Negotiation skills for business leaders

Business leaders must get beyond the “I win” to find the win-win in negotiations. We have seven ideas to build your negotiation tool kit.

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New ways of thinking, and leading

What it takes to be a successful business leader today is different from in generations past. Instead of issuing orders, asserting one’s will and winning at all costs, leaders bring a big-picture vision to their businesses. They do this by inspiring, aligning and influencing.

Leadership is now more collaborative and involves softer skills. One skill set that highlights the expanded and demanding roles of business leadership is negotiation. Developing negotiation skills is something every business leader should invest time and energy into.

Become a better negotiator by improving your communication skills, enhancing your EQ aptitude, mastering your timing, and learning to value build. Then, get to the negotiating and reflect on your process.

Improve communication skills

Every leader knows the value of solid communication skills for many facets of their business. In a negotiation, communication plays a heightened role. Better articulating and understanding the various stakeholders’ opinions are essential skills for leaders and steps in negotiation.

  • Fine tune both your speaking and writing skills.

  • Practice active listening.

  • Ask open-ended questions.

  • Ensure understanding on both sides.

Embrace critical thinking

The ability to see multiple perspectives, decide what information is pertinent and compelling, generate, and evaluate options and make informed decisions — and do it all in a timely manner — is evidence of sharp critical thinking skills. Shaper critical thinking will give you an advantage in any negotiation.

  • Solicit feedback on gaps in your critical thinking capabilities.

  • Leverage multiple sources for research and information.

  • Negotiations are about pace, but take your time to think through assumptions.

Enhance your EQ

While everyone wants a leader to be brilliant, leaders need more than smarts. Softer people skills will serve you well in leadership, specifically during negotiations. Being able to perceive other people's feelings through explicit and implicit queues and understand your reaction will prove invaluable.

  • Keep an open mind.

  • Check your own ego and potential biases. 

  • Help establish rapport and trust between parties.

Create value and value creativity

A good leader thinks through all the options and looks for common ground. Keep a focus on your needs as well as the needs of the other party. You’re not just negotiating to achieve objectives and resolve conflicts; you’re building relationships and promoting an ethical 

  • Find alternatives and backups.

  • Be collaborative and flexible.

  • Ensure your goal is of value to those you’re negotiating with.

Get to negotiating

Once you're at the negotiating table, combine all these skills to help you persuade. Consider a negotiation as a collaboration to reach a win-win vs a you-win, even as you prioritize what's most important to you or your business.

  • Come prepared and stay patient. 

  • Use facts and data, not just opinions.

  • Leverage logical storytelling.

  • Know when to push forward and when to hold back.

Quick Bites

TEDTalks on Negotiation
Masterclass on Negotiation

Give It a Read

Real Leaders Negotiate! Gaining, Using, and Keeping the Power to Lead Through Negotiation 

Negotiate Without Fear

Go Deeper

Many universities and graduate programs offer online and in-person executive education on negotiation including University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, Columbia University and Cornell University.