Become a World Class Negotiator

It’s not rocket science and it’s not a secondary sexual characteristic. You don’t “negotiate like a man” or “like a woman.” You read, you practice, you fail, you succeed, you learn. We’ve recommended our favorite negotiation books over at the She Negotiates site, but if you’d like a weekly executive summary instead of a mile long reading list, sign up for Harvard Professor Robert Mnookin’s Sunday Minute, a super-smart and super-quick way to remind yourself of what you already know or learn what you don’t.

Fight or Fellowship?

One of the great topics of contention among negotiators is whether to be soft or hard, understanding or hostile, welcoming or threatening. As in everything, we at She Negotiates and the brainiacs over at the Harvard Program on Negotiation, recommend balance, as does PON’s director, Mnookin, in a recent Sunday Minute.

“To balance empathy with assertiveness in your negotiations, begin by assessing your approach to conflict. Could the negotiation trigger within you a tendency towards competition, accommodation, or avoidance? By thinking about how you are likely to respond in a particular context, you can begin to replace your unproductive negotiating strategies with more rewarding ones.

“Ready yourself for the assertive component of negotiation by practicing your story – saying out loud what you want, why, and how you can help the other side meet their needs. Revise and rehearse your story until you think it’s strong and persuasive. Then make a list of your key points so that you will be able to recall them when the negotiation begins.

“To practice and display empathy at the negotiating table, ask your counterpart to present her view before you present yours. Listen without judgment, and make it clear that your understanding does not necessarily indicate agreement.

If you’re thinking hey, I wish my spouse or teenager would do this, you’ve come to the right place. The only “hard part” is that it’s up to you, not your spouse, teen or co-workers. It’s a challenge – but a worthy one – to always be the one who takes her part in it, apologizes, makes amends and fosters reconciliation rather than stalemate or open hostilities.

Start, as Mnookin suggests, by listening. Be accountable and, if an apology is called for, give it without hesitation and without hedging. Then lay the possibility of reconciliation on the table like this: Our relationship is more important to me than our fight and certainly more than being “right.” How about you?

Trust in our nature.

We are evolutionarily inclined to be cooperative rather than combative, slightly favoring peace over war, togetherness over separatism, agreement over argument. Why? Because “[g]roups of highly cooperative individuals have higher chances of survival because they can work together to reach goals that are unattainable to less cooperative groups.” And evolution is about the survival of the fittest group, not of the fittest individual. See Are People Naturally Inclined to Be Cooperative over at the Scientific American.

Sure, we let each other down all the time. But we also rise to the occasion. And if you model collaborative behavior, you’ll be surprised at how often people will meet you on higher ground.

If you’d like to dig deeper into negotiation strategy and tactics, and get practice in negotiating the issues that mean the most to you, you couldn’t go wrong by taking She Negotiates’ upcoming Strategic Conversations course with my business partner, Lisa Gates. I’d gush about Lisa being not just a terrific teacher but a transformational one. But you’d just think I was biased (and, of course, I am). Find out yourself. You next promotion, raise or increased fee is on the line.

Go, do, prosper.


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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