27 Effective Negotiation Skills and Tactics

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Do you feel uncomfortable negotiating for what you want in life? Do you know what negotiation skills and negotiation tactics you need to be successful?

Negotiation is a part of life, and we all want to know how to do it successfully. We’ll cover how to develop effective negotiation skills and how to use the most essential negotiation tactics.

How to Build Effective Negotiation Skills

You can develop your effective negotiation skills through practice. Use the following tips to guide you:

  • Start small: Start with negotiations on smaller issues, where the other side is open to a principled approach. Start with negotiation techniques that build on your current negotiation skills and gradually incorporate new techniques.
  • Make a commitment: In order to get better, you need to commit yourself to learning new negotiation techniques. New techniques will eventually translate into negotiation skills.
  • Review your performance: After each negotiation, assess what worked and what didn’t.
  • Prepare for negotiations by doing your homework. Build a good relationship with the other side. List your interests and theirs. Gather facts and consider possible options and standards. Draft a framework agreement.
  • Practice: Consider practicing your negotiation skills and techniques through role-playing. Get advice and feedback from experienced negotiators.

How to Improve Your Negotiation Tactics

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to practice principled negotiation, the other side insists on the traditional adversarial method of positional bargaining. There are three ways you can try to shift their focus to merits (facts and evidence):

  1. Focus on merits yourself instead of positions. Talking about interests, options, and standards may be contagious — the other side may play along if you just start playing a different game.
  2. Respond to each of their positional moves in a way that shifts the focus to merits. This mimics jujitsu, the Japanese martial arts method of countering an opponent by using his strength and weight against him.
  3. Bring in a trained third party to focus the discussion on merits (using the one-text mediation procedure explained below).

As you get comfortable using the negotiation tactics, you’ll improve your negotiation skills as well.

Negotiation Tactic #1: Shift the Focus to Merits

When the other side takes a firm position, it’s tempting to criticize and reject it. When they attack your proposal, you’ll want to forcefully defend it. But if you get into a mode of pushing back and forth, you’ll waste time and won’t get anywhere.

Instead, when they push, don’t push back. Don’t reject their position, defend yours, or counterattack. Refuse to act and you’ll interrupt the dynamic. Play conversational jujitsu by avoiding a direct response and channeling their energy toward the interests, options, and criteria. This takes considerable negotiation skill, but you can develop that skill.

Launching an offensive in positional bargaining often has three aspects: aggressively arguing their position, attacking your proposals, and attacking you personally. Here’s how to respond indirectly:

  • Determine what’s behind their position instead of pushing back. Ask yourself: What are their interests? What principles does their position reflect? For instance, what’s the basis for the pay increase they’re asking for and how is it fair? How can you improve on the position? Ask them why they’re taking the position: What concern are they trying to address and how does their position address it? Treat their position as one option and analyze how it meets each side’s interests.
  • Ask for criticism of your ideas. Ask them what’s wrong with your idea and what’s missing (what does it fail to account for?). This gives you a chance to learn their interests and make your proposal more acceptable to them. You can also turn criticism around by asking what they would do in your situation — they end up addressing your problem and may come up with an option that accommodates your interests. 
  • Turn a personal attack into an attack on the problem. First, let them vent without responding; just listen. Demonstrate that you get what they’re saying. Then reframe their ad hominem attack as an attack on the problem. For instance, if they accuse you of not caring about children, respond: “I’m as concerned as you are about providing our kids with a good education. How can we work together to make sure we’re doing that?”
  • Use questions and silence. Instead of making statements or declarations, which prompt resistance, ask questions that give the other side an opportunity to offer and explain their points. After you ask a question, wait silently for a response. If their response is inadequate or unreasonable, wait some more. Silence makes people feel pressured to respond, often constructively.

Negotiation Tactic #2: Try the “One-Text” Approach 

When you’re deadlocked and unable to shift negotiations from positional to principled, it may be time to bring in a mediator. Mediators often use an approach called the ‘one-text’ process to come up with a fair agreement acceptable to both sides. Here’s how it works:

  • The mediator starts by making a list of both sides’ interests and needs. 
  • She asks each side to critique and improve on the list.
  • She draws up a rough plan and asks for a critique.
  • She comes back with a revised plan and asks for a critique.
  • She continues doing this until she feels she can’t further improve the plan.
  • When the mediator feels she can’t improve it further, she presents it as her final recommendation.
  • The two sides then vote yes or no.

The ‘one-text’ negotiation tactic breaks impasses by bypassing positional bargaining.

It also speeds up and simplifies the negotiation process by narrowing the options to one. You can use the method without a mediator: Just prepare a draft and ask the other side to critique it. Use your negotiation skill of patience to avoid getting fed up with the other person or the process. It works well in two-party negotiations, and is even more useful in multilateral talks as a way of streamlining a complex process.

The one-text approach was the basis for the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1978. In the role of mediator, the U.S. prepared a draft, asked for critiques, and continued to improve it. After 23 revised drafts, President Jimmy Carter presented a recommendation and both sides accepted it. 

Using Negotiation Skill to Handle Dirty Tricks

There’s an array of strong-arm tactics that hard bargainers may use in an effort to get you to succumb to their position, including lies, pressure tactics, and psychological tricks. They’re designed to be used by only one side, without the other side knowing they’re being manipulated.

The targets of these tactics typically:

  • Give in, in hopes the other side won’t ask for more, which usually doesn’t work. For example, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler in 1938. But each time he thought they had an agreement, Hitler escalated his demands. 
  • Respond in kind with their own threats, outrageous proposals, and deceptive tactics. This ends in an impasse unless one party gives in.

The only effective way to counter these tactics is to use the techniques of principled negotiation to establish how you’re going to negotiate (the rules of the game). Let’s look at some of these negotiation skills and tactics.

Call Out the Tactic

Follow these steps: recognize the tactic, call attention to it, and question its validity as a tactic. Use the tactic as the basis for discussing how to negotiate constructively.

Often just calling attention to the tactic will blunt its effectiveness and cause the other side to worry that they overplayed their hand and alienated you. As a result, they may drop it. But the important thing is that you can now negotiate the process. Setting aside substance temporarily, shift your aim to getting a fair agreement on procedure.

The method remains the same:

  • Separate emotions from the issue: Question the tactic, not someone’s integrity.
  • Talk about interests instead of positions: Look for the “whys” behind the position.
  • Generate options serving mutual interests: Suggest alternatives to unfair tactics.
  • Agree on objective standards: Apply the principle of reciprocity for all tactics. For instance, if you’ve purposely been given an uncomfortable chair, suggest that someone else use it next time.

Common Underhanded Negotiation Tactics

Underhanded tactics fall into three categories: deception, psychological abuse, and pressure for concessions. Being able to identify these tactics is an important part of developing your negotiation skills. Let’s look at specific ways to deal with each.

Deception involves misrepresenting facts, authority or intentions. Examples include:

  • Phony facts: The negotiator makes false assertions. In response, request verification or check the facts yourself.
  • Deferring to a higher authority: They may announce they have to take the decision to a higher authority in order to get another shot at making changes. Insist that both sides have the same opportunity to propose changes.
  • Misrepresenting intentions: If you have reason to believe they don’t really intend to comply, build consequences into the agreement.  

Psychological abuse as a negotiation tactic is aimed at making you uncomfortable so you want to end as soon as possible. Examples include: creating stressful situations, personal attacks, threats, and a good cop/bad cop routine. In response, you can ignore these tactics or call them out. In the case of threats, you could point out potential consequences, or call them out and ask for agreement to use more constructive behavior. These options require the negotiation skills of clarity and courage.          

Positional pressure negotiation tactics are intended to force you into making concessions. Examples include: 

  • Refusing to negotiate: Ask what’s behind their refusal to talk. Suggest bringing in a third party or using another method of communication.
  • Making extreme demands: Call them on it. Ask them to justify it.
  • Escalating demands: For every concession they offer, the other side may increase their demands or reopen issues. Call it out and take a break to consider whether you want to keep negotiating.
  • Locking-in a position: The other side locks in their position to make concession impossible. For instance, a union president makes a speech vowing to deliver a 15% pay increase. She can’t back down in negotiations without losing her credibility. You can call the other side’s bluff or downplay the position so they can back down without fanfare.
  • Blaming a partner: A negotiator may blame her intransigence on a partner or authority. Get an agreement in principle, then try to speak to the partner.
  • Stalling to gain an advantage: The other side may try to delay a decision until a more favorable time, for instance until a union’s strike fund will run out. Call out the tactic and negotiate it or establish credible deadlines based on relevant events, such as a board meeting.
  • Take it or leave it: You may want to ignore the ultimatum. Alternatively, point out what they have to lose and find a way for them to back down without losing face.

Using your negotiation skills of patience and acumen will help you identify when you need to use negotiation tactics like the “One-Text” approach.

27 Effective Negotiation Skills and Tactics

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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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