5 Habits of Highly Successful Negotiators

Some entrepreneurs are fabulous negotiators. They can work a deal, finagle the perfect price, deftly deal with client confrontations and truly optimize the reward they see for the work they do.

Others struggle. Tongues are tied, profits disappear, and agreements are reached only to fall apart weeks later. It’s an uphill battle, and far too stressful to ever get excited about.

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What separates those groups of entrepreneurs isn’t a special negotiation gene, or a supernatural gift of gab. It’s that the first group – our successful negotiators – have honed in on five key habits that together take the hassle and stress out of having those discussions with clients, partners and vendors.

Today we’re diving into those 5 Habits. What they are, what happens when they’re not in place, and how to cultivate them in yourself - driving your negotiation success rate through the roof.

Habit # 1: They know what they want

Successful negotiators are crystal clear on what they want and need in business. Whether it’s a need for security that drives multi-year contracts, or a need for cash flow that mandates shorter payment terms with customers, these negotiators can identify what to ask for and are able to communicate to clients, vendors and partners why they’re asking for it.

Signs that you could devote more attention to Habit #1 are that you have trouble identifying your major long term and short term business goals, are feeling confused or indecisive, or are asking for – and getting – what you think you need…only to discover that you were barking up the wrong tree.

The Fix: The key to strengthening Habit #1 is to be very specific in what you want. Challenge yourself to state what outcome you’re looking for in 140 characters or less. Get exquisitely focused on what you want, so that anyone who reads that statement would be able to give you exactly what you wanted without further explanation.

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Habit #2: They embrace healthy boundaries

Effective negotiators are pros when it comes to saying no and setting limits without alienating the people they’re in discussions with. There isn’t waffling, or wavering, or the offering of apologies when they can’t agree to what someone else is proposing. A favourite phrase of theirs? “I’m not able to agree to that, but this is what I can suggest…”

Sticking to your guns and making the most of Habit #2 may be a problem for you if you catch yourself saying yes to things you don’t really want (see: Habit #1), undercutting yourself by making concessions, or shying away from asking for more in the first place.

The Fix: Practice makes perfect. Set yourself one daily non-negotiable in life or business, and stick to it. A great place to start is blocking off an hour for lunch each day. If a client asks to book a call during that time? Practice your “I’m not able to accept an appointment then, but I can propose…” in response.

Habit #3: Their creativity and flexibility abound

Far from being stuffy, or unreasonable tyrants when it comes to getting what they want, experienced negotiators are wonderfully creative and flexible. After all, there’s more than one way to crack a nut…and a negotiator’s job is to find the way that works for everyone involved.

When the flexibility of Habit #3 is lacking, the impact is significant. Tunnel vision and hanging on too tightly to specific outcomes will have you hitting your head against the wall, and working way too hard towards goals that start to feel impossible. You’re frustrated. You’re anxious. And you’re never content.

The Fix: If you’re getting hung up on achieving a very narrow definition of success, brainstorm equivalent solutions – ways for you to reach your end goal, but without keeping all the focus on the exact ‘how’ of achieving it. For example, if you’re charging $500, perhaps that means accepting either cash or credit. Or $250 up front, and $250 a month from now. Or $400 in payment and $100 in equivalent services.

Habit #4: They value relationships as much as revenue

A successful negotiator is focused on connection and empathy – while sticking to their boundaries. Negotiation isn’t about being a robot, or following scripts to get what you want. It’s about being yourself, and building healthy relationships with your clients, vendors and partners.

Signs that you’re struggling with Habit #4 include having lots of one-time customers but not much repeat business, struggling to get referrals, or receiving lukewarm testimonials even when you’ve delivered excellent service. People just aren’t warming up to you, or eager to do business with you again.

The Fix: Make the time for small talk. Even if it’s just 5 minutes at the start of each meeting, make an effort to engage with people outside of business topics. Travel, food, music, sports – it’s about getting to know people as people, not just the eventual contract signer. Get started virtually: Send a quick ‘Hello!’ to a former client to see how they’re doing. No pitch. No business talk. Just genuine engagement.

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Habit #5: They’re never done learning

The best negotiators never rest on their laurels. They recognize that no contract or deal is ever perfect, and they strive to do better next time. Uncovering lessons learned with a post-mortem on a negotiation, or with 10 minutes of reflection after a particularly difficult conversation, an effective negotiator embraces continuous improvement.

Habit #5 may be a struggle for you if you find yourself facing the same frustrations time and time again. The same confusion with clients over payments. The same concerns over workload distribution with partners. The contract loophole that’s burned you more than once.

The Fix: Upping your awareness of what’s not working for you is the first step to finding a solution. Open an Evernote file to log your frustrations and failures. This is how you’ll spot the patterns that you can tweak (getting hot under the collar in tough vendor calls, for example) or gaps in your processes that you can correct (refreshing that contract to make sure you get paid on time, perhaps).

As we’ve gone through these 5 Habits, you may have found that some jumped out at you more than others. Every entrepreneur – every negotiator – is going to have a different level of strength in each of them. Some will come more naturally to you than others, and some will be more effective in certain situations, but all of them need to be present in order to secure your best possible results.

To help you identify where your strengths and weaknesses are, and start putting the Fixes in place, I’ve created the 5 Habits Worksheet. This free resource will help you get comfortable, confident, and on your way to expert negotiator status.  

Download your 5 Habits of Successful Negotiators Guide now!

This post first appeared on Nathalie Lussier's AmbitionAlly