3 Win-Win Negotiation Skills Every Successful Leader Needs

We all have a relationship with money, self-advocacy, and conflict, which means we all have a relationship with our negotiation skills.  Do you know yours?

Do you tend to avoid conflict? Do you procrastinate having those tough conversations at work because you fear you’ll let someone down, or you’re afraid of how they’ll react?  Do you consider yourself a “poor negotiator”? Can you negotiate effectively for your friends and colleagues but fall apart when it comes to self-advocating for your own needs and wants? Or, do you view negotiating and winning as the only option?

Negotiation is a learned set of skills and behaviors that takes practice, preparation, and an awareness of feelings.

Negotiation is just like riding a bike, public speaking or skydiving: you have to develop the courage to take action, pay attention to the world and risks around you, and overcome your fears.

You leverage negotiation on a daily basis in all of your relationships.  You negotiate with your partner, your friends, your colleagues, and your boss whether you’re aware of it or not.  So, how aware are you of your own relationship to negotiation, self-advocacy and conflict? If you find yourself feeling like the process of negotiation is overwhelming or scary, I want to offer you another perspective.

What if you consider that negotiation is a tool to find common ground?  What if you consider that negotiation is an integral leadership skill that’s necessary for the success of your life and career?  How does that change your point of view? If you knew you could improve by learning effective skills of negotiation, would you continue to avoid speaking up, saying “no”, or asking for what you want?

The trick in negotiation is to approach the process with curiosity, compassion, and patience.  The goal of negotiation is not “to win”. The goal of negotiation is to find a solution or a way forward that feels good to you.  This does not necessarily mean you’ll get everything you ask for. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to compromise or that you’ll always hear “yes”.

What it does mean is that you give yourself permission to consider your options.  It means you’ll find the courage to have honest, effective conversations to gather information and choose a path forward.  At the end of the day, negotiation is the most effective tool when it comes to creating your ideal life. Negotiation gives you agency in your own life.

No matter what side of the table you’re sitting on during a negotiation, here are 3 negotiation skills every leader needs to master in order to be effective: 

  1. Don’t take it personally
    If you have an emotional response of feeling hurt, angry, or unsafe when someone approaches you with an “ask”, you’re probably taking the situation personally.  If your boss or partner’s answer of “no” brings up feelings of discomfort, fear, or stress, it’s an opportunity for you to get curious about where you’re not owning your worth.   There is an opportunity in negotiation to develop a deeper relationship with the person in front of you – if it’s feeling like you’re being attacked then perhaps the negotiation has crossed a line and you may need a break.  Remember, you and the person you’re negotiating with have the option to say yes or no – it doesn’t mean they’re saying yes or not to you, but rather they’re saying  it to the situation or task at hand.  Remember, it’s not always about you – how can you get curious and find out if a mutual agreement is possible?
  2. Listen, then respond
    Get all of the information you need by asking good questions, being curious, and truly listening to the answers being given to you.  If you’re unsure, ask again. Get clarity. Negotiation is an opportunity to build a bridge. Notice if negotiation brings up uncomfortable feelings for you that cause you to rush to a solution or cave in your “ask”. If your focus is on avoiding feeling discomfort rather than truly listening to understand the response, you risk finding an ideal outcome.    Listen to the other person, consider what they are proposing, be curious even if you disagree, and then respond with respect – for yourself and the other person.
  3. Know your walk away point
    Take the time you need to consider your options and get clear on what you truly need in order to feel heard, seen, and respected.  If you’re feeling cornered, ask for a break or more time to consider your options. If something doesn’t “feel right” take the time to figure out what’s coming up for you.  Is it a fear based on a past experience or are you feeling like you’d be caving if you say “yes” to what’s being offered?

If your final answer in a negotiation is “no”, take the time to form your response and authentically share why you have to walk away, even if it disappoints the other person.

At the end of the day, you answer to yourself and only you know your truth.  Negotiation at work or in life is not about winning: it’s about participating, choosing, trying, and sometimes walking away.  It’s not about getting what you want: it’s about asking for what you need and being ok with saying “yes” or “no” to what’s offered in the end.