Communication is the key to successful negotiations that leave both parties satisfied with the deal’s final terms. One of the key components to successful communications is asking the right questions. When you ask the wrong question, you will likely not get the answer you desire. When you ask the correct questions in any situation, communication becomes more effective. The exchange of information is more beneficial to both parties. This is also a great benefit to the future of the relationship. Having the most accurate information allows you to learn, help others learn, and manage the relationship to the benefit of everyone involved. Negotiation exercises are an ideal way to improve communication skills and open the door to success. Try practicing these exercises to sharpen your skills and improve your negotiating abilities.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening is vital to negotiations because you need to grasp what the other party is asking for before you can go head to head over the deal’s terms. Of the 70-80% of your day that you spend communicating with others, around 45% of that time is spent listening. The question is – are you listening well? This active listening activity is one of the best negotiation exercises you can invest your time in. Perform it with a partner to hone your listening skills. Find a place where you can do the exercise without being interrupted or distracted.
Begin by asking your partner to express what is on their mind, then listen carefully as they communicate to you. After they have finished with their thought, paraphrase what they said back to them. This reflection demonstrates that you were paying attention and understood their statement. If you have trouble paraphrasing, try starting sentences with “If I understand you correctly …,” “It sounds like …,” or “What I hear you saying is …”
Gain clarity on your partner’s thoughts by asking questions. Queries will allow the other side to expand upon their thoughts and feelings, preventing you from reaching the wrong conclusion about what they are trying to communicate. Questions to consider that will offer further clarification can be as simple as “When you stated … did you mean …?”
Be empathetic to your partner’s feelings. If their statement contained negative thoughts, do not go on the defensive or try to question their motives. Instead, aim to validate their feelings by trying to understand why they feel that way, whether you feel that they are justified or not. Try using phrases like “It seems that you are feeling upset, and I can see why the situation has upset you.”
Show that you are engaged in the conversation through your body language. Face your partner and make eye contact, nod in understanding, and be sure to keep a relaxed, open posture. Be aware of your facial expressions, and be sure that they do not communicate anger or disapproval. You should also avoid any distractions during the exercise, so you may want to consider setting your phone to silent.
Remember that you are not in the conversation to pass judgment. You want to understand and accept the other individual’s perspective, regardless of whether you agree with them. The last things you want to do are distract yourself by mentally composing a rebuttal while they speak or interrupt their counterarguments.
Giving advice can be counter-productive, so it is important to understand your partner and make them feel heard. Once you have heard each others’ perspectives, it is easier to address and solve problems.
After you have actively listened to your partner’s statement, take your turn, and share your perspective. As you do this, be as clear as possible by using statements that begin with “I feel,” “I think,” and attempt to express empathy for their viewpoints in your statements.
As you perform this active listening exercise, keep in mind that you do not need to follow every step in order, nor do you need to include every step. However, the more steps you include in the exercise, the more beneficial it will be to your active listening skills. This exercise is one of the most effective negotiation exercises that you can perform regularly.
Putting Your Skills Into Practice
Working on being an active listener will benefit you most in negotiations if you ask the right questions when you are actively negotiating. There are a few questions you can keep in your arsenal that allow the other party in your negotiations to express themselves clearly and effectively, without sounding confrontational. Some of the best questions to ask include:
- Which component of my proposal causes you the most concern? When you break an offer down into individual points, it is easier for the other party to understand, digest, and pinpoint the areas they may have issues with.
- Why is this provision important to you? By understanding and evaluating your counterpart’s priorities, you can validate the significance of their terms and adjust your strategy to build trust and show that you want what is best for each of you.
- Why do you think this is a reasonable or equitable condition or term? When negotiating, you want all terms to be well-balanced and neither side to make demands that are excessive or unreasonable. Asking this question allows the other party to explain why they think a specific point is fair when you don’t see it as such.
- What is the reason that you can’t accept this offer or condition? If you feel that the other side is rejecting your offer or any specific terms without a legitimate reason, this question allows you to get to the meat of the matter.
- Could you elaborate on your reasons for taking this position? There may be times that you simply don’t understand the other party’s motives. By asking them to elaborate, you are allowing yourself to use your active listening skills.
- Do you have any proof or documentation to validate this position? If you ever find yourself in a position of doubting the authenticity of facts the other offers during negotiations, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for legitimate verification.
- Is there anything else you think I should know? Once each side has communicated its terms and conditions, it is sometimes beneficial to ask this question. You may uncover important concerns that did not arise during the initial process.
When you take the time to listen to and understand your counterpart’s position and terms, you can negotiate more effectively and reach a satisfying deal for each party. This also sets a precedent for future negotiations and deals. It’s a great skill for salespeople to have, but it also translates into many other negotiation arenas. When you listen and communicate well, you are more likely to get the answers you want to your questions.