Effective Communication in Negotiation: 7 Tips to Improve

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Do you get tongue-tied when asking for what you want? Do you find effective communication in negotiation difficult?

You’re not alone. Many people find communication in negotiation difficult, or they find that their negotiations are unsuccessful and they don’t know why. Learn why miscommunication issues occur and what you can do to more effectively communicate in negotiations.

Three Problems of Communication in Negotiation

You can’t have negotiations without communication, and an unavoidable aspect of communication is misunderstanding, no matter how well you know the person you’re negotiating with. Why does this happen? In negotiations, it’s a given that something you say is likely to be heard or interpreted in a way you didn’t intend. Understanding the common problems of communication in negotiation is crucial for communicating more effectively.

There are three problems of communication:

  1. Negotiators may not be communicating with each other in a way that’s being understood. It may be that each side has given up and is no longer attempting any serious communication, or they could be playing to their constituency. 
  2. Even if you’re talking directly and clearly, the other side’s negotiators may not be hearing you or you may not be hearing them.
  3. People simply misunderstand each other. 

Tips for Effective Communication in Negotiation

To address these problems of communication in negotiation:

  1. Listen actively and acknowledge what you’re hearing. Use standard active listening techniques, including paying close attention, asking the other person to spell out exactly what they mean, and asking for a repeat if anything is unclear. Unless you acknowledge what they’re saying and demonstrate that you understand before you make a new point, they may believe you didn’t get what they mean and will ignore your point and try to re-argue theirs.
  2. Focus on solving the problem as partners. You’re not debating before an audience or trying to persuade a third party in a trial. Think of yourselves as two judges working on a joint opinion: you respect each other and don’t yell, blame, or call each other names. Work without an audience if possible: crucial decisions generally are made by just two people in a room.
  3. Speak for yourself, without impugning others’ motivations. In negotiations, the two sides often spend time attacking the other’s supposed motivations and intentions. But if you say something unfounded or inaccurate, they’ll focus on that instead of your concerns. It seems less threatening if you talk about how a problem affects you rather than why the other person is wrong.
  4. Speak for a reason. Speak when you have something relevant and important to say, having thought about what you want to communicate or learn, and for what purpose. People sometimes talk too much, saying whatever enters their mind. But some things shouldn’t be said, especially at emotional moments. In addition, full disclosure can make reaching agreement more difficult — for instance, disclosing the top price you’re willing to pay for a car won’t get you the best price.

Following these tips will allow you to have more effective communication in negotiation.

Avoid Communication Problems

A better approach than addressing communication problems after the fact is to prevent communication missteps from happening in the first place. Take two key preventative steps to avoid problems with communication in negotiation:

  1. Build a working relationship. Before negotiations begin, get to know the people on the other side personally. It’s easier to negotiate with someone you know than with a stranger. Meet informally, learn each others’ likes and dislikes, and take the time to chat when you run into people. Or use Ben Franklin’s approach — he liked to ask an opponent if he could borrow a specific book. Their common interest in the book made them more comfortable with each other and gave them something innocuous to chat about.
  2. Again, separate the issue from the individuals. This is something you have to keep working on. Think of yourselves as partners, like two shipwrecked sailors working together on a problem. Do this by setting an example of issue-focused negotiation, or by raising the issue directly.

Effective communication in negotiation is the primary skill for being heard and getting what you want. Don’t underestimate the importance of careful communication in negotiation.

Effective Communication in Negotiation: 7 Tips to Improve

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Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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