Business magnate Donald Trump rose to fame on the strength of his No. 1 bestseller, The Art of the Deal, and it is no secret that a business’s success or failure can depend on the deals that it enters into.

It is surprising, then, to learn that many businesses negotiate on the fly, so to speak, without considering the negotiation itself as an important part of their business.

A recent survey by Huthwaite, a leading sales performance improvement organisation, revealed that an astonishing 36.3 per cent of organisations prepare inadequately or not at all for business negotiations.

The survey polled over 440 business professionals, including sales directors, marketing executives, managers and general managers from a wide range of diverse industries including advertising and media, banking and finance and information technology.

The survey also found that almost half (48 per cent) followed no standard negotiation process.

Perhaps businesses do not consider negotiation an essential part of their business process. Considering the frequency with which negotiation happens, this would be a misconception.

Advantages of strong negotiation skills

Strong negotiation skills can help to secure positive, intentional business outcomes, maintaining professional relationships while still representing the interests of the organisation.

In sales situations, particularly, having strong negotiation skills can be the secret weapon to give sales teams a winning edge in this region’s highly competitive business environment.

Professional buyers and business leaders alike have usually been trained in negotiation skills and will outperform the unskilled seller.

Ill-equipped sales teams that go into a negotiation without proper planning and skills will likely not emerge with the right deal.

Another reason why so little attention is paid to negotiation is that people think that negotiation is an art: Either you are a persuasive negotiator or you are not.

This may have been true in the past. The older literature surrounding negotiation falls largely into three categories — anecdotal “here’s how I do it” accounts by successful negotiators; theoretical models of negotiation which are idealised, complex and seldom translatable into practical action; and finally, laboratory studies which tend to be short-term and contain a degree of artifice.

This has since changed. Scientifically validated behavioural research based on observing successful negotiators has made it so that negotiation skills can be learnt.

What successful negotiators do

The attributes of skilled negotiators have been analysed, from their methods of preparation, their face-to-face behaviour during negotiation, right down to the type of questions they ask and the language they use.

Some of the findings may seem counter-intuitive.

For example, rather than withholding information and playing their cards very close to their chests, skilled negotiators were found to share a substantial amount of internal information.

The most characteristic and noticeable form of giving internal information is a feelings commentary, where skilled negotiators talk about their feelings and the effect the other party has on them.

The average negotiator, doubting the truth of a point put forward by the other party, is likely to receive that point in uncomfortable silence.

Meanwhile, skilled negotiators are more likely to comment on their own feelings, saying something like: “I’m uncertain how to react to what you’ve just said. If the information you’ve given me is true, then I would like to accept it, yet I feel some doubts inside me about its accuracy. So part of me feels rather suspicious. Can you help me resolve this?”

Skilled negotiators also spend a great deal of time during a negotiation either testing understanding or summarising.

Testing understanding is a behaviour that checks to establish whether a previous contribution or statement in the negotiation has been understood.

Summarising is a compact restatement of previous points in the discussion.

Both behaviours sort out misunderstandings and reduce misconceptions. The higher level of these behaviours by skilled negotiators reflects the value they place on clarity and the prevention of misunderstanding.

These are only two examples of skills displayed by successful negotiators, unveiled by behavioural research.

There are many others, including the fact that skilled negotiators ask more questions and consider a wider range of options for action, both before and during negotiations.

Train your staff to negotiate

Given Singapore’s business environment, keeping the workforce competitive and productive is a national priority, one that is shared by the Ministry of Manpower and private enterprise, and that is handled more directly, by the Workforce Development Agency.

Whether large or small, a multinational corporation or a small and medium-sized enterprise, any business gains when its workers learn new and relevant skills.

In the case of negotiation, can any business afford not to integrate this into their standard practices or leave key personnel without necessary skills to make the best deals?

Negotiation techniques can be learnt, and there now exist training programmes based on scientifically validated behavioural research combined with advanced teaching methodology, designed to impart these skills in an ordered, successful way.

Recent studies demonstrate empirically that organisations with a measured and mandated negotiation process produce more in net profits than do those without.

Armed with the right skills, every one of these newly trained negotiators will be in a position to influence any negotiation in a positive fashion to garner the best benefits for their business.