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The Top 7 Characteristics of Good Negotiators

Elizabeth Lewis

What do you think defines a good negotiator?  


I will hazard a guess and say that there will be multiple, varied responses to this question. Perceptions will differ as to what the characteristics of a great negotiator are, what constitutes good negotiating behaviour and, even, what a successful negotiation outcome looks like.  Also, your thoughts around each of these concepts may differ depending on what stage you are at in your negotiation journey, whether you currently find the process of negotiation intimidating or are a seasoned negotiator with some form of negotiation training under your belt. 


Scotwork teaches a collaborative, mutual gain approach to negotiation. Negotiation should not be cut throat, winning at all costs and crushing your opposition. Doing so may see you achieve your immediate goals this time around, but at what cost? Do you think the counter-party will be keen to do business with you next time? Indeed, they may not even be willing to do business with you this time if you take this kind of competitive approach, the result of which could be your walking away with nothing.  


So, when it comes to collaborative, ethical negotiation, are there certain characteristics that make a good negotiator? In our experience, there are 7 key attributes which help in achieving a mutually beneficial outcome: 


  • A good negotiator is Prepared –  They have defined what it is they want to achieve (the objective). They've put some thought into what information they need from the other party, and in turn, what the other party might want to know. They understand what their limits are and where they can be flexible and, of course, have identified where their power lies. The old adage, 'by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail' is certainly true at the negotiation table 


  • A good negotiator is Specific They understand that if they want the counter-party to deliver "xyz" then they need to specifically ask them for "xyz". If your proposal is vague, if you don't make it clear to the other party what it is that you want, how can you expect them to provide this? 


  • A good negotiator is Curious – They will ask good, probing questions of the other party. They will seek to find out what their opposition wants to achieve, test assumptions, determine if there are constraints or concerns, and work out where priorities lie. If you don't have all the pieces of the puzzle, you can't see the whole picture and if you can't see the whole picture... well, you get the gist. 


  • A good negotiator Listens  After they've asked the questions, they listen to the answers. Sounds simple, but all too often we see people at the negotiation table who aren't actively listening. They're interrupting, arguing a point or perhaps thinking of how to respond before they've fully heard what their opponent has to say. And so there's a good chance that they are  missing important signals. Good negotiators listen to understand and they then summarise to demonstrate that understanding 


  • A good negotiator is Not Greedy They understand that co-operative negotiation facilitates greater trust and, subsequently, long term relationships. Truly skilled negotiators can recognise that by being prepared to concede in areas of lesser importance, they can gain in areas of greater importance.  


  • A good negotiator is Focused They don't let emotion impede the negotiation process. They understand that although negotiation can be intense, if they let their emotions get the better of them, they lose perspective of the original objective and possibly allow their Argue Step to fall apart. When they become aware of rising emotions, they take the appropriate measures to overcome this. 


  • A good negotiator Recognises when to adjourn  They are able to identify when it may be beneficial to step away from the table. They acknowledge this and take the appropriate time when the situation calls for it, such as:  to reconsider their position when new information comes to light, to terminate a circular argument, consult a 3rd party or recompose themselves when things get tense. 


Are these characteristics of your current negotiation approach? If the answer is "no" or you only tick a couple of boxes, don't despair. It takes time and practice to master them all. Becoming a skilled negotiator of this level is a journey.


Whereabouts are you in your negotiation journey? 

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