Negotiating skills

Table of Contents

What makes a good negotiator?


  • Know what you want, and what you would be prepared to accept
  • Be open
  • Listen, seek to understand, then seek to be understood
  • Seek win-win
  • Keep positive
  • Keep respect
  • Keep calm
  • Use reason and logic, not dogma
  • Look for shared goals


  • Prepare
  • State your position clearly, highlight its strengths
  • Build on common ground, start small
  • Isolate areas of difficulty
  • Bank provisional agreements

When you get stuck:

  • Are you being fair? Are they being fair?
  • Use banked agreements
  • Broken record technique
  • Adjournment
  • Joint working party
  • Arbitration, mediation or conciliation
  • Sanctions


Traditionally, two sides in a negotiation will determine their positions and then attempt to achieve their targets. This can become a hostile process – leaving both sides feeling frustrated.

How can you prevent this happening? Perhaps you could experiment with some of the following:

  • Be open instead of guarded.
  • Talk about shared goals and common interests rather than seeing the other side as the enemy.
  • Listen carefully to their arguments and let them see you are listening.
  • Ensure there are no misunderstandings. Repeat their arguments to them to check you filly understand.
  • Be positive.
  • Do not look for the ‘ideal’ solution.
  • Beware of subjective statements that are treated as fact. Ask for and give evidence of points.
  • Do not over-identify your ‘position’.
  • Treat the other party with respect, but be firm.
  • Do not make any concessions before discussions with your colleagues.
  • Remember your objective to reach agreement. This may mean letting go of some cherished positions.
  • Do not attack the other side. Avoid emotion. Keep calm and be reasonable.
  • If they are unreasonable, ask them if they think they are being fair. If they were in your position would they think it fair?
  • People are more likely to make concessions if they feel secure. Do not be threatening.
  • Cultivate the other party’s idea of you as reasonable, non-threatening and constructive.

Negotiation models

Useful skills in negotiation

  • Good COMMUNICATION SKILLS. The usual suspects of building rapport, picking up cues, non-verbal communication and also being able to clarify and summarise regularly. Etc….
  • Being FLEXIBLE. (Have options thought about before but also try thinking creatively.)
  • CHUNK UP. This is just a term suggesting if negotiation is stuck in the specifics you could try to be a bit more general to see if other options occur.
  • CHUNK DOWN. This makes things more specific and might be used to move negotiation on.
  • Being able to stress the POSITIVE CONSEQUENCES of your proposal being accepted. (For example if we concentrate on this the evidence is that the majority of registrars pass the video component of the exam.)
  • Let the other person know the NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES of your proposal being rejected. (For example that you feel so strongly about this that you will consider not filling in the trainer’s report.)
  • Be aware that the block on a lot of negotiation is based on conflict of BELIEFS AND VALUES so you have to acknowledge what yours are and try and explore what is important to the other person.
  • Try to identify whether the other person’s perspectives are locked in the PAST (We have always done things this way) the PRESENT (At this moment in time we have to consolidate things) or the FUTURE. (The only way is to make changes and move ahead.)
  • Recognise when TIME OUT is needed either to consider options or for some housekeeping.

Exchanging views and persuasion

“Testing the water”


The objective of the “exchanging views and persuasion” stage is to move your opponent towards your position. In order to achieve this you will need to demonstrate the strength and the advantages of your position as well as indicating the consequences of your opponent not meeting your concerns/demands.

It is important that you state your position clearly, usually at the start of the process otherwise your opponent will be reluctant to move from their position particularly if it is unclear what you are attempting to achieve. Don’t be afraid to put forward proposals in order that you can exchange views. However, the proposals must be thought through during the preparation stage, don’t shoot from the hip!


There are numerous tactics which you can use to move your opponent’s position nearer to yours. Some of these are listed below:

  • Test your opponent’s position eg.
    • Check whether the “facts” are true
    • Look for omissions
    • Question assumptions made
    • Is their position realistic?
  • Seek to divide your opponent if a division exists eg.
    • Is there a difference between the view of the Medical Director and the Director of Personnel?
  • Highlight the strength of your position eg.
    • The members won’t stand for it
    • Low morale amongst staff
    • Impact on patient care
    • Effect on recruitment
    • Legal rights
    • Natural justice
    • The need for co-operation between management and the medical staff
    • Indicate possible sanctions
    • Precedents elsewhere
  • Use reason and logic rather than dogma.
  • Anticipate your opponent’s arguments.
  • Find ways of using your opponent’s arguments to your own advantage.
  • Shift the scope of the negotiations to your advantage.
  • Cover the weaknesses of your position by emphasising your strengths, however don’t over egg the pudding.

Getting movement

This is the process of converting a willingness to move into actual negotiating.

Process Skills

  • The need to recognise signals from the other side of their willingness to move, e.g. “Well, I suppose we could look at that in more detail”.
  • In turn, you need to be able to give out similar tentative signals.
  • Early bargaining movements may be on a hypothetical basis, e.g. suggestions.
  • Generally speaking, it is best to get your opponent to make the first move.
  • Initially offer small concessions for large ones by your opponent; keep as near to ideal as possible.
  • Work steadily to agreement on a concession-by-concession basis.
  • Make trade-offs between items if appropriate, taking care not to dip below your fallback position for that item.
  • Narrowing differences and building on the common ground, isolating areas of difficulty.
  • Bank (note) provisional agreements on items until overall agreement has been reached.
  • Noted agreements could be renegotiated by agreement to overcome later difficulties.

Specific Tactics

  • Hard/soft routine.
  • Assess value of concession to your opponent, a small concession may give a big payoff if valuable to your opponent.
  • Use of the fatigue factor. Appeal to common sense; not much between us.
  • Other tactics used under “Exchanging Views and Persuasion”
  • Exaggerating the pain of the concession you are making.


Adjournments will play a large part in formal pay and conditions bargaining. Negotiations are unlikely to be a smooth process of give and take, but a series of adjournments where each side considers the other side’s proposals. Adjournments may be necessary in the following circumstances:

  • To decide whether to agree with an opponent’s proposal.
  • To devise a counter-proposal.
  • To correct problems of misunderstanding amongst own team.
  • To avoid pressure on an issue.
  • To consider position if negotiations are in deadlock.
  • To take natural breaks, relieve fatigue.

Breakdown in Negotiating

  • Back to the drawing board.
  • Joint Working Party
  • Disputes procedure
  • Referral elsewhere – arbitration, mediation, conciliation.
  • Sanctions.

How to negotiate effectively


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