July 07, 2023

Our Top 10 Practice Negotiation Exercises and Activities

If you are looking to take your negotiation skills to the next level from the comfort of your own home, check out our online negotiation course. Everyone knows that practice makes perfect...

If you are looking to take your negotiation skills to the next level from the comfort of your own home, check out our online negotiation course.

Everyone knows that practice makes perfect. Similarly, if you want to get better at negotiation, you need to practice negotiating.

Tips for Practicing Negotiating Exercises

Negotiating exercises are a valuable opportunity to recognize your weaknesses and improve upon what you bring to the table. Like all things, some people have a particular talent for negotiation, but they require nurturing to help them to reach their potential.

So, whether you’re an experienced negotiator or a total novice, what does it take to get ready to bolster your negotiation skills?

Get in the Right Mindset

The first step is to establish the correct mindset for negotiation. It requires you to open your mind and be willing to accept criticism under the guidance of a mentor.

In other words, avoid trying these exercises while stressed, frustrated, or angry.

Change Up the Exercises

Every exercise on this list has a specific principle behind it. However, there’s little benefit in repeating the same exercise in precisely the same way.

All negotiation scenarios are different, and you must become comfortable deploying the fundamentals against whatever you encounter. That means switching up how you deploy negotiation exercises.

Work Together with Your Colleagues

The obvious benefit of working with multiple partners is that you can try your skills on multiple people and personalities. It’s a challenge that will make you more comfortable walking into the unknown.

However, another advantage to working with your colleagues on this is that everybody learns more about themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a chance for each person to involve themselves in a journey of self-discovery.

Training received by a single person can be used to boost the power of the collective.

Minimize Distractions

Ensure that you set aside a dedicated period during the day to participate in these exercises. Negotiations are serious scenarios with little room for error.

Treat your exercises with the same seriousness as a formal business meeting.

Engage with a Mentor

How do you know if you’re progressing in your exercises? A mentor will tell you. Mentors are experienced operators with the skills to recognize your flaws and provide tailored recommendations for addressing them.

This is precisely what KARRASS seminars provide you with access to. Whether in-person or virtually, negotiation practice sessions allow you to receive feedback from a real expert.

Our 14 Favorite Negotiation Practice Exercises

Regular practice is essential for any master negotiator in the making. You must avoid entering your first negotiation without the proper training. Even trying this puts your company at risk because if you fail at negotiating, it could have genuine implications for your organization's future.

Exercises aim to replicate the skills and scenarios you will likely encounter in the field. By having a range of exercises at your disposal, you will be poised to excel.

Below is a list of 10 Negotiating Exercises and Activities that will help you improve your skillset. 

1. Learning Both-Win® Strategy: Practice Bartering in a Market

We are conditioned to believe that when a price is printed on a tag, it’s no longer up for negotiation. But what that tag is actually telling us is that this is what the store owner has decided is the best match between market pressures on the seller’s side and price incentives on the buyer’s side. When you find a product at a low price, you feel like you’ve won the price comparison game, and when you buy a product, the seller feels they have won your business.

But that scenario just proves how limited our imaginations are when we approach the buyer/seller relationship. If you as the buyer can think outside the box, you may find that you can create an opportunity for both of you to get what you want: a Both-Win® outcome.

Both-Win® is possible when you can create new value where none was seemingly available before.

2. Practice Reading the Room

Too often we focus on information and forget that we are negotiating with fellow humans. As any great poker player will tell you, all humans have tells of one sort or another. And as any stand-up comic will tell you, the better you can read the room, the better you’ll be able to appeal to the specific people in front of you. Every audience is different, and every negotiating table is different.

When we negotiate, oftentimes our words say one thing while our demeanor says something else. Practice paying attention to how others communicate more than the information they are saying by the way they sit, whether they are looking at you or looking away, and whether their faces are open and interested or closed and distracted. If you practice this with people you know well, then you can start to learn how certain tells indicate a willingness to talk further, a fear that they won’t get what they want, or (hopefully) a distinct interest in what you have to offer and motivation to learn more! This will help you build your mental encyclopedia of body language so that when you’re at a negotiating table, you have some tools to draw on every time to make a decision about whether to go in one direction or another.

But there is more to reading the room than body language. You also want to read the table, so to speak, even before you’re sitting down to talk. Your relationship with your own negotiation team and the other side starts before you arrive. As you work with buyers or sellers by phone and email, practice picking up cues. Which issues seem to make the other side tense? Which issues does the other side keep returning to? Make a note of these. And while you’re at it, see if you can figure out some background information.

Try to figure out who at the institution drives decisions, and of course make a note of this information, too.

You can practice all of this when you’re making those everyday decisions with friends, family, and the person trying to sell you a dishwasher or car (see number 5 below).

3. Role-Playing Scenarios

There is nothing better for honing your Effective Negotiating® skills than role-playing with a friend or associate. We hear from our seminar participants that the case studies are especially effective because there’s nothing like adding some pressure to help us see where we make mistakes. Role-playing also helps point out how effective certain tactics can be in a pressured situation.

Find a friend or associate to practice with to help you focus on where your strengths and weaknesses are, and be sure to incorporate some of the elements that make a real negotiation complicated and unpredictable to get the most out of it.

4. Practice Negotiating from the Worst Position Possible

Think about something practical that you’ve been working toward getting for a long time without success. It’s helpful to practice starting from a position of wanting something -- like a new dishwasher or car -- from a position of having limited funds. This is where you can practice all the techniques of negotiation that move you from an impossible position (the dishwasher you want costs $X but you only have $X-20% to spend) to a handshake and a good deal.

Start by preparing to walk into a negotiation with this kind of serious limit. Think about what kinds of research could help you figure out how to defend against nibbles, for example. This advance research will give you a larger playing field for your negotiation, setting you up to get what you want from the negotiation!

As you negotiate, notice which techniques work in a personal negotiation that wouldn’t work as well in a team negotiation between much larger entities. For example, an interaction between a single buyer and a single seller can rely a lot more on building personal satisfaction for the seller (building satisfaction), possibly by building the authority of the seller to their own organization. Reflect on how a team negotiation requires some different tactics.

5. Know the Power of the “No!”

We are conditioned to negotiate toward a “yes-yes” situation. Anthropologists tell us it’s in our DNA to want to reach consensus and find harmony, after all we are social animals. But one of the most powerful tools in a negotiator’s box is the willingness to say a firm “no” and stand by it. There are several important reasons why you should keep this tactic in mind every time you come to the table.

Negotiations can easily become all-encompassing, and we might feel as though a perceived win or loss in this negotiation is a measure of something larger. The danger there, however, is that each negotiation is actually just one along a long string of negotiations we will take on -- often with the same entities -- over a long period of time. When appropriate, and when it’s used well, saying “no” this time can set an anchor point for future negotiations, giving you more power the next time you’re at the table. This could even push the other side toward new concessions in advance of your next meeting, thereby doing some of your negotiating for you.

Practice using the strategic “no” and, under the right circumstances, you may well find that concessions that the other side was holding in their back pocket come up more quickly, improving your success at Effective Negotiating®.

6. Understanding Assumptions and Setting a Guiding Principle

We tend to assume that other people broadly share the same assumptions that we do about what is valuable and what is not. This can be dangerous, however, because while most of us share some assumptions, in practice that can sometimes mean very different things to different people. This is why it can be helpful, and sometimes even crucial, to understand how to set a guiding principle at the beginning of a negotiation. As you talk through everything from what to have for dinner to whether you should renegotiate last year’s deal with a supplier or buyer, notice that you probably see value differently from others you’re talking with.

Notice that if you set value differently even with somebody who is supposed to be on your own team, this leads to problems. If it’s getting late at dinnertime, you might suggest going out to eat as a way of decreasing stress, but your spouse might see staying home as the much less stressful option. Unless you name this up front, you might find you’re arguing for the same thing -- decreasing stress -- while effectively negotiating against each other. Similarly, when you push your organization to renegotiate a big deal your team settled a year ago, you might be thinking about the value of bringing the price down, while somebody else on your team might see value in holding off on some major demands that you managed to stave off last time. If you aren’t on the same page as your own team about what the guiding principle is and what has value, then you will be working against each other.

In those scenarios, you’re working with somebody on the same side. But this is also an important tool to use with an opposing team. For example, if you can set a guiding principle up front that as the seller you deserve a fair profit, then you have an assumption built into the negotiation that is going to benefit you.

7. Build Your Team Skills

The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once said: "Five guys on the court working together can achieve more than five talented individuals who come and go as individuals." When a star athlete gets onto the field or the court for a competitive sport, they need to decide how much their strategy is to be a lone superstar and how much their strategy relies on working with the team. Even if you do most of your negotiating on your own, you have some network of connections -- even if this includes your own distributors or bulk vendors -- that you have to keep in mind when you’re sitting down to negotiate or renegotiate an important contract.

One of the major pitfalls of a team negotiation can come from competitiveness or just plain disorganization within the team. The best way to head this off is to practice your team skills all the time. When you’re in the thick of a negotiation, everybody on the team needs clearly designated roles. But before you get there, you’ll need to have some open airing of ideas and approaches. Somebody on your team is going to be a great researcher while somebody else is going to be great at figuring out the margins on the fly.

Even if your next big negotiation isn’t coming up anytime soon, you can keep honing the strategizing and cooperative skills that will give you that crucial edge for Effective Negotiating® when the time comes.

8. Be Adaptable to Changing Conditions

Between the time you make your first call to a buyer or seller and the time you sit down, many of the factors will change. These will change again between the time you sit down and the time you shake hands. Every negotiation means preparing for different demands or possibilities, but inevitably unexpected issues come up. How can you prepare for this so you are in the best possible position to deal with the unexpected?

Practice being ready for the inevitable by taking a little time to do extra research ahead of time. As technologies evolve and companies change focus, their interests change. Remember that you are negotiating not only with the partner you have in front of you, but also with the future version of this partner. If a corporate parent company is merging or shifting within the market, how could this change their priorities between your last negotiation and your next one? What partnerships do you already have that could give you an advantage at the table? What do you have to offer that could be valuable now in a new way?

It also pays to think about where your organization is headed. Could you offer a concession in return for something especially valuable that the buyer or seller has newly available to them? Thinking in these terms can help you to practice reacting to the unexpected by bringing your own unanticipated options to the table.

9. Upgrade Your Skills!

At some point as you do these exercises you’ll realize that you’re very good at figuring out some of the body language, guiding principles, and research that will put you in a stronger negotiating position. But that’s no substitute for gaining the tested skills that professional training can offer you.

Karrass is on the leading edge of techniques for Effective Negotiating® in a changing world. Every day we are training your competitors in crucial tactics to get what they want from you, and your best defense is a finely tuned offense to counter these techniques and make your mark next time you sit down at the table!

10. Talk to Experts!

KARRASS offers Effective Negotiating® seminars across the world for individuals and teams as well as private customized seminars to address the specific needs of your organization. Let us show you the value of bringing real expertise into the room with you, and demonstrate why we have been an industry leader for almost half a century.

There’s Nothing Like Our Private Negotiation Seminar!

More than 1.5 million people have trained with KARRASS over the last 55 years. Effective Negotiating® is designed to work for all job titles and job descriptions, for the world’s largest companies and individual business people.

Effective Negotiating® is offered In-Person in a city near you, or Live-Online from our Virtual Studios to your computer. See the complete schedule here.

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