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Makes A Good Negotiator

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.

TASK-PERFORMANCE GROUP

Planning

Problem-solving

Product Knowledge

Initiative

Reliability

Goal-striving

Stamina

AGGRESSION GROUP

Power exploitation

Persistence

Team leadership

Competitiveness

Courage

Risk-taking

Defensiveness

SOCIAL GROUP

Personal integrity

Open-mindedness

Tact

Patience

Personal attractiveness

Trust

Compromising

Appearance

COMMUNICATION GROUP

Verbal clarity

Listening

Warm rapport

Coordinating

Debating

Role-playing

Nonverbal

SELF-WORTH GROUP

Gain opponent’s respect

Self-esteem

Self-control

Ethical standard

Personal dignity

Risk being disliked

Gain boss’s respect

Organizational rank

THOUGHT GROUP

Clear thinking under stress

Analytical ability

Insight

General practical intelligence

Decisiveness

Negotiating experience

Broad perspective

Education