How to Improve Your Negotiation Skills | The BridgeMaker

How to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

By on Nov 17, 2008

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people half way. – Henry Boyle

Life is a series of negotiations. As teenagers, we negotiated with our parents to borrow the family car or for an extended curfew. Today, we negotiate with our employers for better benefits; we negotiate with our spouse or partner for rights over the remote control to the television and we negotiate when we buy a car. We are always negotiating.

The point is clear, often times in order to receive what we want, we first must negotiate for it.

Here’s the rub though, many of us have never received any formal negotiation training. Unless you are an attorney or a salesperson, the art and skill of negotiation is an unknown or unperfected process. However, imagine how much more effective you would be, and perhaps happier and more successful, if you better understood how to improve your negotiation skills.

Negotiation is not about taking advantage of someone else. Just the opposite. Effective negotiation creates a win-win situation that can lead to better and longer-lasting partnerships and friendships founded on mutual respect and trust.

Effective negotiation is based on the following three factors. Understanding and controlling these factors will significantly improve your negotiation skills.

  1. Need
  2. Emotion
  3. Assumptions


Need is one factor that can negatively impact the negotiation process – need in the sense of being too needy. Often, need equals desperation. Most people are very intuitive and can sense neediness and vulnerability right away. To put it bluntly, neediness makes you look and act weak. You are not in a position to gain a win-win solution when you are not on an equal or level playing field.

In my marriage, Mary Beth often comments she likes it when I speak up and tell her what I do, and what I do not, want (in fact, she is actually attracted to this). She responds very positively to my lack of neediness and admires my self confidence. From there, we can sort through all of the choices and agree to a set of options that work for both of us.

Time creates another form of a need that can be detrimental to your negotiation success. Time, or the lack of time, may cause you to rush through the process – pushing for a successful outcome rather than earning it or waiting for it.

Step back and recalibrate. Consider modifying your timeline based on your own criteria – not someone else’s. Make the necessary adjustments to mitigate the risk of having to be constrained by time. You may find it’s not really about time after all; it’s more about your desire to want it now!

Perhaps the most important aspect of controlling need is articulated in this simple statement: Remember, you want the deal, you don’t need the deal.

A need is very different from a want. A need is essential for existence, such as air, water, food and shelter – all needs. A want is completely different. A want is something you would like to have, but can live without. Keep this important distinction in mind when negotiating.


Emotions bog you down and emotions can cloud your ability to make clear decisions based on fact, and almost instantly give the advantage to the other side.

Your job is to come to the negotiating table with a blank slate. If necessary, be prepared to walk away if the terms or conditions do not meet your expectations. When you convey this fact; this very powerful ability, you have taken your emotions out of the mix and have replaced them with sound reasoning.

This strategy is easier to do in our personal life than in our business life. At work, the greatest risk usually revolves around securing a new client or contract; or not. In our personal lives, the stakes are far more important. However, focusing on controlling your emotions in either environment will provide better results.

Love should never be conditional or negotiated. We should be willing participants in our intimate relationships. The day-to-day events that impact our personal relationships, however, are fair ground for negotiations to occur.

For example, family budgets, vacations, or how to spend the weekend can all be debated and negotiated. When you have a want that is different from your partners, try to remove your emotionality. Adopt an attitude, a stance, where you have no fears or judgments.

Be prepared to give something up; but only if you can gain something in return. It’s not about getting even or trumping the wants of another; it’s about having a creative and healthy forum for some give and take to occur.


Assumptions lead to compromise based on fear, which is driven by emotions. We assume if we don’t compromise then (a) we will loose everything or (b) the person we are negotiating with will become angry, upset or even disappointed with us – all are fear-based assumptions. On the other hand, some of the best negotiators have an “I don’t know” mind-set; a blank sheet.

The truth is you don’t know the answer to your request unless you ask and then listen. In other words, you may be able to get what you want by simply asking and then listening to the response.

The most powerful negotiating skill is listening. Once you ask for what you want and then listen to the response, you will hear the acceptance or objections to your request. Here is where you can clearly understand, and not assume, what the other person is thinking and feeling. Now you have a basis for a productive conversation to occur.

The problem is most of us are afraid to ask for we want in the first place. The not asking may stem from years of feeling unworthy or being told we are not enough by those in a position of authority or power over us. You may carry the fear that asking for something you really want may lead to being ridiculed, or worse.

No matter your past, begin learning how to step through the fear and ask for what you want. It begins by asking for something from someone you trust; by feeling safe. Ask and then listen. You may just get what you ask for – and more.

Summary of Key Points to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

  • Need equals desperation – don’t be needy.
  • Remember, you want the deal, you don’t need the deal.
  • If necessary, be prepared to walk away if the terms or conditions do not meet your expectations.
  • Emotions bog you down, cloud your ability to make clear decisions based on fact, and almost instantly give the advantage to the other side.
  • Assumptions lead to compromise based on fear, driven by emotions.
  • The truth is you don’t really know the answer unless you ask and then listen.
  • The most important negotiating skill is listening.

The BridgeMaker Founder Alex Blackwell is the author of Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender. Join the community to connect, share and inspire: Twitter | Facebook | More Posts

  • AndresG

    Great post, it shows negotiation from a different point of view than the usual, these global key factors in our human core makes you understand better why we negotiate for things in life and business.

    On business negotiation, I think there is more involvement for external factors (such as enviroment, presentation, etc.), however the purpose of them are to enable human senses of need or want to achieve a common ground.

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  • I never really broke down negotiations before, but this list of tips really clarifies key points. I like the idea of “you don’t need the deal.” You always need a back up plan so that you can ultimately get what you want or deserve. I am dealing with this right now at work where a lot of us are underpaid. It’s gotten to the point where I need to negotiate or move on. Thanks for the tips!

  • Excellent point here!

    I think most of us never really think about this subject in such a detailed fashion, but, as you pointed out, this a something we do all our lives, in one form or another.

    Thanks for laying this out so clearly and giving me some excellent concepts to help the next time I’m staring opportunity in the face. Eric.