How are Your Negotiation Skills?

Learning leaders need negotiation skills to help deal with conflict, procure investments and help determine the right development for themselves and their teams.

Chief Learning Officer - Negotiation Skills Workshop

Greetings from Kingston, Jamaica, “mon.”

I recently took a two-hour journey to a remote destination to spend two weeks with my family at a yoga and meditation health retreat. It took much negotiation to get four people with different motivations to agree on where to go and how we would spend our time.

It brought home how important negotiation is to have as a skill. Everyone needs to understand how to negotiate — especially learning leaders. To learn more about this, I turned to my long-standing friend and colleague, Michael Rosenthal, managing partner at Consensus, an organization that specializes in negotiating and teaching others how to negotiate.

I started by asking Michael what learning leaders need to know about negotiating.

Michael: The primary driver to successful negotiations is aligning the parties’ interests. This is a constant whether you are negotiating with your CFO, the head of HR, a key vendor, or almost anyone for that matter.

Ed: So how do you go about doing this?

Michael: Surface your counterparts’ underlying motivators, rather than focusing on their positions or demands. Do this for each person directly involved, as well as those who might be indirectly involved (“back table” stakeholders, i.e., board members).

Ed: This all sounds great. But how do I go about uncovering someone’s motivators?

Michael: One way to uncover motivators is by using active-listening skills: asking good questions, summarizing the ideas and emotions expressed by the other side, and establishing rapport by showing that you understand their rationale and share common ground.

Another way is to share your own interests. Modeling the behavior — whether sharing information or being willing to explore, fully understand, and respect another perspective — is a great way to elicit reciprocal behavior from your counterpart.

Ed: Once I understand what’s motivating the person I am negotiating with, what’s next?

Michael: Once motivating interests are on the table, work together with your counterpart to create an option that meets as many of the interests as possible. This is different than trading or conceding. Instead, it might involve thinking outside of the box to identify a solution that meets as many of your interests — and their interests — as possible.

Floating an option is another way to surface a counterpart’s interests. If they reject your suggestion, ask them why it doesn’t work for them. Often, that will provide insight into what’s driving their request/demand.

As learning leaders we need to continuously build our negotiation skills. This helps in dealing with conflict, gaining access to investments and helping leaders to determine the right development opportunities for themselves and their teams.

How are your negotiation skills?

As executive vice president at Nelson Cohen Consulting, Ed Cohen provides executive coaching for chief learning officers and senior leaders, as well as leader development and global diversity consulting for organizations around the world, including Farmers Insurance, Novo Nordisk, Western Union and Yahoo. To comment, email

posted to Chief Learning Officer Magazine