Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

But as a baseball player are not so much.

How many times have you seen people who are technically strong in their field — but when promoted into a management position fail spectacularly?

Why does that happen?

Do some people suddenly become less competent when they’re promoted to a management role?

Do they lose the skills and expertise that got them there in the first place?

Or do we make the mistake of assuming that if someone is a really good software developer, they should be good at managing a team of developers.

The skills that make a developer good at software development are completely different from the skills that make a manager good at management.

Similarly, the leadership skills that earn an individual a seat at the executive table in an organization don’t necessarily qualify that individual to negotiate contracts on behalf of the organization.

Yet too often in negotiations, I’ve seen organizations give one of their executives the keys to their kingdom without first seeing if that person was fit to be king.

Now I’m not saying that all executives are bad contract negotiators. In fact, some of the skills of a negotiator — like firmness, problem solving and the ability to communicate — are exactly what’s needed to be a successful executive.

But there are other qualities that, by their very nature, may not necessarily be conducive to effective leadership but are critical for negotiations.


Some of the leadership skills you’ve acquired over the years might actually hinder your effectiveness as a negotiator.

Being a good leader doesn’t make you a bad negotiator. It’s just that effective negotiation often requires a posture that is foreign to good leaders.

Here are 3 negotiating skills that don’t come naturally to most leaders:

  1. Patience– Sometimes negotiations can devolve into a good old fashioned staring contest. When the two sides are stuck on a deal-breaker issue in the contract, good negotiators know when to walk away from the table — and how long to stay away — before reengaging with their counterparts. Leaders are people of action and sometimes find it difficult to walk away and wait.
  2. Deference– Negotiators must have the option to defer decisions to a higher authority (see Two Table  Negotiations), if for no other reason than to take a step back and get a holistic view of what’s on the table before making a decision. Leaders make important decisions every day and rarely defer to someone with a perceived higher authority.
  3. Emotional Balance– Negotiators will push the buttons of their counterparts to gauge their reaction and find a way to manipulate it to their benefit (see Level the Playing Field). It sounds underhanded but doesn’t have to be. For example, a good negotiator will challenge the authority and decision making ability of their counterparts. Leaders don’t like to defer their decisions to someone else and will often make emotional decisions when their authority is challenged.

re you a leader or a negotiator?

They’re not mutually exclusive. Some leaders are expert on negotiation while some negotiators are natural born leaders.

But at the negotiating table, it’s important to identify which hat you’re wearing. Because if you don’t play your role well, or you’re unclear on what your role is, the folks at the other side of the table will decide your role for you.