Behaviours of expert negotiators

You have three avenues to improving your negotiation capabilities.

  1. You can imitate expert negotiators’ behaviours.
  2. You can learn, apply and master negotiation strategies.
  3. You can develop an understanding of negotiation structure and dynamics such that every negotiation becomes transparent.

People usually start with #1 and move down this list as they acquire a more sophisticated understanding of what is effective and what is trivial, what builds rapport and what appears disingenuous. My approach to teaching negotiation skills involves, ideally, starting with #3 and moves up the list, or at the very least addressing these three avenues in parallel.

One reason is that once you acquire the skills to “see through” the negotiation, you can analyse the situation for what it is, rather than trying to fit it into one possible familiar negotiation category (for example a haggle or a collaboration). You will then be able to analyse the power balance, the interests involved and the appropriate strategy, instead of opting for assumptions and shortcuts which are associated with the closest-fitting category. Experienced negotiators know that since negotiations are a way to manage a relationship, and each relationship is nuanced and different; it would be risky to approach multiple negotiations in the exact same way.

Another reason is that people are not stupid, they pick up on tactics and respond in reciprocity. When you learn a behaviour as an isolated skill, not within the context of a broader approach but as an independent “trick”, you risk applying it at the wrong time, or without the appropriate surrounding behaviours, and it will come across as just that – a trick, a tactic. It is important to place tactics within a more general strategy, and the strategy within a more general understanding of the dynamics of that particular negotiation.

“Transparency” of negotiations is the aim of Sheer Negotiations. I want you to be able to see though a negotiation scenario, identify the relevant details, see the underlying structure including the balance of power, the dependencies, the opportunities for mutual gain, and recognise the underlying interests of the other party. The next step would be to apply a step-by-step strategy, which should include tactics. Best practice behaviours are not independent of the negotiation context. If you ever ask a negotiation trainer what you should do, we will answer “well, that depends!”

There is great value in uncovering the behaviours of top negotiators. First, you can get a sense for the great variety of behaviours which negotiators deem important for success. Second (and contrastingly), patterns start to emerge and you can identify those reoccuring behaviours which all negotiators agree are crucial to success. Third, we – you and I – can get inspired by what can be achieved by an expert negotiator.

To these three ends, I want to offer you this information freely, conveniently, regularly. As part of the Behaviours of Expert Negotiators Project, I will interview negotiators who have expertise and experiences we can be inspired by. Their insights will feature in this blog page, starting soon. I encourage you to read through them, note the variety, note the emerging patterns, and be inspired to sharpen your own skills to the benefit of your business and personal relationships. Watch this space!


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