Five tips for a successful negotiation

Feb 18, 2021

Negotiating is seen as an innate skill, something people are born with. This isn't the case, however; anyone can negotiate if equipped with the correct tools. Alan Nelson tells us how.

Whether you’re negotiating with budget holders during the annual planning cycle, or worried about a difficult conversation on an audit assignment, negotiating has always been a key skill that accountants must acquire. For many of us, that has become more apparent during the recent lockdowns, with difficult conversations with suppliers and customers all being conducted under intense pressure.

Many think that negotiation is a talent you either have or do not have, but nothing could be further from the truth. Negotiation is a process. You improve by learning key negotiation skills. What's more, there are some simple tools you can use that will help you learn how to negotiate, five of which are outlined below:

1. A bit of empathy goes a long way

Try to put yourselves in the other person's shoes. Thinking about the situation from their point of view as well as your own will help you to anticipate their position, and find a solution that is a win for both parties.

2. Speaking, listening and understanding

Successful negotiators employ three keys skills: speaking, listening and understanding. You must articulate your position, listen to the other party, and understand what they are saying and why. Very few people are good at all three of these skills.

The key, however, is to reflect on your weaknesses. If you are a nervous talker, then prepare for negotiations by thinking about the words you might use. If you tend to talk too much, then prepare some questions. If you find it hard to understand what the other person cares about, make notes while they speak.

3. Understand the trades

Negotiation is all about trading concessions. We start in one place and then we trade concessions. So, make a list of all the things you have to trade. Make sure you include everything; some things may be easy for you to concede, but could be of great value to the other party.

4. "If" is the hardest word

Once you have your list of possible trades, think about phrases you could use that include the word “if”. For example:

  • “If I could reformat the data to make it easier for you, could you get me your response a couple of days earlier?”
  • "If we set this up so that you get your report before lunchtime every Tuesday, could you commit to this format for the next six months?"

This will help to ensure that you don’t give anything away for free.

5. And finally: plan, plan, plan!

Planning is something that finance people should be good at. Spend time before the negotiation planning your approach. The four tips given above provide a pretty good list of headings for your plan.

In the end, always stay calm and professional, and try to remember that you want to work with these people when lockdown is over. Good luck with your negotiations.

Alan Nelson is Managing Director of He is the author of the course Negotiating Skills for Accountants.