The art of negotiation

This article is a summary of Chris Voss’ masterclass on negation. We negotiate three to seven times a day. Every time when you try to get someone to say “yes”, or when someone tries to get you to say “yes”, or when you say “I want something” or when you say “I think I need something”, you are negotiating. Mastering the art of negotiation is critical to effective communication. One stereotype of negation is that you can only win at another’s expense. However, great negotiation is really collaboration. In this article, we provide an overview of three most important strategies to achieve great negotiation: tactical empathy, mirroring and labeling.

Tactical empathy is the first step to becoming a great negotiator. To empathize tactically you need to become completely aware of the other person’s point of view. You need them to know you understand how they see the issue and how they feel. You don’t need to agree. Just show that you are willing to take the time to fully appreciate their point of view. Tactical empathy is critical to build trust-based influence. You’ve got to understand what’s driving the party you are negotiating with, understand their rules, and respect their rules. You’ve got to understand what’s at stake, and what they are really after during a negotiation.

Mirroring is the second step to becoming a great negotiator. To mirror the other person you repeat the last one to three words they say and then stop to listen again. Mirroring helps the other person feel you want to listen more. It is critical in gathering information to build the trusting relationship. By mirroring, you learn to dig deeper and get to the bottom of what’s possible with your counterparty. Mirroring shows that you are curious. However, in order to successfully mirror, you need to be silent and listen to show genuine interest. By being silent you encourage your counterparty to share. In order to be interesting, you need to be interested. Mirroring followed by silence helps show your counterparty that you are interested which will make you more interesting! Try mirroring when you go to a big party, or when someone confronts you, see what happens.

Labeling is the last step to becoming a great negotiator. To label...verbally observe the feelings you perceive in your counterparty. You first need to be aware of these feelings and then you label it by saying “it sounds like…” or “you sound like…”. Labeling a negative emotion diffuses it, allowing labelling these negative emotions to diminish overtime. You know you are likely correct in your labeling if the other party does not respond. If they disagree they will probably say so. One important thing to remember is to pause and listen after labeling. Do not follow a labeling with a question or another labeling immediately. Labeling can also be used in positive emotions. This is a great strategy as well because unlike negative emotions...labeling a positive emotion reinforces it, helping to build your relationship.

Becoming a great negotiator takes a lot of practice but three steps can help: tactical empathy, mirroring, and labeling. When applied correctly, these three key strategies help you by building a collaborative and trusting relationship with your counterparty. These strategies are useful in many other communicative situations as well. They are key to gathering information about your counterparty and showing you care about their interests. By doing these, you can achieve trust-based influence on others...because by understanding you show you are equally willing to be influenced. You also show that you care about more than just getting your want to find “Win-Win” solutions that also build your relationship.


By Lihong McPhail