Important Negotiation Skills for Workplace Success

Co-workers negotiating about project plans
••• Copyright Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Cultura / Getty Images

What are negotiation skills, and why are they important to employers? Within a work context, negotiation is defined as the process of forging an agreement between two or more parties—employees, employers, co-workers, outside parties, or some combination of these—that is mutually acceptable.

Negotiations usually involve some give-and-take or compromise between the parties. However, negotiated agreements do not necessarily involve both parties meeting in the middle, because one side might have more leverage than the other.

Negotiations might result in formal agreements (or contracts) or may yield a less formal understanding (as in a verbal agreement) of how to remedy a problem or determine a course of action. 

Jobs That Require Negotiation Skills

There are many different jobs where negotiation skills are valued including sales, management, marketing, customer service, real estate, and law. All of these jobs involve consistent relational or business interactions that require strong negotiating skills. Regardless of the job, however, being able to negotiate a solution is often a predictor of workplace success.

What Employers Want

When you’re interviewing with a potential employer, be prepared to share examples of your negotiation skills if they are required for the job for which you’re being considered. This is especially important if “strong negotiation and mediation skills” is an item specifically listed under the requirements section of the job advertisement.

Come prepared to give detailed examples of a few different situations that you successfully negotiated in the past. If possible, highlight different types of work relationships and challenges that you've faced (e.g., negotiating with a co-worker, with an employer, etc.).

When you describe examples of how you’ve effectively used negotiation skills in the past, explain how you adhered to the four common steps in workplace negotiation by answering the following questions:

Planning and preparation: How have you gathered data to build your case for a successful negotiation? How did you define your objectives and those of other involved parties?

Opening discussion: How did you build rapport and establish a positive tone for a negotiation?

Bargaining phase: How did you present your argument and respond to objections or requests for concessions?

Closing phase: How did you and the other parties seal your agreement? Which of your objectives did you achieve? What concessions did you make?

Below are some examples of common negotiating arenas in the workplace.

Employee-to-Employer Negotiations

Throughout your career, you will need to occasionally negotiate with your employer or supervisor. Even if you are happy with your job, at some point you’ll realize that you deserve a raise, need a work process change, or want to take extra vacation time or sick leave. Typical employee-to-employer negotiations include:

  • Negotiating a salary offer after being selected for a new job
  • Negotiating a leave of absence or the timing of a vacation
  • Negotiating the terms of separation with an employer
  • Negotiating a more flexible work schedule
  • Forging a union contract
  • Negotiating a contract for consulting or freelance services

Employee-to-Employee Negotiations

Whether your job requires teamwork or you're in a managerial position, you must be able to communicate with your peers, subordinates, supervisors, and colleagues. Here are a few instances of employee-to-employee negotiations:

  • Negotiating roles and workload within a project team
  • Negotiating a project deadline with your boss
  • Troubleshooting interpersonal conflicts

Employee-to-Third-Party Negotiations

Depending on your job, you may be called upon to negotiate constructively with people outside of your company or firm. If you are a salesperson, this may involve negotiating favorable B2B or B2C contracts with clients. If you have purchasing responsibilities, you’ll need to source and negotiate with vendors for cost-saving supply contracts. And, of course, if you are a lawyer or paralegal, negotiating with opposing counsel and court personnel is a given.

Even jobs such as teaching require a degree of, if not of negotiation, then its close relative, mediation. Teachers frequently structure learning contracts with their students, and parent communication often requires persuasive mediation skills. Examples of employee-to-third-party negotiations include:

  • Negotiating with a customer over the price and terms of a sale 
  • Negotiating a legal settlement with an opposing attorney 
  • Negotiating service or supply agreements with vendors
  • Mediating with students on lesson plan goals