Five strategies to sharpen leader negotiation skills

Dean Kaplan provides a few easy pointers for better negotiation.

According to a 2016 study by Harvard Business Review, executives estimated their companies wasted more than $7,000 a day on unproductive workplace conflicts. Another study revealed that American employees report spending 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict.

Additionally, 25% of employees said that avoiding conflict led to sickness or absence from work and nearly 10% reported that workplace conflict led to project failure. As someone who has consulted with and led businesses in numerous industries, this does not surprise me.

I’ve seen companies brought to their knees by internal arguments over everything from who cleans the kitchen to serious discussions about product features. I’ve seen companies financially ruined by an inability to properly negotiate payment agreements and I’ve seen numerous companies lose the good will of customers due to inefficient processes for solving customer complaints.

Being able to negotiate conflicts is one of the most useful skills a leader can have. Here are my five strategies for sharpening your negotiation skills.


The best thing any CEO or leader can learn is how to delegate, which is true for negotiation as well. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by training and empowering employees to negotiate both internal conflicts and conflicts with customers and vendors.

Training in negotiation skills can be done as a stand-alone event or as a regular part of company meetings. For conflicts that involve customers, it’s important that employees know they are authorised to offer refunds or other compensation without involving multiple levels of management.

Good notes can also help diffuse a tense conversation. 

Sometimes delegating can mean bringing in outside help either to perform tasks that employees argue about, or to help resolve disputes with suppliers or customers. Bringing in an outside mediator for things like company retreats or other types of information gathering is almost always a good idea.

Think collaboratively

We tend to think of negotiations as straightforward win/lose propositions – one person wins, the other loses. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Try not to focus on your position and their position. If you think of negotiations as a way to find out what the other person needs, as opposed to getting what you want, you’ll go a long way toward solving even some of the biggest problems.

Practice good record keeping

If you’re dealing with a sensitive or uncomfortable situation, chances are there will be disagreement about what was said or decided. Keeping good records of who said what and which conclusions were made can be critical to keep things moving forward.

Good notes can also help diffuse a tense conversation. People’s memories are often faulty when they’re upset or worried. Having good notes, taken at the time of the discussion, can help ensure that things are remembered correctly.

Sending an email after a conversation confirming the key points is an easy and effective way to document progress, remaining issues and action items.

Teaching customer service reps, HR managers, or others who deal with sensitive topics to keep records will offer huge protections for your organization. The best way to solve problems is often to avoid the problem in the first place. Keeping good records and putting things like contract terms in writing is a great way to avoid future debate.

Get ahead of a situation

If an employee is not performing up to standards, don’t wait until a performance review to tell them, talk to them now and let them know while there’s still time to fix the problem. If your company needs to readjust your lease or other debt, talk to the other party before it becomes an issue.

If an employee is not performing up to standards, don’t wait until a performance review to tell them, talk to them now and let them know while there’s still time to fix the problem.

Oftentimes people try to hide a difficult situation and hope the other person doesn’t notice, this rarely works. Being the first person to bring up a problem or sensitive situation can actually give you a head start in a negotiation.

Being upfront and open about problems and the steps you plan to take to solve the problem is one of the hallmarks of a good and trustworthy leader.

Stay calm

Yelling never helps. Whether you’re the person at fault, you feel wronged, you’re trying to negotiate someone else’s mistake, or you’re trying to negotiate between two people, the best way to handle a difficult situation is to stay calm. This helps others to do so as well.

Emotions are easily read in tone of voice and physical mannerisms. If you feel anxious or angry about the situation the other person will know. Attempting to bully or strong arm someone will never help solve a difficult situation over the long run. If necessary, take a break or encourage those experiencing the conflict to do so.

This is another place where a trained mediator can be helpful.


Workplace conflicts cost companies time and money and can lead to excessive and harmful employee turnover. Learning how to negotiate conflicts for yourself, your business, and between your employees can protect both your professional reputation and your business. Teaching employees to negotiate difficult situations themselves can strengthen your team.


About the author

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group.




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