• 30 Apr 2020
  • SBS-ED
  • 4Min

How to become a better negotiator

How to become a better negotiator

“The only thing certain about any negotiation is that it will lead to another negotiation…” Leigh Steinberg

There is a general rule in life – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. In these tough financial times, many people are desperately trying to adjust to a new normal. With South Africa’s economy in dire straits and uncertainty the order of the day, one way to take control is to learn to negotiate.

These skills are key for every aspect of life. Struggling to pay your car premium? Don’t cancel; ask for a better rate, especially while you’re driving less. Finding it difficult to pay your doctor’s fee? Negotiate a discount if you pay cash up front.

Negotiation skills play a pivotal role in any organisation. It’s known to be a crucial way to win yourself a better salary (in pre-Covid-19 times). Right now, it’s a way to show your value and find win-win compromises to the benefit of both parties in a time when everyone needs to be a bit flexible.

Harvard stresses this emphasis on collaboration; “it pays to seek ways to collaborate in addition to competing.” Negotiations fail most frequently when the mutual beneficial outcomes are not made evident up front. It’s about collective bargaining.

So, whether you’re negotiating with your suppliers, your clients, your team, your employer, or any other stakeholder, it’s wise to find ways to meet in the middle. Here are some general pointers for learning to negotiate:

  • Go in knowing your value:

Self-believe and confidence are key. You’ve earned a seat at the table. Understand the value you bring and make sure you prepare by having the facts that prove this.

  • Plan, plan, plan:

Fail to plan and plan to fail. Before any negotiation, it’s pivotal to know what outcomes you want to achieve. What’s the best possible ‘win’ for you in this situation? Now, how far are you prepared to compromise?

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes:

You need to understand the goals on both sides, so you have a complete picture of where mutually beneficial outcomes lie. Make sure you identify all the prospective issues both sides are juggling – having more on the table to discuss means more chance of finding common ground. Before the meeting, identify the other party’s key pain points you believe you can help solve.

  • Disarm through charm:

Don’t underestimate this one. By being extremely personable and owning the conversation upfront by asking your ‘adversary’ a personal question or remembering something about his or her life, you’ll immediately turn the mood to one more focused on collaboration and connection. Continuously ask questions to engage and show your willingness to find compromises. This will also help highlight what the other party values.

  • Really listen:

Far too many people make the mistake of failing to listen. Don’t be afraid to be quiet and hear what the other side has to say. In fact, silence can be an important tool. Give the other side some space to come up with their counter offers. This is key when bargaining.

  • Find the give and takes:

Inc suggests that when you ‘give’ something to the other side, you should always ‘take’ something in return. For example, if you concede cutting the rate for one of your services during Covid-19, you should be clear what value adds you’re taking off the table in turn. “Yes, we can do that, but it will mean this…” Negotiation is a series of trade-offs, after all.

  • Understand the decision-making process:

It’s very important to know how the person(s) you’re debating with makes decisions. That way, you can frame your arguments in a way that appeals to the decision-makers and their internal processes.


Enrol today in USB-ED’s online course on Negotiation Skills, starting 12 May, in order to get the fundamentals in place. Learning to negotiate is one of the most important skills for any leader and business professional to master. It can be tricky to get to grips with all the intricacies involves. Starting your journey of being a negotiator extraordinaire may lead to even greater career opportunities in the future.

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