What are Negotiation Skills?

Take a look at the ten most valued skills in 2020, as defined by The World Economic Forum. Negotiation made the list, no surprise there. This is not what grabbed my attention.

If you asked me to define negotiation skills, I would say they are comprised of exactly those other 9 items that feature on the list. Exactly those (uncanny!) but not necessarily in that order. And yet, The World Economic Forum has separated these skills from “Negotiation”, leading me to assume that they define negotiation skills as something distinct from the other 9 items; perhaps merely negotiation strategies and tactics.

Perhaps this is how most people define negotiation skills.

How would people’s negotiation style change if they perceived negotiation skills to mean a structured way of employing complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, and cognitive flexibility (or in other words, the other 9 items on the list)?

Let’s establish what a negotiation is and how we succeed in it.

Leading researchers in the field have defined negotiation as:

“a back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shared and others that are opposed (as well as some that may simply be different)” – Fisher and Ury’s Getting to a Yes 1981

“a process where two parties with differences which they need to resolve are trying to reach agreement through exploring for options and exchanging offers” – Fells’s Effective Negotiation: From Research to Results 2010

“a process by which a joint decision is made by two or more parties” – Pruitt’s Negotiation Behavior 1981

The clear pattern is that negotiation is defined as a process. This has lead theorists to define models of what this process looks like. For example, Graham (1987) defined a 3-step model of the negotiation process; the antecedent phase, the concurrent phase and the consequent phase. Morris and Keltner (2000) elucidate a 4-step model; opening moves, positioning, problem solving and endgame.

So we know a negotiation is a process. We know it has an aim – to persuade the other party to agree with you. We know that parties to the negotiation may have┬ásome common and some contrasting interests – for example they both see some benefit in working together but each wants to pull the price of the deal in different directions.

How does one succeed in this process? This process has phases, and prescriptive literature, which aims to identify effective negotiation behaviour, can tell us what strategies and tactics are associated with success in each phase. As it turns out, however, implementing those strategies and tactics requires the nine other items on the list!

When I say I train in negotiation skills, that means I provide frameworks, strategies, tactics and techniques to drive the negotiation process towards the outcomes that you choose. But these tools are not fool proof; you need to be a critical thinker and a clever decision maker to choose the best strategy; you need to have complex problem-solving abilities, cognitive flexibility and creativity to explore and propose ways to meet both parties’ needs in the negotiation; you need to have people management skills, ability to coordinate with others and emotional intelligence to persuade the other party of your offer; and you must have a service orientation if you want to build the rapport necessary to gain people’s trust.

Proper training in negotiation skills therefore must combine the teaching of technical tools with training in these 9 items.

So my point is, that from where I stand negotiation skills are not one of the top ten valued skills in 2020, they are the full list. Those who are preparing for the future of work are investing in these skills today. Negotiation training is not the only way to do it, but it is a comprehensive approach to doing it.

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