11 Skills Shared by Expert Negotiators and Great Leaders

11 Skills Shared by Expert Negotiators and Great Leaders

Many negotiators end up in management or leadership roles because of their skills with people.

Many negotiators end up in management or leadership roles because of their skills with people.

Being the boss doesn’t mean ordering everyone around. Management is actually full of constant negotiations between customers, employees, vendors, and the c-suite. Deadlines, costs and workload are all up for dispute depending on the manager’s confidence and knowledge of their company. No project is final until everyone agrees.  

Many negotiators end up in management or leadership roles because of their skills with people. There is significant overlap between the two roles. Here are 11 reasons skilled negotiators make good leaders — and why great leaders rely on negotiation skills to succeed.

They Plan Carefully

Contrary to the stereotype, negotiation isn’t about shooting from the hip and coming up with solutions pulled out of the air. The best negotiators are deeply involved in the topics they discuss and do extensive research on the projects, markets, and requests.

Steve Gates, author of The Negotiation Book, says 90 percent of successful outcomes of any negotiation comes from planning. Planning helps key negotiators fully understand the situation, evaluate the priorities of everyone involved, and better understand roadblocks.

Preparation requires research beyond an individual meeting, and good negotiators and managers will have a big picture idea on which to base decisions.

They Listen and Ask Questions

Along with planning, the best negotiators listen to and focus on the other party. Working together means caring about others, not just pushing your needs forward.

“Good negotiators seem to ask a lot of questions and are very concerned about understanding exactly what it is you are trying to achieve from the negotiation,” Brian Tracy, speaker and leadership expert writes.

For example, an employee might ask for a salary increase, saying that additional responsibilities take up more time than they are fairly compensated for. In many ways, this request isn’t just about the money. In fact, the employer might not even be able to fully meet the salary expectations; however, they could improve that employee’s work-life balance by decreasing the workload or give the employee a promotion that includes support staff. Through listening carefully, managers can discover the root of the request.   

Dr. Irma Tyler-Wood, co-founder of Ki ThoughtBridge, agrees. “The most powerful person in the initial stages of a negotiation is not the person who’s staking out positions, or making demands,” she says. “The most powerful person is the person who is asking key questions designed to fully understand the other negotiator's goals, fears and needs.”

Too often, we associate businesses negotiations with intense boardroom dramas where powerful characters land billion-dollar deals by pushing their weight around. Instead, the powerful characters in real-life negotiations aren’t the ones who refuse to budge, but rather those who are the most flexible.  

They Communicate Well

Even experienced managers are often uncomfortable negotiating and communicating with other employees or managers.

Even experienced managers are often uncomfortable negotiating and communicating with other employees or managers.

Good managers and negotiators also clearly communicate their requests and provide information as to why those requests need to be met.

“The most successful negotiators are those who communicate well,” Beth Williams, founder of the change management firm Forward Focus, says. “Lack of communicative ability will hold you back, while well-rounded interpersonal skills will propel your leadership career.”    

This is easier said than done. Even experienced managers are often uncomfortable negotiating and communicating with other employees or managers.

Jacob Shriar shared some eye-opening statistics on the Officevibe blog, including the fact that 69 percent of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees, while 37 percent are uncomfortable providing criticism about a poor performance.

If you can’t confidently speak with your employees or give feedback their performance, how can you expect to hold your own during any type of negotiation?

They Have High Levels of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to a variety of soft skills that make leaders and employees effective. Someone might have the best accounting skills in the world, but without empathy or self-awareness, they will struggle to lead or even work successfully with others.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review [registration required], Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, refers to a study linking high levels of emotional intelligence and negotiation skills.

“EQ is linked to higher levels of self-control and likability, no doubt a powerful combination when it comes to engaging with others in emotionally taxing situations,” he writes. “People with higher EQ also tend to be more self-aware, so they are better able to understand how other people see them, a critical advantage not just during negotiations.”

The ability to engage emotionally, self-awareness and likability are all important traits in management and transfer neatly from the negotiating table to the corner office.

HR innovator Mike Schneider explains why high emotional intelligence levels are crucial for managers. Essentially, in order for the department or company to succeed, managers need to tune into the needs of employees and make sure they’re content.

“As a manager, your success isn't based on your personal performance anymore,” Schneider says. “It's based on the output and productivity of your team. So, once you've learned to govern your own emotions effectively, you'll need to scale your EQ skills to better understand and empathize with your team.”

A good negotiator doesn’t focus on their own goals but tries to work and find a solution that benefits all parties.

They Build Trusting Relationships With Their Peers

it takes time to build good relationships.

it takes time to build good relationships.

Negotiation is often based on personal relationships and trust. New managers might struggle with negotiation if they ask for budget increases or deadline extensions based on faith, rather than a proven history of success.

“Building relationships takes time and dedication,” blogger Tania Gomez writes. Gomez encourages managers and negotiators to keep their promises and prove their reliability over time. This will give you more leverage when you ask others to take risks and trust you.

If you have a history of staying true to your word, then others are likely to believe you in the present situation.

They Practice Negotiating Every Day

Negotiation isn’t rooted in conflict. Some people grow nervous at the thought of engaging in negotiations because they prefer to avoid conflict and disagreements. However, you likely complete a dozen micro-negotiations every day, on everything from project deadlines to updated reports.

“Negotiation doesn't necessarily [mean] convincing the person you are speaking to,” Tracy Luo, Manager of Finance and Strategy at Morgan McKinley, writes. “Throughout their work, headhunters constantly make great use of negotiation skills [when] discussing projects, contracts, and salaries; as well as when coordinating interviews.”

Something as simple as setting deadlines requires negotiation skills when working with multiple parties.

In order to boost your confidence in negotiation, Kristi Hedges, author of The Inspiration Code, encourages readers to look for opportunities in the office to negotiate. She gives the example of when upper-management assigns a difficult project. Instead of accepting the work at face value, you could practice negotiating by asking for something you need to complete the project faster or more successfully.

They Look for Common Ground Instead of Conflict

Once you stop looking at negotiation as a source of conflict, you can start successfully navigating problems based on common ground. After you determine the elements that everyone agrees on, the actual problem you disagree on might seem much smaller.  

“Paying attention to areas where you and the other person are already in agreement conveys an attitude of cooperation and trims down feelings of opposition,” Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center writes. “Put simply, it’s helpful to learn to balance assertiveness with empathy.”

Instead of focusing on the source of conflict a good negotiator will focus on what both parties can agree on.

They are Highly Confident

One of the benefits of constantly practicing negotiation as a manager is that it builds confidence. The more comfortable you feel asking for something and working with others to achieve your goals, the more success you will have.

Debbie Dickerson, author of Confidence is Your Game Changer, emphasizes the importance of confidence in negotiation. She refers to a survey in which under-confident negotiators only received a successful outcome 20 percent of the time. Furthermore, 62 percent of successful negotiators describe themselves as “very confident” when entering negotiations.

Dickerson emphasizes that how you are perceived (and how you perceive yourself) will affect the negotiation. If you’re not confident in your stance and proposal, then you’re not going to get what you want.

They Think Big

Getting a deal done isn't enough.

Getting a deal done isn't enough.

Amateur negotiators often focus on the bare minimum that they (or their clients) want. In the business world, this might mean a department receives fewer resources than they actually need or only a handful of employees are happy. Over time, managers learn to ask for more than they need, and think big, when they start the negotiations.

“Just getting a deal done isn’t always enough,” Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Snacknation, writes. He encourages people to always ask for more, and says to ask yourself: “What else could have been done? Could something have been tied to the back-end?”

Kelly admits that this ties into approaching negotiating with confidence. If you have higher levels of confidence going into a negotiation, then you’re likely to ask for more. Over time, negotiators learn what to ask from deals in the same way that managers learn what to ask of their employees and vendors.   

They Admit When They’re Wrong

Leaders and negotiators both need to admit when they’re wrong and take a step back. This small act of humility can save a relationship and even help the negotiation process move forward.

“Negotiation training can be a humbling enterprise,” Katherine Shonk, editor of the Negotiation Newsletter at Harvard Law School, writes. “Instructors often have their students participate in role-play simulations that have been designed at least in part to expose flaws in their thinking, such as the tendency to be overconfident.”

During roleplay exercises, students can feel uncomfortable and get defensive when they realize their lines of thinking are incorrect. These mistakes and processes help them become better negotiators in the long run. They develop self-awareness, which goes back to emotional intelligence, together with flexibility when working with others.

They Know When to Walk Away

Preparation and flexibility will often give you options. In turn, these options give you the leverage you need in a negotiation. When walking away is always an option, you never have to make desperate deals or settle for less than you want.  

“I call this Brodow's Law,” Ed Brodow, CEO at Negotiation Boot Camp, writes. “Never negotiate without options. If you depend too much on the positive outcome of a negotiation, you lose your ability to say no.”

From a business management standpoint, this could mean walking away from a potential job candidate who won’t agree to a salary cap. It could also mean walking away from a vendor who doesn’t give you the quality of services you need. Managers with options on the table have enough flexibility to be able to negotiate better deals.

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