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Rule No. 8. Learn to Communicate

To negotiate people must have the ability to exchange ideas, concerns, proposals and arguments – in short, communicate effectively.

Spare a second for this simple thought; if we communicate poorly, this will increase our chance of failure in any negotiation dramatically. So what, I hear you say? Well, that might mean a mildly irritating prolonged discussion, but it might mean something far more serious. Imagine for a moment that the negotiators get their communications wrong in the following circumstances:

  1. Politicians and diplomats negotiating for peace in conflict and war (or Brexit!)
  2. Hostage negotiators seeking to bring home loved ones and the afflicted from war torn and violent countries
  3. The emergency services having to negotiate in difficult situations to help the innocent and prevent wrong-doing
  4. The good Samaritan trying to persuade a would-be suicide victim to pause and think again
  5. The buyers and sellers in business seeking to deliver true value for money
  6. The parents persuading their children that Santa will only come at Christmas if they go to bed early!

So, you see that communication and negotiation are inextricably linked, and good negotiation skills are crucial. If you want to be successful in a negotiation, there is no room for communication breakdowns and misunderstandings.

How much have you thought this through? Because it is a broad topic. We are not just talking about words, although we seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time on this topic at the expense of the all the other important areas of communication! Body language, tone of voice, dress and appearance, handshakes, listening skills, emotional intelligence, time-keeping and courtesy all play a key role in our communications skill set. Based on external cues, including dress, people assess one another positively or negatively. We make a flash judgement of someone as trustworthy, capable, friendly, intelligent or the opposite—and we deal with them based on those impressions. People make inferences about one another’s motives based on first impressions, which occur extremely quickly. We only need 100 milliseconds to form judgements of others on all sorts of dimensions, including likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness. If you want to start the negotiations on the right note, you need to communicate the right messages from the outset. Even more interesting, our first impressions of others are generally accurate and reliable. For instance, first impressions about a person’s competence have been shown to be good predictors of important outcomes such as who will win a political election.

The best negotiators rehearse saying and doing things in ways that send precisely the message they want to send. The bottom line is that the better you become at using nonverbal communication and reading the nonverbal messages others send, the more effective you can be as a negotiator. Realise that everything you do at the bargaining table is part of the communication and negotiation process. So, make sure you don’t send the wrong messages by doing something that conflicts with what you want to say.

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