Communication Skills that Turn Your Negotiations into Success.

“There isn’t anything you can possibly do that makes you more competent in everything you do than to learn how to communicate.” So says Jordan B. Peterson*. Sounds easy, right? If you didn’t learn how to effectively communicate while you were growing up and didn’t acquire the skills later in life, you might struggle to effectively articulate your needs and ideas. Knowing yourself and the other party well, and employing different communication skills during your personal or business related negotiations, will give you a great advantage.

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Communication Skills that Turn Your Negotiations into Success

Language emerged approximately between 200 000 and 60 000 years ago, and there are various hypotheses about how, why, when and where language might have emerged.

However, nobody is arguing about how important communication is in articulating our needs or achieving progress.

Everyone has different types of languages: non-verbal and verbal. Paralanguage refers to non-verbal vocal communication factors that are separate from actual language. This includes, but is not limited to, the tone, volume, inflection and pitch of your voice.

Sign language, while communicated non‑verbally, is considered a verbal language because people are speaking via the method of signing.

There will have been instances in your life where you might have realised that you could communicate even though you were not able to speak or understand a single word of the language of a country or person. We can understand and make conclusions about someone or a situation based on non-verbal cues. A substantial portion of our communication is non-verbal. There is a belief that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice and 7% is the actual words spoken. As a demonstration of this, think about how you can pick up on how someone is feeling – happy, sad, worried – just from their expression and despite the language or culture being foreign to you.

Experts have found that every day we respond to thousands of non-verbal cues and behaviours. Non-verbal details reveal who we are and impact how we relate to other people.

Non-verbal communication types include: posture; facial expressions; gestures; paralanguage factors such as loudness or tone of voice; body language; the distance between people; eye gaze; and haptics (touch).

In courtroom settings, lawyers have been known to utilise different non-verbal signals in an attempt to sway jurors’ opinions. For example, during their opposition’s argument, a lawyer might glance at their watch to suggest that the argument is tedious, or they might even roll their eyes at a witness’s testimony in an attempt to undermine the witness’s credibility. These non-verbal signals are seen as being so influential that some judges even place limits on what type of non-verbal behaviours are allowed in the courtroom.

Even appearance is a form of communication. Think about how a doctor’s white lab coat or a soldier’s army uniform communicates a level of professionalism and suggests trustworthiness. It has been found that regardless of whether your place of employment has an official dress code or not, the more formally you dress for work, the more money you’re likely to make.

In addition to boosting your self-confidence, careful attention to your appearance also impresses and attracts other people. While many workplaces now have more relaxed dress codes, proper grooming and a professional appearance are still important to gain respect. The way you look and carry yourself creates an impression on people.

So, what makes you an effective negotiator?

Looking at effective communicators, Nelson Mandela is certainly remembered as one of the best negotiators in history. Why? Mandela combined collaboration with strong principles, patience, tenacity, pragmatism and strategic thinking. Herb Cohen, a corporate and government negotiator and strategy consultant, wrote in his bestseller, “you can negotiate anything”. Cohen says to approach any negotiation “as a game that you care about, but not that much”. He says this attitude “tends to give me altitude, enables me to keep perspective and to see the interconnections; it enables me to take risks to convey power”. However, he also admits that it is much easier for him if he is not negotiating his own affairs.

Effective negotiation principals, such as the Harvard Principles of Negotiation, are not linear and allow for cooperation and the freedom of creativity. And, of course, you need to be aware of your non-verbal communication cues, practise global listening skills, establish a good rapport, have the goal of wanting a solution and see the other person as a partner. Follow these steps to achieve a successful negotiation in both your personal and business life:

  • Prepare for your discussion, sales pitch or presentation by assessing each side’s interest.

  • What are all the reasons the other party could give to say no? Consider no-deal options, imagine possible agreements and think about moves and countermoves.

  • Build rapport and create a positive connection with your partner by mirroring them for the first few minutes with the same body posture and tone of voice.

  • Be culturally aware in relation to your dress code and manners.

  • Separate the person from the issue. Negotiate hard, but never be disrespectful or unfriendly.

  • Apply an attitude that advocates ‘let’s put our heads together’ over ‘take it or leave it’.

  • Stay interest focused not position oriented. What is the other party’s actual interest?

  • Develop criteria that fulfills a true win–win solution. Clarifying those criteria will potentially open up more options.

  • Ideally, you will have different options that meet your criteria lists. This gives a feeling of choice.

  • Brainstorm together; you can often find unexpected solutions in difficult negotiations.

  • Acknowledge a potential underlying fear and pose it as a question; then reframe it and shift to a more positive, future-oriented focus.

  • Communicate wins (and potentially losses) in stages rather than only at the end.

  • If needed, and if a lot is at stake, bring in a third party.

And last, be aware that your own anxieties might sneak into your discussion. Be aware of your usual response before going into any negotiation.

What has your body been conditioned to do when stress triggers your fight-flight-or-freeze response and your primitive frontal brain is trying to take over?

Are you going into fight mode? Fight mode sees you getting angry, becoming judgemental or acting passive aggressively. You might then feel hurt or misunderstood. The extension of this would be chronical criticism, most likely towards yourself.

Perhaps you are more likely to go into flight mode. Flight mode is defensive and lets you withdraw to avoid a perceived threat. The primary indicator of the flight response is obsessive thinking – not the best partner in an important negotiation.

Freeze mode often happens if there is a trauma that paralyses you. You might feel you are not able to make a decision and you feel helpless or confused. You might feel disassociated with your body or unable to feel emotions or show compassion. It is extraordinarily complex, but you get the idea.

You need to know yourself well because the problem with any of the fight-flight-or-freeze responses is that you begin to only operate from a small part of your being. So, embrace mindfulness, pause and recognise what is going on before your primitive brain takes over. Become familiar with it so you have choices. You can read more about how to master stress and how to avoid it at or get in contact to see if I can support you and help you move forward.

In summary, in order to communicate effectively during your negotiations, it is important to ensure that you mind your verbal and non-verbal communication throughout, and that you factor in your appearance, demeanour and the manner in which you speak. Be aware of potential cultural differences and know yourself and the other party well. If you prepare, stay interest-focused and map out criteria that fulfills a win–win solution, you are sure to achieve a successful outcome. Above all, don’t forget to smile from time to time.

If you like support, get in touch.

I-YTC is about maximising and sustaining the wellbeing and performance of individuals and organisations in harmony with their environment.

*Jordan B. Peterson, Canadian clinical Psychologist and Professor of psychology