. The risk is that you discard your levers and the negotiation comes down to a single-issue confrontation with no other issues available to break the deadlock.

You need to be able to juggle all the issues so that you can bring any of them back into play at any time before the deal is concluded. Until the end, settle Issues provisionally.

And of course, like any good set of ten commandments, there is an eleventh.

Recognising the difference: The art of recognising a bad deal in sales negotiations

In the realm of sales negotiations, deals that have lingered in the forecast for months can often seem deceptively close to fruition. The allure of closure is tantalizing, and it appears that just a few minor concessions could seal the deal. However, seasoned negotiators possess a unique insight – they understand that, in such cases, the proximity to closure doesn't guarantee a good deal.

With a clear understanding of their "worst" position and a credible fallback plan, skilled negotiators are quick to recognize a bad deal when they see one. They understand the value of their product or service and refuse to compromise beyond what's reasonable. In doing so, they have the confidence to walk away from a deal that doesn't align with their objectives or provide fair value.

In essence, the ability to discern between a deal worth pursuing and one best left behind is a hallmark of effective negotiation. It's a skill born from experience and wisdom, and it ensures that negotiations remain true to the interests of all parties involved.


Enhance your negotiation strategies

Develop priceless insights into negotiation methods with the whitepaper, ‘Developing Effective Negotiation Skills’, and achieve your desired results.

Tell us your perspective