Education competencies: Negotiating

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Can negotiate skillfully in difficult situations; can settle differences with minimum noise; can win concessions without damaging relationships; thoughtfully fashions creative solutions that satisfy all parties.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Mediates equitable solutions in his or her area Negotiates skillfully in difficult situations; settles differences with minimum noise Takes on complex and controversial battles within and outside of the organization Is a masterful negotiator; is sought out by organizations to mediate prolonged, complex, and difficult disputes
Can be diplomatic Is direct and forceful, as well as diplomatic Wins concessions without damaging relationships Smoothly draws combatants to the table and calmly promotes compromise
Consciously studies motivations of counterparts during negotiations Adeptly understands motivations of counterparts and incorporates knowledge into negotiations Thoughtfully fashions creative solutions that satisfy all parties Consistently crafts solutions with maximum value for all parties
Can garner others' trust Gains trust quickly of other parties to the negotiations Is known as a fair, unbiased mediator

Overdoing negotiating

  • May leave people-damage in his or her wake
  • May walk over people’s feelings
  • May always need to win
  • May hang on to a position too long
  • May become overly accommodating and be reluctant to walk away
  • May need to smooth over everything
  • May take too long to get things decided

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • Do others seek me out to mediate stressful confrontations?
  • Do I restate others' positions to their satisfaction, without judging or agreeing with them?
  • Have I fashioned a win-win solution for a recent conflict situation?
  • Does my negotiation verbiage exclude terms of blame and defensiveness?
  • Do I first seek to establish common ground when dealing with opposition?
  • Do I allow others to blow off steam without reacting emotionally to them?

To avoid overdoing negotiating, ask yourself:

  • Am I insensitive to others’ feelings in my quest to get an issue resolved?
  • Am I too easy, giving up unnecessary ground to ease tension?
  • Am I more interested in winning than in getting a fair settlement?

Interview questions

  • Describe the most challenging negotiation you have conducted. What was so challenging about it? Which of your negotiating techniques was most effective? What were the results?
  • Some negotiations require us to strike a balance between being forceful while at the same time using diplomacy and tact to maintain relationships. Describe a time you found yourself in that situation.
  • Explain how you have worked to understand the motivations of counterparts during negotiations and used that information to craft a creative solution.
  • Trust is an important factor in negotiating. Share a situation in which your ability to gain the trust of the other person(s) was key to your success in negotiating.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Set rapport and boundaries: Assess where each party in the negotiations is “coming from.” If possible, try to geographically mix the group. Begin with small talk, and then offer both sides to present their goals.
  • Avoid early rigid positions: Strive to keep the parties from using strong language, casting blame, or stating absolutes.
  • Downsize the negotiation: Make the negotiations as small as possible. Attempt to bring out points both sides can tentatively agree upon, or to trade concessions. A flip chart may be helpful.
  • Ask questions: Make few statements. Generate clarifying questions, as well as probing questions.
  • Deal with the heat: Separate the people from the heat they deliver and the roles they play. Suggest possible solutions to impasses. Take even ridiculous offers seriously, but ask for explanations.
  • Keep your cool: Refrain from reacting emotionally. Return dialogue to the facts, and stay away from personal clashes.
  • Allow others to save face: Concede small points so everyone has something positive to claim.
  • Document things agreed upon: Delineate the remaining issues. Try to get agreement on something to circumvent impasses. Orchestrate follow-up steps to create motion.
  • Suggest arbitration if necessary: True impasses may require another party acceptable to both sides. Present both sides calmly and objectively.
  • Walk away if necessary: Be prepared to cut line and walk away from the negotiation.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Integrate a diverse system, process, or procedure across dispersed units.
  • Plan an off-site meeting, conference, or workshop.
  • Get involved with the negotiation of a contract or agreement.
  • Temporarily manage a group opposed to an unpopular change or project.
  • Troubleshoot a performance or quality problem.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Envision yourself succeeding. Examine the image of success, and try to play it out.
    • Rehearse successful tactics, strategies, and actions. Mentally imagine how you will act before you actually present. Anticipate reactions and your response to them. Consider best- and worst-case scenarios, and rehearse staying under control.
    • Look beyond your first solution to a problem. Shoot for a second and third option.
    • Use objective data when judging others. Study others more than evaluating or judging them. Project how they may act in a given situation.
    • Examine why you judge people the way you do. List the people you like and dislike and why. Discern what you have in common with them.
    • Learn to separate opinions from fact. Base more of your comments on data than on beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and values.
    • Think and talk more in probabilities and less in absolutes. Establish what’s real about your suggestions or ideas rather than trying to always be 100% correct. Tell people how sure you are before you make a statement.
    • Sell something to a tough group or audience. Understand opposing viewpoints; find common ground. Prepare yourself with your best data and arguments.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what they do.

Recommended readings

  • Babcock, Linda, and Sara Laschever.Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Brett, Jeanne M.Negotiating Globally: How to Negotiate Deals, Resolve Disputes, and Make Decisions Across Cultural Boundaries.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2001.
  • Camp, Jim.Start with NO...The Negotiating Tools That the Pros Don’t Want You to Know.New York: Crown Business Publishing, 2002.
  • Dawson, Roger.Secrets of Power Negotiating: Inside Secrets from a Master Negotiator.Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2001.
  • Hodge, Sheida.Global Smarts: The Art of Communicating and Deal Making Anywhere in the World.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.
  • Levine, Stewart.The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2002.
  • Macenka, Mark J.Inside the Minds: Leading Deal Makers: Leading VC’s and Lawyers Share Their Knowledge on Negotiations, Leveraging Your Position and the Art of Deal Making.Boston: Aspatore Books, 2001.
  • Oliver, David.How to Negotiate Effectively.London: Kogan Page, 2003.
  • Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, and Stephen R. Covey.Critical Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.New York: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2002.
  • Salacuse, Jeswald.The Global Negotiator: Making, Managing and Mending Deals Around the World in the Twenty-First Century.New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
  • Shell, G. Richard.Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People.New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
  • Watkins, Michael.Breakthrough Business Negotiation.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2002.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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