What Makes A Good Negotiator?

What are the traits of an effective negotiator? Do attorneys, politicians, realtors, car salesmen, or other professions automatically make a person a good negotiator? Not necessarily. Do certain professions receive specific negotiation training? Not always. Listen to what attorney and author Leo Reilly had to say about negotiation training in his book, How to Out Negotiate Anyone (Even a Car Dealer), “I negotiated the mergers of businesses, the dissolution of partnerships, and how much audited taxpayers would pay to the IRS. And, like almost every lawyer or businessperson I have ever met, I did this with no formal instruction on how to negotiate.” Reilly goes on to say, “Negotiating is a fundamental business skill, yet most of us are ignorant of how to handle the most basic negotiations.”

This brings us back to the question, “What makes a good negotiator?” The truth is you will find negotiators in all shapes and sizes. Negotiators will use different strategies, tactics, and traits to successfully negotiate various conflicts, deals, purchases, and anything else negotiable. There is no one size fits all. In fact, you may find successful negotiators that abhor other successful negotiators’ practices. While both may be successful, they may use completely different styles, strategies, and tactics to get the job done.

We are still left with the initial question. To supply an answer and provide something that we can all benefit from regarding our own negotiation styles and practices, I looked to three opinion polls that Chester L. Karrass wrote about in his book “The Negotiating Game.” These polls looked at attorneys, accountants, retail buyers and real-estate brokers to see how they viewed negotiations. Additionally, the literature of diplomacy, business and collective bargaining was probed for a deeper insight into the personality makeup of successful men and women in general. Karrass writes that as a result of the studies, the ability to measure bargaining skill objectively and to understand how the attitudes of these various professional groups differ with respect to the qualities necessary for a first-rate negotiator was now available.

Nearly five hundred negotiators took part in the survey, and it not surprising that there were significant differences between the answers of the various groups. Industrial negotiators, such as salespeople, engineers, buyers and contract-management people differed in their responses compared to commercial negotiators such as attorneys, accountants, real-estate brokers and retail-clothing buyers. As a group, those in commercial activities placed greater emphasis on analytical ability, self-esteem, and patience. Attorneys and accountants see negotiation as a problem-solving affair rather than as a quest for reaching objectives. No other professions surveyed were so emphatic on these points.

Karrass reports that this study provides two clear lessons: 1) the difference in opinion between various professionals is significant, and 2) when members of different professions assist one another at the bargaining table they are likely to view negotiations traits in diverse ways. We are now back where we started; acknowledging that there are many ways to negotiate and successful negotiators come in all shapes and sizes and possess various traits.

However, the professionals that were surveyed, and who should know the most about negotiation, collectively believe that the following seven traits are most important:

1. Planning Skill

2. Ability to think clearly under stress

3. General practical intelligence

4. Verbal ability

5. Product knowledge

6. Personal integrity

7. Ability to perceive and exploit power

This is not a bad list. I’m sure we can all agree that these traits are important during negotiations. Are they the be all and end all of negotiation? No. Are there other traits we can develop to improve our negotiation success? Certainly. The list does give us a good start in answering our question of what makes a good negotiator. It would benefit anyone who wanted to improve their negotiation skills to critique these traits within themselves and work toward developing these traits to their maximum potential.

Besides the list above, I think it would be beneficial to examine all the traits and how they were ranked by attorneys in the survey. The following is pulled from the Appendix of “The Negotiating Game.” The traits are ranked from highest importance to lowest among each group.




Product Knowledge






Power exploitation


Team leadership






Personal integrity




Personal attractiveness





Verbal clarity


Warm rapport






Gain opponent’s respect



Ethical standard

Personal dignity

Risk being disliked

Gain boss’s respect

Organizational rank


Clear thinking under stress

Analytical ability


General practical intelligence


Negotiating experience

Broad perspective


There you have it. Different groups of traits that are important to negotiations, and how surveyed attorneys ranked the traits when asked, “what makes a good negotiator?” We may never have a definitive answer to the question, but I can guarantee that anyone who focuses on improving the traits listed above will not only become a better negotiator and attorney, but a better person and member of society, and I think we can all agree that would be a worthy goal.



  1. private student loans  September 21, 2010

    What a great resource!

  2. marek insurance  October 15, 2010

    Great writing! I wish you could follow up on this topic???


  3. Don  September 14, 2012

    A globalized world rqireues companies to expand their markets, to explore new options outside their frontiers and to compete against new foreign companies in what used to be their safe territory. Besides becoming competitive and innovative, they are also forced to be very assertive in their negotiations, not only because they have to deal with new cultures but also because most of the times they only have one opportunity to make a deal. In my opinion this is one of the facts that have made the negotiation training business a multi billon industry. But when a new necessity like this appears, a lot of people take advantage of that to offer curses or training programs that not always have the best contents. There are a lot of people who have no experience and only repeat what they read in a book. In my opinion this article has very useful tips to help us differentiate and have a better judgment when choosing the right person for our needs, especially because is an unknown field for most of us and we can be easily impressed.

    • Alain  September 14, 2012

      Thanks for the comments.