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Sharpen Your Negotiation Skills

Negotiations affect every aspect of our lives and we might not even realize it. For some people, negotiations have become second nature, while others may need some additional training.

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We deal with negotiations in every aspect of our lives whether it’s personal or professional. Buying a house is a negotiation; getting your children to clean their room is a negotiation; bringing your project to upper management for approval is a negotiation—the list could go on. The takeaway is that we deal with negotiations in every aspect of our lives, and we might not even realize it. For some people, negotiations have become second nature, while others may need some additional training.

Here are several ideas to help you get started in developing your negotiation skills.

Do your homework. The first step in the negotiation process is to do your homework. It is imperative that you take time and do your own research on the asset, product, or service you are buying or selling. If you are the buyer, take the time to gather information and compare all of your options and possible outcomes. If you are the seller, be sure to know exactly what you are selling and how it compares to the product or service your competition is selling. Think about what gives you the edge over them, and use those facts as selling points.

This concept not only applies to buying and selling products or services but also to a corporate work environment, whether it’s negotiating a pay raise or selling an ambitious new project to upper management. Focus on what distinguishes you or your project (the “product”) from others and anticipate any possible questions the management (or “buyer”) may have. Having a basis for the cost, quality, or outcome of a product or service is essential as both a buyer and a seller. 

Make a plan. You have done your homework and know exactly what you are looking for; the next step is to create a plan before you enter a negotiation. Personal relations play an important role during a negotiation, so one important aspect to consider is trust. Do you know the person you will be dealing with? Or is it going to be someone you have never met before?

These factors influence the way you approach the meeting. If you are dealing with a person you have never met before, your job is to create a professional relationship with this person before the meeting takes place. Consider making a phone call or sending an email to start building your relationship. This is a great opportunity to learn about your counterpart, including their customs and business etiquette. For example, Latin Americans are very warm and friendly, so their concept of personal space generally is less defined. Therefore, the dynamics may be different when they greet someone. A firm handshake is normal between two men, whereas a handshake with a hug and/or air kiss is used only between men and women or between two women. In addition, Latin Americans enjoy social conversation before getting down to business, so they may inquire about family, hobbies, or sports. Opening up about who you are as a person helps build trust.

As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” We can relate this statement to the business world. If we understand the other person, for example, and his/her customs or his/her language, we will be able to create the foundation for that personal relationship upon which trust can be built. We as human beings tend to do more business with people we like and who understand us, so take the time to build rapport with your counterparts.

Remember, a negotiation is not a win-lose situation; it is an agreement that is in the best interest of all parties involved—so be realistic with your expectations. Envision how the conversation is going to play out and all the topics that need to be addressed; be prepared to offer solutions should problems arise. You will never predict every possible scenario but having a vision of the possible outcomes can help during negotiations.

Every negotiation is a different animal, so approach each one of them differently. Sometimes, money is not everything during a negotiation. Consider what is important to you and your counterpart; business culture and amicable business relationships can make a huge difference in reaching a deal that will benefit all parties. Finally, consider what is the minimum outcome you expect out of the deal. If the deal is not in your best interest, you need to be willing to walk away.

Inspire confidence. When going into a negotiation, remember to have confidence in yourself and believe in your position. Be relaxed, speak calmly, and express conviction with your words; say what you mean and mean what you say. Talk less and listen more. By doing this you will be able to slow down the conversation, giving you more time to think. Remember that the deal has to be in your best interest, so do not agree to conditions that are below your minimum-expected outcome.

Negotiate aggressively, if necessary, but never be aggressive toward the person. People tend to forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel—so do not let your emotions control you. Keep in mind that it might take more than one meeting to reach an agreement. Regardless of the outcome, make sure to leave a good impression before leaving. Last impressions are just as important as first impressions because that is what lingers in people’s minds.

Get training. I am a firm believer in learning by doing. Just as we learned to talk by constant practice and repetition, we can learn to negotiate by negotiating. Consider looking for a mentor who will teach you how to speak the language of your counterparts, how to deal with people, and how to grow your career, all topics impacted by your negotiation skills, among other considerations.

SPE offers an eMentoring program that connects mentors and mentees around the world. This program provides a platform for seasoned professionals to share their knowledge and experience with young professionals. We encourage you to have a mentor to help you boost both your personal and professional skills, including negotiation.

Explore the eMentoring options offered to you by SPE.


Black Swan Group. Negotiation Skills: Former FBI Negotiator Chris Voss at the Australia Real Estate Conference. 1 July 2017.

Carmichael, E. 7 Ways to Improve Your Negotiations Skills. 15 November 2017.

Erich Pommer Institut. The Harvard Principles of Negotiations. 27 June 2018.

Ploumaki, M. The Art of Negotiation TEDxYouth@Zurich. 20 April 2015.

Shonk, K. Top 10 Negotiation Skills You Must Learn To Succeed. 30 March 2020.

Wachtel, D. The Best 5 Business Negotiations Skills. 8 February 2020.

Jose E. Balderrama works as a production and operations engineer for a private E&P company, overseeing operations and development for conventional fields producing under primary and secondary recovery. He has experience working in the KMA field in north Texas and shallow reservoirs across north Texas and southeast Kansas. His areas of expertise include redeveloping and maximizing long-lived assets through workovers, recompletions, and waterflooding. He is an active member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers currently serving as a Young Professional Connector within the SPE Business, Management, and Leadership Committee. Balderrama holds a BS in petroleum engineering from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.