6 Negotiation Skills all Professionals can benefit from

6 Negotiation Skills all Professionals can benefit from

By Kelsey Miller

As a business professional, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll need to participate in negotiations, regardless of your job title or industry. Chances are you already participate in them more often than you realize.

Negotiating a job offer, asking for a raise, making the case for a budget increase, buying and selling property, and closing a sale are just a few examples of the deals you might be involved in.

You likely flex your negotiation skills in your personal life, too, making it crucial to become a skilled negotiator in all areas of life.

If you want to strike effective deals and improve the outcomes of future negotiations, you need an arsenal of skills. Investing time and energy into developing them and learning the negotiation process can prepare you to maximize value at the bargaining table.

“Enhancing your negotiation skills has an enormous payoff,” says Harvard Business School Professor Michael Wheeler. “It allows you to reach agreements that might otherwise slip through your fingers. It allows you to expand the pie—create value—so you get more benefits from the agreements that you do reach. It also, in some cases, allows you to resolve small differences before they escalate into big conflicts.”

Here are six essential negotiation skills and ways to develop your knowledge and confidence.


1. Communication

To achieve your ideal outcome at the bargaining table, it’s essential to clearly communicate what you’re hoping to walk away with and where your boundaries lie.

Effective negotiators develop communication skills that allow them to engage in civil discussion and work toward an agreeable solution.

Deal-making requires give and take; it’s critical to articulate your thoughts and actively listen to others’ ideas and needs. Not doing so can cause you to overlook key components of negotiations and leave them dissatisfied.

2. Emotional Intelligence

For better or worse, emotions play a role in negotiation, and you can use them to your advantage.

For example, positive emotions can increase feelings of trust at the bargaining table. Similarly, you can channel anxiety or nervousness into excitement.

You need a high degree of emotional intelligence to read other parties’ emotions. This can enable you to pick up on what they’re implying rather than explicitly stating and advantageously manage and use your emotions.

3. Planning

Planning ahead with a clear idea of what you hope to achieve and where your boundaries lie is essential to any negotiation. Without adequate preparation, you can overlook important terms of your deal or alternative solutions.

First, consider the zone of possible agreement (ZOPA). Sometimes called the bargaining zone, ZOPA is the range in which you and other parties can find common ground. A positive bargaining zone exists when the terms you’re willing to agree to overlap. A negative one exists when they don’t.

Next, it’s beneficial to understand your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). If your discussion lands in a negative bargaining zone, your BATNA is the course of action you’ll take if the negotiation is unsuccessful. Knowing your BATNA can ensure you have a backup plan if you can’t reach an agreement. It can also help you avoid leaving the table empty-handed.

4. Value Creation

Value creation is one of the key skills you should add to your negotiation toolkit.

To illustrate its importance, consider this analogy: When participating in a negotiation, you and the other parties typically try to obtain the biggest “slice of the pie” possible. Vying to maximize your slice inherently means someone will get a smaller piece.

To avoid this, shift your goals from growing your slice to expanding the whole pie. The benefits of doing so are twofold: First, you can realize greater value; second, you can establish a sense of rapport and trust that benefits future discussions.

5. Strategy

In addition to thorough preparation and the ability to create value, you need a clear understanding of effective negotiation tactics. By knowing what works and what doesn’t, you can tailor your strategy for every negotiation.

To develop a strong negotiation strategy, take the following steps:

  • Define your role
  • Understand your value
  • Consider your counterpart’s vantage point
  • Check in with yourself

Following this process can enable you to formulate a clear plan for the bargaining table. By understanding the roles of those involved, the value they offer, and their advantages, you can work toward a common goal. Checking in with yourself throughout the negotiation can also ensure you stay on the path to success.

6. Reflection

Finally, to round out your negotiation skills and develop your proficiency, reflect on past negotiations and identify areas for improvement.

After each negotiation—successful or not—think about what went well and what could have gone better. Doing so can allow you to evaluate the tactics that worked in your favor and those that fell short.

Next, identify areas you want to work on and create a plan of action. For example, if you had trouble aligning your goals with your counterpart’s, review concepts like ZOPA and BATNA. If your negotiations often leave you dissatisfied, learn new ways to create value.


No matter your strengths and weaknesses, practice is a surefire way to develop your skills. The more you negotiate, the more prepared you’ll be in the future.

Structured learning opportunities can be highly beneficial. Negotiation books and articles are effective starting points for learning deal-making basics. Those that explore real-life examples of successful negotiations can provide perspective on how others navigated difficult discussions and approached conflict resolution.

Another option is to take an online course. In addition to learning from real experts—including public officials, executives, and military officers—you can participate in interactive negotiation simulations that allow you to apply your knowledge and develop your skills. You can also gain insight into negotiation’s emotional aspects and learn how to conduct an after-action review to inform future dealings.

*Kelsey Miller is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Harvard Business School Online.

*This article first appeared on the online.hbs.edu website

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