How can you improve your negotiation skills?

Negotiations are not win-lose scenarios, as the goal is to reach a mutual agreement that would benefit both parties. But is there anything you can do to improve your negotiation skills? Here are some ways

How can you improve your negotiation skills?

Your soft skills are your unquantifiable traits and skills that can set you apart from your colleagues. They are the set of behaviours and personality traits that you use in your job every day, but are not necessarily job-specific. Your negotiation skill is a top example. 

Negotiation is a huge part of every attorney’s daily business, and your negotiation skills can make or break a case or contract. 

Apart from practicing your negotiation skills even in different areas of your everyday life, there are also other ways to improve them. Learning when to negotiate or litigate is one thing. 

Negotiation vs. Litigation 

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In’s authors Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton defined negotiation as a “back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shared and others that are opposed.” 

It is commonly the first step in the process of dispute resolution. It has the advantage of speed and less formality. With a successful negotiation, both sides control and decide the outcome. 

Litigation, on the other hand, is defined as the “process of resolving disputes by filing or answering a complaint through the public court system. “ 

It is usually the last resort, and is necessary when two parties have attempted to negotiate but can’t reach a mutual agreement. 

In Australia, a judge will decide on an outcome after both parties have presented their arguments in courts. There is always ‘litigation risk,’ and is more expensive and time-consuming than the process of litigation. 

How can lawyers improve their negotiation skills? 

While impressive negotiation skills may come naturally for some people, it should be noted that these skills can be learned.  

The best negotiations are the ones when both or all sides walk away satisfied, but it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to get the best deal out of a case or situation. 

Here are some ways lawyers could improve their negotiation skills: 

  • Prepare ahead of time 

Of course, no one will jump into a negotiation without studying and preparing ahead of time. But here’s some good advice from Harvard Law, and number one is: prepare methodically and comprehensively by meticulously analysing your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). 

Your BATNA is your best resort if negotiations are unsuccessful, or if it has reached a dead end. It’s important to think that the negotiations will go your way, but thoroughly preparing when things turn otherwise is a skill that will definitely work to your advantage. 

A wise negotiator has already spent a significant amount of time identifying and improving their BATNA before arriving at the bargaining table. 

In addition, another advice from Harvard Law says that part of preparation is evaluating the zone of possible agreement (ZOPA), and investigating all the issues at stake. 

  • Learn the most common hardball tactics in negotiation  

When you know these common hard-bargaining tactics and negotiation skills, the more you can fully prepare when a counterpart starts using them. 

According to Robert Mnookin, Scott Peppet, and Andrew Tulumello, authors of the book Beyond Winning Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes, here are some of the hardball tactics in negotiation to watch out for:

  • Extreme demands followed up by small, slow concessions 
  • Commitment tactics 
  • Take-it-or-leave-it negotiation strategy 
  • Inviting unreciprocated offers |
  • Trying to make you flinch 
  • Personal insults and feather ruffling 
  • Bluffing, puffing, and lying 
  • Threats and warnings
  • Belittling your alternatives
  • Good cop, bad cop 
     
  • Discover negotiation tactics everywhere 

Another way of improving your negotiation skills is to consistently practice – and look for negotiation skills everywhere. 

Legal negotiations and courtroom actions are sensationalised by movies and tv shows, but unsurprisingly, these can teach you a thing or two about negotiation tactics

As an example, here are some negotiation tactics you can learn from one of the most popular TV shows of all time, Game of Thrones

  • Build rapport  

Negotiations are not just about offers and counter-offers. Communicating effectively and building rapport can carry a significant change on the final results of the event.  

Building rapport is one of the keys to a successful negotiation. According to author, management consultant and executive coach Dr. Jon Warner, “a vast number of negotiations simply fail because the initial attitude of mind towards the other negotiating party was poor or negative… 

.. Such poor states of mind often lead to a complete disrespect for not only the other party in terms of common courtesy but for the whole negotiation process itself.” 

You may also create a pleasant and harmonious rapport-building stage by having a neutral opening statement, making an effort to find some common ground early on, and avoiding controversial comments. 

Like what Finnish statesman Harri Holkeri stated, “If you come to a negotiation table saying you have the final truth, that you know nothing but the truth and that is final, you will get nothing.” 

Most likely, when you treat people with respect, they will respond the same way. 

  • Listen, acknowledge, and ask the right questions  

Trust can be won by listening and acknowledging. 

Never assume that you and your counterpart are both on the same page. Discuss procedural issues for a more productive focused talk. 

In addition, listen carefully to your counterpart’s arguments, and forget the urge to think about what you’re going to say next. Focus your attention to your counterpart when they’re talking; you may even paraphrase their points to your understanding to see if you’re looking at the same thing. 

Listening will help you acquire more information, and will also aid in formulating and asking the right questions – ones that will get you helpful answers. 

Doing so will make the other side do the same. They’ll most likely try to listen attentively to your points as well, resulting to a much better communication and negotiation between both sides. 

Learn more about using your negotiation skills against opposing lawyers by attending the Contract Law Masterclass, which will be held at L’Aqua Sydney on 5 March, 2020. 

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