Become an Effective Negotiator

The importance of workplace negotiations  

We all use negotiation as a communication tool in our everyday lives, however, many people fail to recognise the core skills associated with effective negotiation. In every facet of business, negotiation is used to increase growth, make change, improve relationships, increase revenue, and boost productivity. Whether you are a manager negotiating with your staff to resolve a problem or an employee negotiating for a higher salary or better working conditions, understanding what makes you an effective negotiator is essential.  

Negotiation is a dialogue that intends to resolve an issue in a mutually beneficial way. Poor negotiation skills result in each party losing or one party winning at the expense of the other. To understand what makes an effective negotiator, we must first understand the different styles of negotiation.

Competition – You win they lose

Typically, this negotiation style exploits an existing power imbalance. The party who holds the dominant position uses their power and dominance to gain compliance. Although there are some situations in which this approach may be warranted, this style of negotiation often results in long-lasting resentment and an eventual relationship breakdown. The only time this approach may be useful is in situations which require immediate action and firm control.

Accommodating – You lose they win

Accommodating involves giving the other person what they want without condition or regret. It is most effective when an issue is more important to the other party and in the big scheme of things has a relatively minor relevance to you or the organisation. It is rare for an opportunity to present where this negotiation technique is most appropriate. However, it can be a useful tool to maintain or strengthen a relationship when the problem being addressed is minor. It is important to use this technique sparingly as an overuse can result in the accommodating party undervaluing their own worth.

Avoidance – No one wins

Unfortunately, this style is often seen as the easiest method to implement, however is rarely the right course of action. Avoiding a problem or potential conflict may produce a temporary ‘peace of mind’ and is often based on the assumption that an issue will just ‘go away’ or ‘sort itself out’. This is rarely the case, as small problems left unresolved aggregate over time and evolve into larger more complex issues.

Compromise – You lose a bit they lose a bit

This technique involves each party ‘giving a bit’. To put it simply, both parties lose an equal portion of what they desire, and although not totally satisfied, both parties concede that they have lost an equal share and move on. There may be situations where this strategy is the only path forward and although no single party ‘wins’, it can be useful in preserving an existing positive relationship, especially in situations where there are limited avenues to resolution.

Collaboration – You both win

Collaborative negotiation is considered the most effective and successful negotiation technique, as both parties achieve their goals. The downside of this approach is that it is often time consuming and requires a concerted effort from each party. Despite this, collaboration should be used as your primary means of negotiation as the long-term effects far outweigh the time and mental effort required to undertake it successfully. Using this technique means both parties ‘win’, relationships are strengthened, and issues are usually resolved indefinitely.

How to be a great negotiator and collaborate successfully

Plan and Prepare:

There is a common saying in business: “businesses do not plan to fail they fail to plan.” It should go without saying that this notion is fundamental to the practice of effective workplace negotiation. Imagine that you are in the market for a new car, would you turn up to a car yard with no background information? No idea about what type of car you want or how much it might cost? Then make your decision based solely on what the salesperson tells you? Probably not. Before you enter a negotiation, you need a sound understanding of what you want, the problem that needs to be resolved, the potential motivations of the other person, what they need or want and what you are willing to concede or ‘trade-off’ to move forward.

Fortunately, there are some simple strategies that you can adopt to ensure that you are adequately prepared to engage in a workplace negotiation.

  • Acknowledge there is a problem and agree that negotiation is needed.
  • Continuously build rapport with the other party and express a genuine interest in them as a person or group.
  • Be conscious of your body language and non-verbal communication.
  • Use their name and address them sincerely, avoid colloquial phrases such as ‘mate’.
  • Mirror positive body language, this builds a sense of similarity and trust.
  • Use eye contact to show interest.
  • Be an active listener and don’t simply ‘hear’ but listen carefully. Try paraphrasing to show that you understand what the other person is saying.
  • Try and understand what it is the other person wants before the discussion. You may wish to use a 2-step approach. An initial meeting to understand what the other person wants, followed by a second meeting to try resolve the problem.
  • Consider how your speech may be perceived or miscommunicated.
  • Know what you want and set up option for yourself. What are you willing to concede to move forward? What is your bottom line? What trade-offs are you willing to make to resolve the problem?

Be assertive not aggressive

People admire assertive communicators, especially when it comes to solving complex problems. However, people often cross the line from assertive to aggressive as emotions become entwined into a discussion.  Aggressive behaviour is framed by a ‘I want to win’ attitude opposed to assertive communication which is solutions focused. Negotiating is not about winning at all costs, rather it is about getting the best outcome possible for each party. Here are some useful techniques to help you be more assertive and less aggressive in your communication.

  • Be transparent, confident, and clear about what you want. Do not have a hidden agenda in fear it will not be perceived well. People respect authenticity and transparency.
  • Do not weaponize past events or things the other person may say or do in the discussion.
  • Avoid being passive aggressive and be genuine.
  • Never attack a person’s character or get personal, be factual and precise in your speech.
  • Validate the other persons feelings.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Show that you are willing to be constructive and collaborative.
  • Think about how you respond, do not act impulsively. Take time to think about your speech and the words you use. Take a break if needed and reset your approach.

Communicate and collaborate   

Developing effective communication skills are essential to a successful negotiation. For some people communication skills come naturally, for others these skills need to be learned.

  • Learn the theories and techniques of good communication.
  • Recognise your own inadequacies and where improvement is needed.
  • Observe others and practice.

Try using:

  • Metaphors to help the other person understand your position more clearly.
  • Analogies, to help compare something new to something they are familiar with. This will help them understand your position and will build a sense of comfort.
  • Use storytelling to evoke emotion and relate. Stories grab the attention of listeners and can be used to relate to a person’s life and their concept of it. Ensure you keep them simple, relevant, and structured. You may wish to describe a past issue and how it was resolved or how certain circumstances caused a problem to worsen.
  • Use humour to break the ice. Being tactfully humorous builds rapport and breaks down barriers but remember not to not overdo it.
  • Display empathy and understanding.
  • Remember to explain. Explanation is often taken for granted but is a vital element in any negotiation. Without explanation the things you say have no foundation and are simply an assertion. Why should the other person accept what you are saying? When you make a point think about how it may be perceived and if a miscommunication is likely.      

Improving your negotiation and communication skills within the workplace is critical to becoming an effective and successful negotiator. If you or your staff need extra training or you have a problem that requires negotiation, you may need external assistance.         


Matt Truelove is a highly experienced investigator with over 13 years’ experience in the NSW Police Force and the Australian Public Service. He has extensive experience and training in interpersonal communication, negotiation and conflict management. 


Christa Ludlow is a lawyer with over 20 years’ experience in employment law and administrative law, and a qualified workplace investigator, coach and mediator. She is a Coaching Director with WEIR Consulting. Christa can be contacted via email or on (02) 8379 1298 / 1300 934 726

WEIR consultants have extensive experience in workplace negotiation strategies and conflict resolution. Engaging WEIR Consulting to assist in the negotiation processes such as training, workplace mediation or facilitated discussions, or workplace culture review may avoid escalating issues within your workplace. See our services page for more information or email us at