The 7 Skills of Elite Negotiators

I've been in my fair share of high stakes corporate negotiations. When millions of dollars are on the line and everyone in your company is relying on you to save the day, you learn a thing or two.

I've also taken my fair share of executive training courses on negotiation (including a very expensive one at an ivy league school that starts with "H"). While many of these courses provide valuable theoretical learning, you won't really learn how to put the theory into practice until you're staring down your opponent inside the boardroom.

Plus, there's a host of negotiation skills they simply can't and won't teach you in an institutional setting. These are the skills that the best negotiators in the business use to save millions for their companies. You can really only learn these skills by taking a few punches and learning from your mistakes.

I'm going to help you shorten the learning curve though. This week, we're launching a brand new video series on The 7 Skills of Elite Negotiators. These videos contain the very best tips, tricks and skills I've learned through my own experiences — and from going head to head with some of the best in the business.

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Video Transcript

Do you remember your first “aha” moment in a negotiation, when you learned something about the art of the negotiation that’s stuck with you ever since?

I remember mine.

My VP, Ted, was leading negotiations with one of our suppliers and asked me to sit in on a meeting with the sales exec and the CEO for the supplier.

When the meeting started, he let the sales exec talk about all of the wonderful things they’d done for us over the years.

When the sales exec finished, Ted started by telling him he thought the guy was full of crap and then started to list all of the reasons why we were considering a change of suppliers.

Naturally, the sales exec took offence and interrupted Ted to make his case.

At that point, Ted slammed his fist on the table and shouted “When you spoke I showed you the courtesy of listening, but I speak you’re interrupting me. Why am I not afforded the same courtesy?

Is this how you treat all of your customers?”

The room went dead silent.

And then the CEO for the software company spoke up “Ted, we’re very sorry about that. Please continue. We won’t interrupt”

Ted then rattled off a list of changes he wanted to see in our new contract, told them he expected a significant reduction in pricing and left the room.

So after some awkward small talk, I showed the suppliers out and then swung by Ted’s office like he’d asked.

I was petrified. I’d never seen my VP lose his cool like that and I figured I was next in the firing line.

But when I walked into his office he was sitting there with a big grin on his face, and I had my first “aha” moment.

Ted needed the supplier to focus on reducing our costs and making the changes he proposed. They weren’t going to do that if they thought they were the next best thing to sliced cheese.

So he got them to refocus on what we needed going forward, not on what they’d done for us in the past.

Now I’ve been honing my craft for almost 2 decades and during that time, in all of the courses I’ve taken on contract negotiations, no one’s ever talked about that move.

Because that isn't in the Contract Negotiation 101 handbook, where you learn about indemnities and liabilities or what the industry standard cap is on annual increases. That move comes from experience in real world situations.

You can take a martial arts class to learn about fighting. You may even spar with other students in a safe and controlled environment.

But nothing replaces the experience of getting into an actual fight in the street with a stranger.The stakes are higher and there's no safety net. No one's going to blow a whistle or break it up when you take a punch to the face.

And as Mike Tyson famously said “everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I know that sounds dramatic, but that's precisely what high stakes negotiations feel like.Some would argue they feel worse.

The first rule of negotiations: There are no rules in negotiations.

I'm kidding of course. There are definitely rules and etiquette to be observed in negotiations.You and I know that. But that doesn't mean your counterparts know or adhere to all the rules. That's why a good negotiator not only knows the rules, but also has the experience to know when they don't apply.

Based on my own experiences, I've identified 7 skill sets that allow good negotiators to get to the next level and establish themselves as the "elite".

Over the next few weeks we'll dive into each one of these skills and help you become the go-to person the next time your company needs their best negotiator at the table.

To whet your appetite a bit, here are the 7 skills we'll be covering:

  • Wearing Different Hats
  • Getting to the back table in a 2 table negotiation
  • Mastering the waiting game
  • Knowing when to lead and when to follow
  • Controlling your emotions...and theirs
  • Understanding BATNA
  • Planning, planning and more planning

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