Being able to negotiate is important for a successful life but unless you were a business major it’s unlikely you learned how to negotiate in college. It’s ironic if you think about it, since so much of college, from grades to your social life, depends on successful negotiation. Luckily, learning about negotiation and effective ways of negotiation can be woven into almost any subject from psychology to history to economics to literature.
There are three great ways to teach yourself negotiation skills.
1. Focus on All the Skills
If you were a business major, you might have taken a class that encouraged you to focus on learning and developing your own personal negotiation style. You may have seen or taken quizzes designed to help you determine if you’re collaborative or competitive. Although it’s helpful to understand individual strengths, labeling people as having a specific “style,” is often counter productive. Different kinds of negotiations require different kinds of negotiation skills. It’s much less important that you know your “style,” than it is for you to know the necessary negotiation skills. For example, if you’re attempting to understand historic negotiations you may need to focus on problem solving and empathy. On the other hand, if you’re attempting to negotiate an overdue bill you’re having difficulty paying, you may want to focus on empathy and flexibility. It’s helpful to learn about how the other side of a negotiation is trained, for example, this is negotiation information for debt collectors.
Negotiation skills include assertiveness, problem solving, empathy, flexibility, intuition, and ethics. All five skills are needed for negotiation, no matter what style the negotiator gravitates towards.
2. Play Games
One popular negotiation training activity is this version of arm wrestling. A facilitator will place players in pairs and demonstrate the arm wrestling pose, but not use the word “arm wrestle.” The facilitator tells players that they get a point each time the back of the other person’s hand touches the table. Their goal is to individually get as many points as possible; the other player’s score does not matter. Some pairs will realize that instead of wrestling, they can work together flipping back and forth so that they each gain more points. This quick exercise demonstrates two important concepts of negotiation, the need to rethink your assumptions (some players assume the way to win is to make sure the other person loses) and the need to work together for a solution.
Obviously, this is not an easy game to work into a party setting, but almost any sport, board or electronic game that you play with others involves some form of negotiation. It may be a built-in part of the game, as in Monopoly, or more subtle as in determining if a do-over is allowed, or how long players have to make their move. The more you play games the better you’ll get at negotiation skills.
3. Story Telling
One of the most effective ways to learn anything is through stories. Stories from the news, stories from your own life, inspirational stories, biographies, and fiction can all be looked at for lessons in negotiation. One of the main ways stories can help is by increasing your empathy. The more you understand how people think, the better able to work with them you’ll become.
Try reading whatever stories you come across not for the plot, but for the negotiation lessons.
In our families, at school, on the playground and at work we all slowly gain the information and skills we need to help us achieve our goals. Training yourself to improve your negotiation skills is a doable, and a rewarding experience.