Why Practice Negotiation?

A few years ago, I read a negotiation book and it blew my mind wide open. I thought, “This is going to change everything!” The next day, my boss made a request I deemed to be unrealistic. What a perfect time to try a technique from the book! I then asked a question from the book.

“That’s YOUR job to know!” he roared. I could practically hear his blood boiling. By fumbling a technique, I made a bad situation a thousand times worse.

Did that mean the negotiation book gave awful advice? No. The idea of strategically asking questions to open a conversation is as old as language itself… it just takes practice to do it skillfully.

It Takes 20 Hours to Learn a New Skill

Author and business coach, Josh Kaufman, says It takes 20 hours of deliberate practice to get pretty good at a new skill. Which begs to question, why don’t training courses offer opportunities to practice? Training courses will give you the knowledge, but you still have to log the hours of experience to fully acquire the skill.

Of course, not all practice is created equal. Deliberate practice requires the ability to self-correct. You may know that you messed up, like I knew I messed up when my boss blew up when I used a poorly constructed negotiation tactic. Not until I started practicing could I understand the reasons why it didn’t work.

My boss was already upset coming into the conversation. He was under a lot of pressure. He didn’t really want the specific thing he asked for, he wanted to solve a problem and that was one possible solution. Questioning his solution before understanding where he was coming from triggered another problem, and that was his authority. That’s why the situation got a thousand times worse.

The question itself could have worked, but in order for that to happen I would have to:

  • Diffuse my boss’s emotions.
  • Understand why he picked that particular solution to fixate on.
  • Get to the real problem.
  • Make him feel understood.

…and THEN ask that question. Even then, we would still have to work out a solution.

Feedback Helps You Improve Faster

In the real world, how many times have you received honest feedback as to why a conversation went sideways? Has anyone ever disclosed how much money you left on the table because you didn’t understand what they needed? Without feedback, developing and refining skills becomes a crapshoot. At best, you guess what needs improvement.

Practicing negotiation skills can transform the way you communicate. Through practice and feedback, you not only learn how, but you develop the ability to understand others and negotiate effectively at a rate much faster than trying on your own. No longer guessing what needs to be improved, you can focus your energy where it counts. I’ve seen people report a noticeable change within three weeks of practice and have really gained the skill within three months (the 20 hour rule at work!)

The Payoffs of Practice Are Immeasurable

After practicing negotiation skills in role plays myself for several months, I negotiated an important business contract which had a clause that didn’t work for me. I tried to explain why but until my counterpart felt like I understood what worked for him, we could not find common ground and discuss solutions that worked for both of us. We had a meaningful conversation. We built more trust in a negotiation that could have easily ended like that conversation I had with my old boss years ago. That’s quite a journey.

If you could turn tricky conversations into opportunities to build relationships, what could you accomplish? Take a free introductory negotiation class at the Empathary andstart building emotionally intelligent negotiation skills yourself.

Co-founder at the Empathary, a platform where you can truly develop emotional intelligence through learning how to negotiate.