How Business Coaches Can Polish Rusty Negotiation Skills


Discussing deadlines. Where to go for lunch. Which movie should you watch. We negotiate and agree on minor decisions on an almost daily basis. Larger, more obvious tasks that require skillful negotiation—like asking for a raise or a promotion or buying a car—have much more riding on outcomes and so can have a significant impact on your life at least in the short-term. It goes without saying then that learning how to negotiate gracefully, respectfully, and successfully is one of the keys in business and life.

Give and Take

“Negotiation shares a lot of DNA with both conflict resolution and coaching principles and practices like curiosity, open-ended question-asking, brainstorming, and perspective-taking,” says Lisa Gates, co-founder of She Negotiates, a consulting, coaching, and training organization. Gates is also trained in meditation, and she’s certified through the Coaches Training Institute as a Professional Co-Active Coach, a model that emphasizes empowerment and trust in the client’s capability. “I like to start with that understanding, because negotiation, like coaching, is essentially a communication discipline, and not as foreign a language as we think it might be.”

Just as the goal of life coaching is “to help people get into agreement with themselves—their values, purpose, goals—and into action with accountability,” Gates says, the goal of successful negotiation is “getting to a good agreement between two or more parties.” It’s this attention to communication and compromise—not a preoccupation with “winning”—that marks a developed negotiation style. Indeed, the agreement of both parties is essential. “According to research on negotiation,” Gates explains, “both parties are happier with the outcome when there is give and take on both sides.”

Business Coaching Tools

In a business setting, there are multiple instances when business coaching can help develop more powerful negotiation strategies. Imagine you’re reviewing a job offer or looking for a raise or promotion, or you are a business owner who wants to raise or renegotiate fees. In either case, a business coach can assist.

Gates cites an example of a client, “Anna,” a public-speaking coach who was routinely losing business, not making a consistent income, and terrified to raise her rates. Gates and her team came up with a strategy wherein Anna established rates based on her value to her market (as opposed to what she needed to pay the bills), redefined her market so that she was targeting people who could afford to pay her what she was worth, produced an authentic and compelling elevator pitch to help her sell her services, and wrote a script for her initial conversations with prospective clients designed to increase the probability of landing new business.

Additionally, Gates assisted Anna in understanding why people were hiring her. “People were not hiring her because of her perceived value,” Gates points out. “That is, if she raised her rate substantially, her potential clients would see a match between what she promised to deliver for them (results), and the value of those results in her client’s hands.”

Raising her rates had a second, more important function: it gave her wiggle room to negotiate. At Gates’ suggestion, Anna raised her rate from $75/hour to $200/hour. “In negotiation terms, this is called anchoring, or landing your number,” Gate explains. “This number has to be a couple of moves above your target rate—the number you’d consistently like to get.” Anna’s target rate was $150/hour, so by anchoring at $200/hour she was able to compromise with prospective clients—a key part of negotiation—while still satisfying her own needs.

With this new understanding of her own market and a quiver full of negotiation strategies, Anna was able to take her business to the next level. Even more important, her methods were respectful and effective, leaving everyone involved feeling like they’d come to a positive agreement—and isn’t that what good business is all about?

Realizing you’re worth more as in Anna’s case so you can negotiate better sometimes takes external encouragement and validation—and this is exactly what an effective business coach can do. From contract talks to funding rounds to mergers and acquisitions, a business and executive coach can polish negotiation skills till they shine.

Keph Senett

Keph Senett is a Canadian freelance writer whose passions for travel and soccer have led her to play the beautiful game on four continents. When not writing, she spends her free time trying to figure out how to qualify for a soccer squad in Asia, Australia, or Antarctica.

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