You Don't Have to Be Good at Conflict to Be a Great Negotiator

07/29/2017 10:31 am ET
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In negotiations, how do I deal with my inherent dislike of direct disagreement or conflict? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Mira Zaslove, Manager at Start-Ups and Fortune 500, on Quora:

First off: you don't have to like conflict to be a good negotiator. Sure, there are many good negotiators who fit that mold, and seem to love conflict. But, there are many different types of great negotiators.

I inherently dislike conflict and spent the majority of my career negotiating, and coaching people to negotiate. I managed teams of negotiators and throughout the years, I've seen people with totally different personalities succeed in tough negotiations.

Some of the great negotiators do fit the stereotype of being overly outwardly aggressive and confrontational-- like Trump & The Art of the Deal. It works for them.

However, one of the best negotiators I've ever seen was more of an introvert who came off as a shy push-over --she wasn't! Her voice was soft and her manner disarming. It was hard to read her, and she used that to her advantage. People often said she had an "unconventional, but effective, approach."

And that's the key. People expect good negotiators to be confrontational. I've often succeeded in negotiations because the other side under-estimated me.

How did I do it? Persistence, working hard, and not giving up. Not quitting when I felt uncomfortable or a negotiation failed. The most important thing is to keep trying-- work through the discomfort until it isn't uncomfortable any longer.

It is better to use your strengths and focus on improving the following:

  1. Mental toughness. You don't have to love conflict to be a good negotiator, but you do have to be comfortable with hearing no. In fact, the sooner you hear no the better. Great negotiators ask the tough questions, and get more rejection than average negotiators. You often aren't going to get what you want on the first try. So, yes, you have to become comfortable asking for more, and being mentally tough dealing with rejection.
  2. Listening skills. To be a good negotiator you have to be a good listener. Especially if you don't like conflict, and are looking for more of a "win/win." You need to understand the fundamentals of the deal and be able to articulate and understand the key steps to the deal -- from the other side's perspective. Good negotiating is often more about listening than talking.
  3. Becoming action oriented. You can't blame others when things don't work out. Great negotiators find ways to close deals, and are proactive and take ownership. Remain focused and don't rely on luck or other people. Remember that you are responsible for the outcome. Good negotiators are creative and often find solutions that nobody else even thinks about.
  4. Patience. Good negotiating is often a game of chicken. Good negotiators don't often accept the first offer-- even, and especially if, it's higher than they expect. You have to be comfortable waiting it out and not giving in. A common negotiating tactic is for the other side to backslide on previous commitments to wear you down. Don't give up and keep patient when the other side tries to stall.
  5. Willingness to walk away. You can't win every deal, and a lot of good negotiating is simply not accepting a bad deal. It's a frustrating, but if you do not get what you want out of the negotiation, end the negotiation. Don't waste your time. Kill the deal if they won't stop playing games. Spend your time looking for a more favorable deal, and let the other side know you are out. If they are really serious, they will come back to you. If not, you've saved yourself more time and headache. "Agree to disagree" and move on.

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