How to master negotiation

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At some point in your career, you will have to negotiate. Whether it’s something as simple as asking for a pay rise or a more complex or difficult mediation over timescales, you will need to tap into negotiation skills in order to get the results you want. The further up the ladder you climb, the more tricky these negotiating situations can be, so it pays to start learning negotiation skills early on in your career. 

Here are some crucial things to remember when entering negotiations in any situation:  

1. Prepare beforehand

Preparation and planning is crucial for any good negotiation, says Neil Clothier, head of negotiations at Huthwaite International. “Preparation is collecting facts, data and number crunching. Planning is working out how you will use the information to negotiate a deal. Planning is particularly important, because you need to put yourself in the other party’s shoes and try to pre-empt what they’re likely to want.” Which brings us to point two… 

2. Find common ground

No matter the situation, it’s always important to find common ground between you and the person you’re negotiating with. For example, if you’re negotiating a salary, make your case in a way that shows your employer how beneficial it would be to keep you on board. You want to back up what you say with figures and examples – value you’ve delivered to the company, previous cases when a rushed project failed – whatever is most relevant to making your case. 

Make it clear that you’re looking to find a mutually agreeable solution. Negotiation is not about winning – it’s about compromise. “You can’t negotiate if you’re not prepared to make concessions,” says Clothier.

3. Have alternatives ready

If you’ve planned accordingly, you should be able to put together alternative solutions if your first suggestion is not accepted by the other party. Taking the salary negotiations example, you should have a minimum salary level that you are willing to accept, or if you’re willing to defer a salary increase until a certain date.

This is also true for negotiations over budgets, deadlines or difficult team members – have solutions ready in case your first choice doesn’t work out.

4. Get your stakeholders on board

Before you go in to negotiate, make sure any stakeholders affected by your solutions are on board. That could be your team members, or other people with interest in the project you’re working on. The last thing you want to happen is to come back with a solution after a long negotiation, only for stakeholders to reject it – that’s what happened with Brexit.

Get buy in before you get to the negotiating table, however, and the hard work is over once the solution is agreed. 

5. Choose your words carefully

This is the distillation of the previous four points. You need to make your argument clearly and stick to the task at hand. Building a rapport can be helpful, but studies by the University of Texas have shown that if you focus too much on building a rapport, you can derail negotiations. That doesn’t mean that you should play hard ball – just that you must keep the conversation focused.

Keep your plan in your mind and remember where you’ve allowed yourself to be flexible. Use your conversations with stakeholders and any other information you’ve gathered to back up their argument. Make sure that you let the other party have their say, and really listen to what their saying. Active listening techniques such as maintaining eye contact, asking questions and reflecting on what the other person has said can help you to really take their points on board.

For more information on negotiation and other skills you need in the workplace, see chapter three of the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition. You can also learn more about engaging your stakeholders on APM Learning.

Brought to you by Project journal. Explore the Project archive (🔒) for more articles on various topics.

Image: MJgraphics/

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 4th Dec 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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