Life & Culture

The secret to becoming a world-class negotiator

According to Nicole Soames, author of The Negotiation Book, emotional intelligence and “old fashioned chutzpah” are essential


The convulsions that have marked the Brexit negotiations this week — after months of wrangling — suggests that our politicians could do with some expert help. How do you make a good deal?

Stephen White, of Bournemouth runs a world-wide business, Scotwork, helping companies ranging from Royal Mail to the advertising giant WPP to improve their deal-making skills. Scotwork operates all over the world — except in Israel, of which more later — running training schemes for negotiators.

White is watching the Brexit negotiations with interest, and says there are similarities with business: “Many of the skills are the same, but they operate in a completely different way. Mostly, it’s about strategy and tactics. How do we get to what we want a deal to be? What are our red lines? Do we mention the red lines at the beginning?”

But according to Nicole Soames,author of The Negotiation Book — Practical Steps to becoming a master negotiator, emotional intelligence and “old fashioned chutzpah” are essential. She says it’s wrong to think you need to have an aggressive approach to getting what you want.

“Finding a compromise that works for people is about communication.

“It sits at the heart of all good relationships and the ability to understand yourself and have social awareness counts for a huge part of your success.”

White says his clients want their staff to cope with new situations. “They ask, do these people have the skills — either at a strategic level or even at a tactical level — the objectives and the ideas they want to put in place?”

He sees things through the lens of his childhood in Leeds. “When I went to cheder I used to listen to the idea that there could be a perfect world, that the lion and lamb could lie down together in time. I came to the conclusion that it would not be in my lifetime. It’s not in man’s nature that it’s going to be in anyone’s lifetime.” Instead, he says, you have to talk.

Soames agrees that negotiating is an essential human skill. It may not be in your job title, unless you are trying to free hostages — “but everyone negotiates. It is key to most people’s work and life.”

The mother of two, who spent more than 10 years working in sales for Unilever before setting up her own company, says part of her success has also come from harnessing the quintessential Jewish quality — chutzpah.

“It is about knowing how to ask for more without offending and being able to do it in a way that is endearing.

“You can only do that if you have self-awareness and an understanding of the people you are dealing with.”

White’s trainers take their clients to a hotel for a three day course. Two teams compete with each other, all the time being watched by closed-circuit TV cameras. Later on their efforts are analysed and assessed.

It is often a question of finding a pathway that both sides can accept. White says it’s like someone agreeing to a price for a particular service — but then needing to be offered an additional “sweetener” to clinch the deal. Sometimes, it is about competition — “to see if [the competitor] will move away.”

On a simple level, he equates it with a car firm selling a vehicle, but then being persuaded to meet its customer at the airport every time he comes from abroad for its regular service.

Of all the countries where Scotwork have set up an office, there is only one where this deal maker of deal makers actually failed. Not once, but twice.


The reason may not come as a surprise to others who have tried to do business in the Jewish state.

“Israelis feel they have nothing to learn about negotiating. They say, ‘You teach ME about negotiating?’”

He says Israelis like to move fast, and may not take the time needed to consider all points of view. And that includes their own weaknesses.

“Go to an Israeli manager and he’ll say. ‘They’re absolutely perfect. Couldn’t be better.’ Because suggesting anything else would make them seem weak.”

He exempts political negotiations from this analysis.

“Israeli government negotiators and all the support staff, I have no doubt, are genuinely intellectual giants. They are very clever. They think through the processes very well.”

Nicole Soames, however, warns against the opposite problem — coming over as weak and lacking in confidence.

She says that self-doubt and what she calls “weak speak”, phrases such as “sort of,” and “kind of” are the “enemy of successful negotiation.

“I try to help people tidy that stuff up. That language is vague and communicates to the other person that you are not sure.

“People need to buy into you and if you’re not projecting confidence then they won’t be convinced by you.”

‘The Negotiation Book – Practical Steps to becoming a master negotiator’ by Nicole Soames is published by LID publishing.

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