The word “negotiation” often conjures images of customers bartering with salespeople or lawyers mediating an agreement. But as a skill set, negotiation actually means much more and has many more potential applications at the workplace. Therefore, providing training to employees in negotiation skills can have a positive impact on both the employee and the organization.

Anytime you can’t achieve a goal without someone else, says Dr. Alison Fragale, an assistant professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC, “that’s a potential negotiation.” And because everyone negotiates every day, in just about every interpersonal interaction, it’s important to know how to do it right.

Andres Lares, managing partner at Shapiro Negotiation Institute, says there are two reasons companies should train employees in negotiation. The first is that it “can significantly improve everything from working with teams to relationships with clients to managing both up and down internally.” The second is that unlike many other types of training, it can be easy to track the impact of the training and measure ROI. For salespeople and procurement professionals, for instance, the key performance indicators are so close to the bottom line that the impact of improved negotiation can be seen pretty quickly and clearly.

In fact, those are the two roles Lares says are the most important to have strong negotiation skills. But professional services roles, like lawyers and accountants, can also benefit from negotiation training, as can account managers and anyone else who is client-facing. “Any role that involves working with other people to get things done” needs good negotiation skills, Fragale says, due to the informal negotiations that happen in daily communication.

How to Train Good Negotiators

Fragale recommends a four-step sequence to teach negotiation skills: principles (learning what to do and not to do), practice (actually trying out the principles), feedback (finding out if the practice worked or didn’t work) and reflection (thinking about the practice and feedback and then deciding what to do next time). When she facilitates corporate training on negotiation, she says, she takes learners through that sequence as many times as she can and then encourages them to continue repeating it on their own.

Lares also stresses the importance of practice, recommending simulations and role-playing to help learners experience negotiation and learn what they do well and what they need to improve. Additionally, thanks to technology, it’s easier and more effective than ever to use video. By recording themselves practicing negotiation skills, learners can observe and evaluate themselves, which “can be more powerful than anything that a coach or a trainer can say.”

These role-plays are most effective when they’re situational. For example, before a big sales meeting, a sales rep can record themselves using negotiation skills with a co-worker who plays the customer. Then, by watching the recording, the rep can fine-tune their message and practice until they feel ready for the meeting.

Finally, Lares says, it’s important to make sure there’s a process in place for employees to sustain what they learn in negotiation training. As a soft skill, “a one-time event can jump-start it” and put the learner on the right path, but reinforcement and accountability are required to sustain that learning. That reinforcement can take the form of additional events and negotiation preparation tools or use the customer relationship management (CRM) system to track negotiations and their success or failure.

Negotiation is a combination of art and science, Fragale says. “The science is the research on what works and doesn’t work, on average. The art is putting this into practice in a way that works for you.” Teach your employees the science of negotiation, and put systems in place so they can develop the art. You’ll see measurable (and immeasurable) results in the form of better communication, procurement and sales results.

A growing emphasis on people skills is one of the trends Training Industry anticipates for 2018. Read more in the November/December issue of Training Industry Magazine.