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.
Gain opponent’s respect
Risk being disliked
Gain boss’s respect
Clear thinking under stress
General practical intelligence
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.Share