The first step people often take when honing their negotiating skills is to read an assortment of how-to books and attend a class or workshop. Mastering negotiations, however, requires a three-prong approach: learning the fundamentals of negotiating, understanding the tactics associated with successful outcomes, and developing a negotiating style that feels natural to you.

Your negotiating style is your calling card. When you develop a style from the inside out, your negotiating persona becomes more than a compilation of strategies, tips, and tactics.

Your negotiating style comprises four key areas.


A negotiating philosophy encompasses your belief system—your principles and social and personal values—the core of who you are as a person. It’s what makes you tick.

What type of negotiator do you want to become? Are you interested in learning about the art of negotiating and effectively persuading others to take action by following your lead? Or, perhaps, you enjoy the spontaneous, creative process of negotiations as they unfold before your eyes. Maybe you prefer to become the power negotiator, where your research and planning result in big financial wins. It might even be a combination of all three.

What underlying motivations would you need to satisfy before calling a negotiating outcome a win-win situation? During negotiations we aim to satisfy our tangible and intangible needs. Tangible, or formal, needs are those we can see, touch, or somehow measure. This is not always about money, but more often than not, it is financially related. Intangible, or psychic, needs are those driven by emotional appeal or emotionally based results. A negotiator’s formal and tangible needs contribute to his negotiating philosophy.

For example, you might find yourself negotiating with someone whose formal needs require that he stays within his budget. He will likely use language to this effect, such as asking about the bottom line, how your product could save him money, or why dealing with you would offer a better value to dealing with one of your competitors.

Although all of the above might suggest a tangible need, the last could suggest a psychic need as well. The word value in this case might literally refer to money, or it could represent the person’s value system. Other value-related words to listen for include principle, quality, trust, and credibility.


Understanding your core philosophy allows you to explore your personal and professional boundaries. What boundaries do you consider negotiable, and which ones are not negotiable?

Negotiable boundaries provide you, or your counterpart, with flexibility when making decisions. We use the term boundary not in the context of limits, but in that of choices and consequences. Without clearly understanding your personal and professional boundaries you may find yourself expending far too much energy and effort in attempting to define them during negotiations. Your objective is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement based on smart, prepared, and skillful negotiating that leverage your Natural Negotiating Style™.

Nonnegotiable boundaries are typically value-driven and thereby make it difficult or even impossible to reach a compromise during negotiations. Given that we may not be aware of our own boundaries and are even less clear about the steps needed to understand those of a counterpart, nonnegotiable boundaries may be the most challenging to maneuver during negotiations.

For example, a personal negotiable boundary might be your need not to work late evenings because you value dinnertime with your family, but this need is flexible if your team is working on meeting a critical deadline. Your nonnegotiable boundaries might mean, though, that you never work weekends.

What will your response be if someone challenges one of your core nonnegotiable boundaries during negotiations? If your counterpart suggests an idea or solution that clearly goes against your personal ethics, what action will you take? Will you walk away? Are you comfortable addressing the boundary issue on the spot? Or will you tactfully shift negotiations in a different direction?

Social Style

What is your natural communication preference when negotiating? Do you prefer to work alone or in groups? How do you interact with others in a team setting? Do you feel the need to position yourself as leader, or do people naturally gravitate toward you in a leadership role?

Where do you “discover” your energy? Do you feel energized when you’re around people or when you can surround yourself with numbers and data? Perhaps you like working alone as an individual contributor. Are you more comfortable in the speaker’s role, or do you prefer listening to speaking?

Think about the last time you participated in a group setting where you didn’t know anyone else in the room.

Did you speak out of nervousness?
Did you speak in order to position yourself?
Did you listen on the sidelines and allow others to take the lead?
Did you process information internally, expecting to discuss it later?

Was this behavior typical of your communication style, or was it an exception? If it was an exception, what made it so, and what were you feeling during your silence?

Leadership Style

Leadership begins with the self. Before we can lead others we need to understand what leadership looks and feels like for us. Are you comfortable shifting outside your comfort zone when conditions call for it?

Your leadership style determines how you approach and position yourself during negotiations. You might be the type of person who seeks out new people, situations, and changing conditions. This could translate to a Natural Negotiating Style™ that is both comfortable in dealing with unknowns during negotiations and that provides the ability to think on your feet in order to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Perhaps your leadership style is self-directed and your social style is more along the lines of someone who prefers to listen to the nuances of a conversation. You could build on these strengths to develop a style that allows you to listen on multiple levels during a conversation—a powerful negotiating skill—to what someone is both saying and not saying, for example, allowing you to uncover hidden agendas.


Playing to your strengths in developing your natural style should not come at the exclusion of developing other skills you will need to become a solid negotiator. There is not one right way nor one path in mastering negotiations. Over time you will add or swap out items in your negotiations toolbox, but by following this process, you will hone and harness the power of your Natural Negotiating Style™.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Dee McCrorey, innovation coach, trainer, and speaker, is founder and CEO of Risktaking for Success, LLC, a venture that works with corporate teams and individuals to design nimble entrepreneurial workplaces. Dee’s winning-formula workshops and seminars provide corporate leaders and managers with a competitive edge, a process she’ll capture in her ultimate guide for corporate entrepreneurs, scheduled for a fall 2006 publication. Her passion for investing in the next generation of leaders includes alliances with Women Unlimited, Inc. and TiE (Talent, Ideas, Enterprise), a global not-for-profit organization. You can visit her Web site at and her weblog at