Negotiating: Effective Tactics, Strategies, and Skills


Negotiations are in the headlines these days.

The climate change conference in Paris, after weeks of negotiations, netted an historic agreement. In an effort to close the gender wage gap, Boston is offering free negotiation classes to every woman who works in city limits. And everyone is making those month deals before the fiscal year closes.

While the idea of negotiations — especially over money — can make people nervous, it can be hard to navigate the plethora of advice out there on knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to…well, you get the idea.

If you’re ready to up your game, then this week’s round is for you. Learn the negotiating tactic that secured the UN climate deal in Paris, how to use (and neutralize) emotions during negotiations — and, yes, how to ace that salary negotiation. Plus a couple more to sweeten the deal. Have a look.

The Most Successful Negotiation Tactic You’ve Never Heard Of

If you think negotiating your raise is difficult, try corralling representatives from 195 different countries on the polarizing topic of climate change. At the recent Conference of Parties talks in Paris, reaching consensus was a tall order, but according to Quartz reporter Akshat Rathi, UN officials had a negotiating tactic up their sleeve.

And it worked. Unanimously.

In his article This Simple Negotiation Tactic Brought 195 Countries to Consensus,” Rathi highlights the negotiation strategy that gave birth to this unprecedented agreement.

The tactic the UN used didn’t come from any New York Times bestseller list, but from an unlikely place: sub-saharan Africa. It’s a concept called indaba, and it’s used by the tribes of southern Africa to gain agreements in heated or very complicated discussions.

An indaba allows participants to voice their opinions, but in a very specific way: by stating their “red lines” — the upper limits that they would support — and offering up solution ideas that fit inside those limits.

Although the schedule was intense — rounds were held around the clock — they were also very intimate. At least one indaba, Rathi reports, had UN representatives from key countries physically standing in a specific way to encourage direct communication (check out the article for the details).

This article opens our eyes to a new possibility. Is this a tactic your business can use? With the pedigree of an unanimous agreement on an international issue under its belt, the indaba process is something we can all look to for tips on how to make our own meetings more productive.

Prepping Your Emotional Strategy

Do you think it helps or hurts to show anger during a negotiation? What about anxiety? If you’ve ever wondered if (or exactly how) these emotions would affect a negotiation, you’re in for a very pleasant read.

Alison Wood Brooks, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, wondered too. After she had students in her negotiation classes at HBS experiment to discover how anger almost universally derailed their mock negotiations, she dug into the research.

What she presents in the excellent Emotion and the Art of Negotiation is a fascinating compendium of the impact of common emotions displayed in negotiations, including if they are effective, when they might be used to your advantage, and why.

She tackles the big ones — anxiety, anger, disappointment, and even excitement — and unpacks whether even feeling the emotion (much less displaying it) can negatively affect outcomes. Spoiler alert: the answer is yes. For instance, people feeling anxiety made weaker first offers and would walk away early (even when warned that doing so would reduce their settlement).

This is a thorough study. When she covers anger, she discusses the varieties of how anger can be expressed (or suppressed) and exactly how it tends to derail settlements entirely — or how settlement is achieved, while the relationship suffers. Then she outlines the very specific parameters where anger can lead to a better outcome.

Lest you think it’s all clinical, Professor Brooks makes it personal with her instructions for Preparing Your Emotional Strategy — a chart that walks you through your own situation, offering points to consider and options for regaining an advantage.

Practical, helpful and thoroughly interesting, this article has it all. It’s definitely one to clip.

When Gratitude Is Used as a Weapon

Gratitude might not have made your list of emotions to worry about during a negotiation. But business owner Lauren Holfeuer tells a cautionary tale of how feelings of gratitude — feeling lucky to have “gotten as far as she did” in a hiring process — derailed her ability to agree on a settlement that she could live with long-term.

In her article Be Grateful. But Don’t Let Them Use That Against You,” for Medium, Holfeuer takes us through a personal look at the use — some would say manipulation — of emotions during a negotiation. Having caved on a salary negotiation early on in her career, she ponders long and hard over the sentence that shut her down: “You should be grateful for the opportunity.”

She pulls no punches on her opinion of the ethics of that tactic, “Organizations such as the one I faced promote a version of gratitude that allows them to manipulate individuals into valuing inappropriate workplace conditions.”

But this isn’t a piece on regret, it’s a helpful and earnest look at how to neutralize this
“dangerous form of gratitude” and attempt to counter-negotiate a settlement that works for both parties.

Her advice? Recognize and quantify your value, including just how scarce — or plentiful — a skillset like yours is in the current market.

Another way to put it: do the research to know exactly just how “grateful” you need to be when negotiations start.

She has other tips, both on the soul-searching and research angles, and a healthy dose of encouragement. If you’re early in your career, this is a must-read. But no matter what your experience level, it’s good food for thought.

Skills for Everyday Negotiations

We all know we need to prepare for a salary review or for closing a deal with a sales prospect, but leadership coach Kristi Hedges reminds us that small-n negotiations happen every day. We might not recognize an opportunity when we see it — nor know how to make the most of one.

In her article Four Negotiation Skills For Regular People for Forbes, Hedges puts us straight by helping us to be on the lookout for opportunities to negotiate. For instance, being asked to take on a major project is cause for celebration — but it’s also a trigger for asking for more resources, or whatever else you might need to complete it successfully.

Hedges also has advice for the more widely recognized opportunities for negotiation. She offers tips for effective preparation, how to game out different alternatives so that you can confidently negotiate in the moment — and even a best practice for throwing out the first salvo.

Making the most of our everyday opportunities is a likely growth area all of us could stand to strengthen. If you’re looking for some low-drama advice on negotiation, this is the article to read.

Negotiating Your Salary?

Eyeing that job interview appointment on your calendar with a bit of trepidation? Say goodbye to the jitters: we have you covered on how to initiate that conversation about your compensation, with 5 Salary Negotiation Mistakes That Cost You Money by author and career coach Alison Green.

Sometimes, you just need some best practices on how to get a very specific thing handled. This is the article for you. There’s no high-level “art of the negotiation” here, but she offers brass-tacks advice based on the common flubs she has seen over the course of her career nonprofit management and researching her books.

The worst mistake? Not negotiating at all. It’s by far the most common mistake, says Green, and it’s usually because of awkwardness in introducing the subject — or fears that doing so would offend. Not so, she says. And there’s an easy way to communicate your earnestness while still opening the question of salary range.

Helpfully, Green doesn’t just point out the mistakes, she offers antidotes and clear direction on how to avoid them in the first place. Her frank, to-the-point counsel is refreshing as she tackles the biggies that we seem to face over and over.

The last mistake she highlights is a surprising one — totally within our control, and yet still common enough to make her list.

If a salary conversation is in your future, don’t miss her list. And if you’re on the other side of the desk, interviewing for open positions, this article is just as helpful.