The art of negotiation in your personal and professional life

Melissa is smiling and sitting in MySurrey Hive holding a sign that says 'Ask me about placements!'
Melissa Pickering, Professional Training Officer

Getting what you want in life doesn’t always come easily!  Being part of a group working towards a goal can be challenging. It may involve unwanted compromises, frustrations and a trail of messy decision making. And it may take a long time.  But there could be an easier way. 

In this short guide, we’ll explore the different stages of negotiation and how to develop strong negotiation skills, which can help you to manage conflict more confidently and achieve better outcomes at work and in your personal life.

As a university student, you’re constantly navigating a myriad of situations that require negotiation skills. Whether you are trying to agree on ways of working in a group project, resolve a conflict in your part-time job or placement, or discuss a flexible working schedule with your employer, having good negotiation skills can make the difference between success and failure.

Understanding the art of negotiation

By understanding and mastering the art of negotiation, you can hone your negotiation skills. This can help you to:

  • Stand out in job applications.
  • Negotiate with your employer about working arrangements, start dates and planned leave when you receive a job offer.
  • Boost your communication skills and confidence empowering you to express your views more effectively.
  • Accomplish your goals and get your work done in an environment where people inevitably have different ideas, opinions, and priorities.
  • Build better relationships with fellow students and at work, leading to less conflict and better solutions.

The Negotiation Process

Harvard Business School* has identified four steps in the negotiation process.

  1. Preparation: Preparing in advance can improve your confidence, give you clear goals to work toward, and provide a strategy to base your approach on.
  2. Bargaining: Bargaining is about creating value for both you and other parties despite your differences.
  3. Closing: Closing a negotiation can mean coming to an agreement or ending the negotiation without reaching one.
  4. Learning: Reflecting on the process and learning from your experiences enables you to become a better negotiator.
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

How to develop and hone your negotiation skills

Firstly, negotiation is a conversation, not a monologue! And it can take time to reach a workable solution.

Negotiating requires using a variety of transferable skills such as analysing, strategizing, persuasion, teamwork, and communication.  These are skills that employers highly value. Before, throughout, and after the negotiation process, it is important to build trust, and nurture relationships, and maintain open and respectful communication. These are the building blocks of successful negotiation.

Here are some practical tips on how to improve your negotiation skills.

  1. Research, research, research: research the situation from all angles, define your goals, anticipate potential challenges, and devise potential innovative solutions before you start the negotiation process.
  2. Use Active Listening Skills – ensure that you listen carefully to others’ perspectives, show empathy, and seek common ground for mutual understanding.
  3. Develop your Skills of Persuasion: Prepare compelling arguments, and practise articulating your priorities clearly with friends or trusted work colleagues beforehand.  
  4. Be Flexible: Remain open to compromise and alternative solutions and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities.
  5. Demonstrate Emotional Intelligence: Understanding and managing emotions, both yours and others, is key to successful negotiation. This includes observing body language such as posture, gestures and facial expressions as they can also convey a person’s genuine emotions or intentions.
  6. Decision-Making: Negotiation requires evaluating options, weighing trade-offs, and making informed decisions – a critical skill in learning and professional contexts. Decide beforehand what is negotiable for you and what isn’t. Compromising isn’t always a sign of weakness – it demonstrates a willingness to reach a workable solution and is good for rapport building.
  7. Time Management: Managing the negotiation processes requires setting priorities to meet deadlines. Taking an active part in priority setting demonstrates you are dedicated to the process and the academic success and productivity of those involved.

Now is the time to seek opportunities to develop your negotiation skills through your academic projects, extracurricular activities, internships, placement and part-time jobs!