How to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Negotiation skills can help you in nearly every situation. Learn how to negotiate and the essential skills you’ll need to be a better negotiator.

[Featured Image]:  An employee wearing a gray jacket using negotiation skills while talking to a manager.

When you think about negotiation, do you picture a fast-paced business situation with a large deal on the line or another serious scenario? Although negotiation often comes into play in these situations, it also plays a significant role in everyday life.

While negotiating, you can choose from three main approaches: Hard, soft, and principled. Hard negotiations rely on competitive bargaining, while the soft approach includes more compromise. Principled negotiation focuses on objective information and interests instead of people or positions for long-term success for everyone involved.

No matter which approach you pick, honing particular skills can help increase your chances for success. Learn how to negotiate effectively and watch as your relationships shift and benefits trickle down throughout your life.

What is negotiation, and why is it important? 

Negotiation is a complex discussion where two or more parties try to resolve an issue in a manner everyone finds acceptable. Each side has an opportunity to present its case and try to persuade the other to see its viewpoint. You'll always have some form of give and take, with compromise typically requiring one side to walk away more successfully while the other has to make more concessions.

It’s an essential skill for individuals, teams, and organizations. Negotiation offers a valuable tool to resolve conflict, advance careers, and create value.

What are the qualities of an effective negotiator?

Effective negotiators communicate clearly, listen and comprehend what others say, and use critical thinking skills. Other essential qualities include:

  • Adaptability

  • Persuasiveness

  • Excellent research abilities

  • Personable

  • Creativity

  • Conscientiousness

  • Perform efficiently under pressure

  • Articulate

  • Willing to compromise

  • Positive attitude and outlook

  • Good conversational skills

How improving your negotiation skills benefits you 

Negotiation is a life skill, not just an ability among top-tier business executives and hostage crisis professionals. Negotiation often takes place even in quiet moments. For example, couples may negotiate where to go on vacation, or families may negotiate how they approach movie night.

Working on your negotiation skills offers multiple benefits. Examples include:

  • Boosting and building self-confidence

  • Ensuring you get the best possible deals and maximum value

  • Helping resolve conflicts, issues, and problems

  • Building respect and a positive reputation

  • Moving forward in your career path

  • Strengthening relationships

Negotiation skills to focus on

Whether you’re improving your negotiation skills for your professional or personal life, various negotiation skills can help you move forward. Working on your confidence and communication skills are a good place to start. Entering a negotiation with just the right amount of confidence helps prevent you from getting taken advantage of without making you seem off-putting to the other side of the negotiation table.

Be prepared

Without preparation, you essentially undertake negotiation blindly. You need a clear understanding of the situation, what's at stake, and the various ways that negotiations can play out. As you prepare, ask yourself a few questions to help guide the process:

  • What are your boundaries?

  • What do you want to accomplish?

  • How much will you compromise?

  • Are the concessions you ask the other side to make reasonable and fair?

  • How might the other person or party respond?

  • What are the best and worst possible outcomes?

Know your goal

What will you ask for in the negotiation process? Understanding this is an essential first step. Additionally, you must build your case by including compelling supporting details to persuade the other person or party why they should meet your requests. Approach negotiations with a clear understanding of what you're willing to lose. For example, if you want a higher salary, would you be willing to sacrifice a different benefit, like vacation time?

Additionally, be determined to ask for more. For example, if you're negotiating with your employer about increasing your productivity or work hours, ask for a higher salary or increased vacation time.


You know that old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” It stands true in various situations, including negotiations. Unless you're a professional negotiator, you may not have frequent opportunities to flex your negotiating skills. A few tactics to consider include the following:

  • Use your resources to gain supporting research to back up your side and practice your pitch to fine-tune the details.

  • Role-play the other side to help you understand the points the opposition may raise.

  • Make consistent eye contact when role-playing with another person and hold their gaze to appear confident and committed.

  • Research the latest negotiation tactics using sources like books, podcasts, and courses to keep your skills fresh.

Build rapport

Negotiations call for a careful and balanced approach from both parties. Building rapport with the other person or party you negotiate with can help break the ice while encouraging a collaborative spirit. It can also help increase the odds of reaching a successful agreement. Ways to build rapport include:

  • If time allows, engage in a little small talk or at least a personal introduction

  • Communicate clearly to ensure the other party is clear about your position and what you're asking for. Remain calm and keep your body language relaxed but professional.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Neutral questions (not “yes” or “no” questions that lead the other party to answer) can encourage information-packed responses that can be useful throughout the process.

  • Practice active listening and acknowledge concerns or complicated feelings. Not only does this help build your relationship, but it also allows you to gain valuable insights from the other side.

Be flexible

Negotiations are fluid and may require you to be flexible and accepting of other solutions and additional compromises. Listen to what the other side offers and consider if their offer aligns with your objectives and ultimate goals.

Use good judgment, but be prepared to walk away

Negotiations aren’t personal. They do, however, require that you enter the conversation with sound judgment to determine if your counterpart’s solutions work within the framework of your goals and objectives.

It's also essential to establish firm boundaries and be prepared to walk away from the negotiation table if the offer does not suit your goals. Doing so makes a powerful statement of confidence and integrity. In lieu of dismissing the negotiation altogether, the other side could reconsider their position. In either case, you want to exit the negotiation knowing you stood firmly within your boundaries.

How do you develop good negotiation skills?

Good negotiators can think on their feet, use critical thinking, and listen actively to anticipate other people’s needs and actions. They also need to be able to make small changes seem like a big deal, so they lower the chances of making as many changes to their offers.


Professional development courses like Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator offered by Yale and Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills offered by the University of Michigan—both on Coursera—can help you hone your skills. In-person or online courses can also help you effectively learn the concepts and theories of negotiation to apply to your own interactions.

Put it into practice

Understanding the theory and fundamentals of negotiation can only get you so far. Practicing helps in embedding these skills in your intuition. Try out your new skills with family and friends. The more you use negotiation tactics, the more comfortable you'll feel during a real negotiation scenario.

Ask for feedback

After practicing with friends and family, colleagues, instructors, or other learners, ask them to critique your performance. Getting feedback can be challenging, but it’s an effective method for identifying your strengths and weaknesses to reinforce areas in need of additional work. Understanding what you’ve done well, and where you’ve experienced setbacks, can help you become a more effective negotiator with time. It can also increase your confidence for future negotiations.

Next steps

Developing robust and effective negotiation skills can boost your personal and professional life. Hone those skills and learn more about the fundamentals of negotiation with an online course on Coursera, like The Art of Negotiation from the University of California Irvine and Negotiations by the University of Pennsylvania. You can also sign up for courses like Negotiation Fundamentals from Essec Business School and Fundamentals of Negotiation, with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women offered by Goldman Sachs.

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