Our people in sales, marketing, as well as executives engage in plenty of negotiations. Most claim to know how. As the one responsible for talent development, please enlighten me on what really are the key competencies in negotiation.” Abby– VP-HR

The answer you seek reminds me of a revisited adage: “Many are cold but few are really frozen!” Hence, it is imperative for us to lay down the critical factors that make one a competent negotiator. Let’s break down the factors by phase of negotiation.


The very first skill is diagnostic capability in assessing where each party is coming from. The second skill is generating viable options while avoiding bargaining, negotiation’s poor and inefficient cousin. By doing so, agreements can be reached with an 80% probability compared to bargaining’s more than 50% risk of ending up in a deadlock. Depending on the relative importance of the negotiation encounter being readied for, competent negotiators must be able to utilize either a back-of-the-napkin type of nego-planning or the tool-based type that includes the use of strategic and tactical nego-planning tools usually aided by Nego-math. The use of these tools better ensure mutually satisfactory planned outcomes yet optimizing one’s ‘Return On Negotiations’ such as money, time, effort. Notably, the better the preparation, the more predictable a mutually positive outcome there is. The less quality the preparation the longer time and more meetings will be required to come to an agreement with a higher risk of deadlock. The third skill is the ability to pre-cognize gameplay. Using scientifically-anchored predictors, pre-determining what the other side will most likely do given their possibilities, probabilities and preferred outcomes, provides semi-godlike advantage in terms of negotiation outcome control. Finally, the last preparatory skill is environment control via venue-methodology strategies.
The first execution skill is posturing in relation to the anticipated negotiation power-pressure situation. For example, if the other side is disproportionately in power, how would you win intended concessions without getting bullied in the process? The second skill is making and responding to offers. The dynamics behind the first moves and possible subsequent actions must be balanced between securing a good deal and risking an impasse. Principles like the laws of speed and trajectory must be competently applied to reduce the risk of being trampled upon by the other side. Equally important are skills in being able to stand one’s ground, gracefully changing position and making the other side abandon position without losing face. Avoiding and getting out of impasses and deadlocks are indispensable skills to enable agreements to be secured. Despite being less delectable, it is imperative to know how to properly sabre-rattle and execute a walk away option, while keeping relationship bridges intact. In addition, the ability to dexterously detect and navigate out of being misled, bullied or timing-played, comes very handy. Finally the scientific skill in reading body language and facial expressions clustered with tones and words have obvious advantages.

After each important negotiation encounter, it is beneficial to review and analyze what happened. Did you both get what you were after? If not, why? Determine answers to many reflective questions that serve to continuously draw learning from the experience. This becomes even more pertinent in between progressive negotiations that span multiple encounters before any agreement is arrived at. These in-between reflections become the venue for revising tactics.

A bad negotiator is a company’s profit leak, a resource waster and a liability. On the other hand, good negotiators protect company interest and is well-balanced in ensuring that mutual business and relations are maintained and sustained with their counterparts. Taking stock of the real level of competence and equipping them adequately can save your company money and a lot of resources. After all, it is a falsehood to say “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” More often in reality, it is, “what you don’t know will kill you… Well, you just won’t know!”

Rowen Untivero is a Partner and Chief Sales Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., the country’s leading marketing, sales, strategy and innovation training company. Rowen is a veteran of Training, Coaching and Consulting and has more than a quarter of a century of successful sales, buying and negotiation practice. He is the pioneering developer of many original frameworks and tools in tactical and strategic negotiation, selling mechanics, strategic account development, retail sales optimization, sales management, and many more valuable contributions to the wealth of knowledge and best practices in business science. While most of his training programs through the years continue to be tailored specific to companies, he will be holding a Mansmith public seminar on “Effective Negotiation” on January 14-15, 2014. Please send your questions, comments or feedback to mentors@mansmith.net. You can also visit www.mansmith.net.