I recently helped my son buy his first truck. Like most 19 year olds, he was anxious to just get the negotiations over with and drive away in his new, shiny status symbol. I of course was more interested in the actual negotiation itself and getting the best deal possible since I was going to be on the hook financially for awhile! But I also wanted to use this as a learning experience for my son. During the negotiations I patiently explained my strategy and tactics to my son. When it was all over I knew I had realized my objective when my son turned to me and exclaimed “I can’t believe what you just did! I’ve GOT to take your class on negotiation!”

Skilled negotiators do things differently vs. average negotiators, usually because they’ve been better trained in the art of negotiation. Take any profession and the best practitioners usually have the most training and/or experience. So what have skilled negotiators been taught to do differently? What do skilled negotiators look like? How will you know one when you see one?

Here are some of the characteristics of skilled negotiators. Professional negotiation training can teach you all of these attributes (and more!).

– Ask questions. Skilled negotiators spend twice as much time asking questions vs. average negotiators. They probe to clarify issues and to understand underlying drivers and reasons for the “position or stance”  a given party has taken. Talented negotiators also try to understand what the other side wants so they can develop a solution that satisfies all parties.

– Active listening. Active listening is repeating back what someone said to ensure understanding. You can use phrases like “Let me make sure I understand what you just said” or “Let me summarize my understanding of what you just said.” This shows that you really are listening and trying to understand the other party.

– Make positive comments. Skilled negotiators make many more positive comments than average negotiators. They do this to emphasize and build on the “good”  in the negotiation to make it easier to deal with the “other”  issues.

– Explore more options to test limits. Often times in a negotiation you don’t have any idea what the other side wants. It’s important to zero in on the boundaries or limits by safely offering up options to the other party to test their reaction. Using questions like “Suppose my client did such and such, would your client do such and such in return?”  or “What if my client would do this, would your client agree to that?”? Skilled negotiators often explore many options before they find the one that works for both sides.PLAN PLAN PLAN. This is one of the BIG differences between skilled negotiators and average negotiators. Some very successful negotiators spend 4 hours planning for every 1 hour they spend in the actual negotiations. During the planning they seek out specific information that is needed to develop options and strategies. They turn the information into knowledge and then use the knowledge to plan the best approach for achieving their goals. And skilled negotiators are very methodical in their planning, often utilizing guides and forms in arriving at their final plan.

– Role play. Professionals spend a significant amount of time practicing prior to competing. Skilled negotiators do also. Find a partner and have them play the part of the other party in the negotiation. Then reverse the roles (see 12 below)! If you have role played various scenarios several times, you will be much more confident when the actual situation presents itself.

– Argue less. Arguing introduces negative emotion into the negotiation and skilled negotiators know the importance of minimizing/eliminating negative emotions. And, since skilled negotiators spend more time exploring options, making positive comments, and asking questions, there is simply less time to argue! If you are going to argue, do so on a limited basis.

– Win-Win Mentality. Highly successful negotiators know that the best way to get a win for their client is to help create a win for the other party as well. It’s extremely rare that one party will be able to “force”  the other party to accept terms and conditions that are unsatisfactory to the other party. Collaborative negotiators therefore seek to understand what the other party wants so they can create a solution that is mutually satisfactory or win-win. The goal should be to satisfy your client the most while adequately satisfying the other party or parties.

– High Integrity. This is a given. If you have ever negotiated with someone who demonstrates a lack of or questionable integrity, you never want to negotiate with them again. In fact, you may break off the negotiations or ask the other side for another representative. Never negotiate in any other way except with high integrity. Trust is built (or destroyed) during the negotiations and once trust is established more open information sharing occurs. But once integrity is questioned, the information flow stops and the negotiations become extremely difficult.

– Knowledge of Subject. Expert negotiators know knowledge is power and they will spend the time to become knowledgeable about important areas of the negotiation. In real estate for example, knowledge of the real estate market is key in determining the proper strategy for your client. If you lack knowledge in a specific area you can also bring in your own expert. For example, if you are a real estate agent going on your first luxury home listing appointment, you might team up with a luxury home specialist from your office. If the other side has an expert, have your own!.

– Think DOUBLE. Thinking double means anticipating what the other side will say or want in a given area of the negotiation, and being prepared with a response when appropriate. When a home Seller exclaims “I won’t pay that high of a commission”  a real estate agent better be prepared with the appropriate response! Skilled negotiators think “If I say this, they might come back with that, and if they come back with that, then I’ll come back with this.”  Thinking double makes you better prepared to deal with issues and concerns in the heat of the battle.

Effective negotiation training can help you learn to do everything necessary to be a skilled negotiator! Then you’ll be better able to serve your clients, and get better results for them and yourself!