Consultancy Skills Toolkit

Dealing with People

Skilled V Average Negotiators 2

Negotiating Behaviour

The Huthwaite Research Group conducted a study in the United Kingdom on the behaviour of successful negotiators. The researchers interviewed and observed 49 successful negotiators in a total of 102 negotiations. The 49 comprised 17 Union representatives, 12 Management representatives, 11 Contract negotiators and 9 others.

The negotiators were not considered successful unless they were rated as effective by both sides, had a track record of significant success and had a low incidence of implementation failure. Successful negotiators planning behaviour differed from that of their less skilled colleagues.

Negotiating Behaviour Skilled Negotiators Average Negotiators
Use of irritators per hour of face-to-face negotiating time 2.3 10.8
Frequency of counterproposals per hour of face-to-face negotiating time 1.7 3.1
Percent of negotiator’s time classified as a defence/attack/spiral 1.9% 6.3%
Disagreeing 0.4% 1.5%
Testing for understanding 9.7% 4.1%
Summarizing 7.5% 4.2%
Questions, as a percent of all negotiating behaviour 21.3% 9.6%
Feelings commentary, giving internal information as a percent of all negotiating behaviour 12.1% 7.8%
Argument dilution, average number of reasons given by negotiator to back each argument or case that s/he advances 1.8 3.0

SOURCE: Neil Rackham, "The Behaviour of Successful Negotiators, 1982.

  1. Irritators are words that, while having negligible value in persuading opponents, cause annoyance. Irritators include such phrases as "generous offer," "fair price," and "reasonable arrangement." Average negotiators use over four times as many irritators as do skilled negotiators. 
  2. Counterproposals involve negotiators responding to their opponents’ proposals by simply offering their own proposal. Average negotiators use counterproposals twice as frequently as skilled negotiators. Skilled negotiators clarify their understanding of opponent’s suggestions before responding with their own proposals. 
  3. Defend/attack spiral. Negotiating, by definition, involves conflict. That conflict often leads to heated, value-laden accusations and defensive statements. Average negotiators frequently respond defensively and often attack, first gently and then harder and harder. Skilled negotiators, by contrast, rarely respond defensively. Although they also rarely attack, when they do so, they hit hard and without warning. Average negotiators attack more than three times as frequently as do skilled negotiators. 
  4. Behavioural labelling refers to describing what you plan to say before you say it. For example, "Can I ask a question?" and "Can I make a suggestion?" are behavioural labels for a question and a suggestion. Behavioural labels forewarn opponents. For all behaviour except disagreement, skilled negotiators use labelling over five times as often as their colleagues. Average negotiators label disagreement three times as often as do skilled negotiators. 
  5. Active listening involves demonstrating to oneself and to one’s opponent that the previous statement has been understood. Active listening does not convey agreement or approval--it strictly reflects understanding. Skilled negotiators use two powerful active listening techniques--testing for understanding and summarising--more than twice as often as their average colleagues. 
  6. Questions are a primary source of gathering information. Skilled negotiators use more than twice as many questions as do average negotiators. 
  7. Feelings commentary involves describing what a person feels about a situation. A negotiator might say, "I’m uncertain how to react to what you’ve just said. If the information you’ve given me is true, then I would like to accept it; yet I have some doubts about its accuracy. So part of me feels happy and part feels suspicious. Can you help me to resolve this?" Skilled negotiators give almost twice as much feelings commentary as do average negotiators. 
  8. Argument dilution. Weak arguments generally dilute strong arguments. Skilled negotiators know that the fewer arguments, the better. Average negotiators use almost twice as many reasons to back up of their positions as do skilled negotiators.