What Makes a Good Negotiator?

Published: 03rd March 2010
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Have you ever wondered what makes a good negotiator?

This is a question that many people before me have tried to answer. It turns out that there are many different answers depending on who you ask.

I believe that this is the wrong question to ask.....here's why.

I believe that it would be far better to wonder about what makes a good negotiator within a specific discipline rather than what makes a good negotiator in a generic sense.

It would make more sense to ask what makes a good sales negotiator, purchasing negotiator, labour negotiator, contract negotiator, conflict resolution negotiator etc.

You see, it doesn't follow that because you are great at conflict resolution that you would be a great purchasing negotiator just as it doesn't make sense that because you are good at golf that you would also be good at tennis.

Wondering about what makes a great negotiator is too general a question to be useful.

Let me explain what I mean by further using a sporting analogy.

Do you know what makes a good sportsperson?

- A positive mind-set?

- A strong belief in their own ability to succeed?

Of course it would be important to know, master and apply the principles of good sportsmanship no matter what sport you participate in, but in addition to this you would need to master the best practices, strategies, techniques and tactics unique to your specific sports discipline (tennis, golf etc.).

If you are a golfer or tennis player, it would be far more useful for you to know what makes a good golfer or tennis player rather than only obtaining an answer as to what makes a good sportsperson.

For far too long academic institutions and training providers have been turning out 'good negotiators' rather than great, discipline specific, negotiators.

This means that negotiation skills have been taught on a generic level without a focus on the application of the strategies, best practices, techniques and tactics within a specific negotiation discipline.

It is simply not true that all negotiation principles, best practices and techniques hold the same value no matter what type of negotiation you are involved in.

You should most definitely be deploying different strategies and tactics if you are negotiating with a provider of a commodity based product within a commercial environment than you would deploy if you are seeking to reach a long term mutually beneficial outcome in a political negotiation.

If you wanted to develop your negotiation skills, it would still make sense to attend generic negotiation skills development training workshops just as it would make sense to attend a general workshop on the principles that underpin great sportsmanship if you desired to be a professional golfer.

What won't make sense though is to expect that a generic negotiation training workshop will equip you with the specific tools, techniques, strategies and tactics you need within your specific discipline (sales, purchasing, conflict resolution etc.).

So here is an important piece of advice - if you are looking to further develop your negotiation skills, make sure that you hone those skills within a learning environment that is specifically tailored to your discipline.

This way you will extract far more value from your investment of time and effort.


Jan Potgieter is the Founder & Managing Director of Business Negotiation Solutions Limited. To access free negotiation training resources, go to www.negotiationeurope.com.

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