Best Tactics in Successful Business Negotiation for Technical Managers

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Best Tactics in Successful Business Negotiation for Technical Managers
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Table of Contents
  • Why should you brush up on your negotiation skills as a technical manager?
  • 4 useful techniques for successful negotiations in business and life
    • 1. Mirroring
    • 2. Labeling
    • 3. Tone of voice and body language
    • 4. Asking the right questions
  • Final thoughts on negotiation for technical managers

As a technical manager, you’ll often find yourself in the middle of conversations requiring great negotiation skills. It may be asking for a raise, convincing highly sought-after talents to join your team, or asking your kids for a slight breather to snooze on your favorite TV show.

How do you handle such conversations, figure out what works best for everyone, and ensure that you don’t get the shorter end of the stick?

Read on to discover negotiation strategies that will help you navigate difficult conversations as a technical manager and make negotiation at work or in your personal life a walk in the park.

Or if you prefer, you can watch Matthew Harris, our Director of Business Development, discuss concrete negotiation techniques for technical managers during our two-part live session.


Part I


Part II

Why should you brush up on your negotiation skills as a technical manager?

Being a technical manager is not a piece of cake. Technical managers are responsible for building competent teams, meeting stakeholders’ technical expectations, and executing complex software projects. Negotiation skills are important for these responsibilities.

It takes a good negotiator to convince talented developers to pick your organization over other attractive companies. Managing a team of software developers will require several processes, conversations, and of course, negotiation. You also need to negotiate with third-party contractors to get the best deal for your organization.

With great negotiation techniques, you can demand better pay or additional benefits without any hassle. You can also get shorter workweeks and other perks that will make your current job your dream job.

Negotiation goes beyond the workplace. You’ll need to barter with your spouse or kids at home, too. For instance, you may need to convince your kids to settle for a healthy sandwich for dinner instead of pizza or plead with your spouse or partner to reschedule dates at the last minute.

If you do a quick review of your daily activities, you’ll find several examples of negotiation skills at work. It’s safe to say that you need great negotiation techniques to excel in your career, build solid relationships with the people around you, and live a balanced life.

4 useful techniques for successful negotiations in business and life

Negotiations may not be your strong suit, but with the right techniques and tricks, you can confidently hold down the fort at the bargaining table.

We’ll focus on these 4 negotiation strategies:

  • mirroring,
  • labeling,
  • tone of voice and body language,
  • asking the right questions.
1. Mirroring

In negotiation, mirroring is essentially repeating a few words spoken by the other party in an inquisitive tone. It’s a subtle technique that encourages your interlocutor to reveal further information and gives you a clearer perception of their concerns or requests.

It’s a great way to highlight and clarify gray areas in a conversation. You can repeat the key terms that need to be clarified and elicit the right information from your counterpart with mirroring.

Also, mirroring keeps the conversation going and helps you reach resolutions quicker. It compels you to listen to your interlocutor and process the information gotten from them on the spot. It’s a great strategy for building good rapport and strengthening interpersonal relationships. You’ll also appear warm and empathetic, which is great for successful negotiations.

Mirroring may be verbal or non-verbal and both can be used simultaneously. Verbal mirroring is the repetition of words spoken by a person while non-verbal mirroring involves mirroring your interlocutor’s body language.

Why mirroring is so important

Mirroring is a good negotiation strategy for anyone who hates negotiating. It’s so important because it gets the other party talking and revealing vital information with little effort from you. You only need to chip in a few words to prompt your interlocutor to spill the beans.

Bargaining with reserved people can be quite taxing. Conversations end up being one-sided with little or no input from your counterpart. Mirroring is a great technique when bartering with shy people or those who would rather avoid the conversation.

It’s equally very helpful if you’re the withdrawn person at the bargaining table, but would like to be heard and contribute your piece. You’ll be able to get all the details you need to negotiate without speaking a lot.

Tips for getting mirroring right
  • Repeat a few words only
You should only repeat key terms and keep them between 3–5 words.
  • Start with the last words

It’s easier to recall the last words spoken. It’s also easier for your interlocutor to carry on with the conversation when you mirror their last words.

  • Be genuinely curious

Using an inquisitive tone makes your opponent willing to share more.

  • Just shut up

It may be tempting to chat away, but the key to effective mirroring is to listen more than you speak.

Let’s take a look at a quick mirroring example in a conversation between a technical manager and a developer struggling to meet a deadline.

Developer: I’d appreciate it if you moved the deadline for this project. I’m still working on some additional features, and I will need to make some changes.

Technical Manager: Make some changes?

Developer: Yes, I noticed some mistakes in the initial code. I need to audit the initial code and run another smoke test. I need some more time to tidy things up but I’m sure I can work around things soon.

2. Labeling

We use labels daily to track, identify and save vital information in our memories, applications, and pantries. Labeling also works perfectly for negotiation. Labeling is the art of identifying the emotions expressed by your interlocutor.

You can tell a lot about a person’s feelings from the words they speak. Oftentimes, we can identify emotions such as frustration, anger, resentment, dissatisfaction, and disapproval by listening to the people with these emotions speak.

With labeling, you can voice out your interlocutor’s emotions to elicit further information from them. It’s simply identifying and expressing your interlocutor’s emotions in a manner that gets them to think about their feelings.

Labeling is a subtle negotiation strategy that works well in the workplace. It diffuses tense or negative emotions and gets the other party to address those emotions. It also reinforces positive emotions.

Ultimately, labeling helps you establish a stronger rapport with your interlocutor.

Tips for effective labeling
  • Identify the emotion
Watch out for verbal and non-verbal cues that portray your interlocutor’s emotions.
  • Label the information
Put a label on the feelings and emotions you’ve observed. Simple labels like “happy,” “sad,” or “disappointed” will do the trick.
  • Use preemptive phrases
Preemptive phrases are the keys for unlocking your interlocutor’s Pandora’s box. Some preemptive phrases to take note of would be: “It feels like…” “It sounds like…” “It looks like…”
  • Just shut up
Silence is also golden when labeling emotions.
3. Tone of voice and body language

Words are golden, but the tone of voice and body language give context to the words we speak. Professor Albert Mehrabian conducted a study that compared the impact of spoken words, tone of voice, and body language in communication. The study focused on a group’s assessment of the verbal and non-verbal components of a conversation. The result is what is now popularly referred to as the 7-38-55 rule.

According to this rule, people pay 55% of their attention to your body language, 38% to your tone of voice, and only 7% to your words. Adapt your negotiation strategy accordingly!

Content is important but non-verbal communication is key to effective communication and negotiation. Thus, it’s important to pay attention to your interlocutor’s body language and tone of voice during a negotiation. This will help you interpret and label their emotions appropriately.

Also, using the right tone of voice and body movements that compliment your words makes you a better negotiator. When your non-verbal communication doesn’t match your words, your interlocutor gets a different message entirely. They’ll most likely believe the non-verbal message over your words.

Here’s a practical example during an interview session:

Interviewer: “I’m very pleased to meet you today.” (frowns and scrunches their nose) “I’ve reviewed your resume and I think you’re an ideal candidate for this job.” (looks away from the candidate and exchanges glances with the co-interview) “We’d like to know what it’ll take to get you on board.” (smiles briefly)

Can you think of a perfect reaction to the above scenario?

Of course, the diplomatic thing to do would be to react positively and show genuine interest and enthusiasm for the role using the right body language. But it would be difficult to believe the interviewer’s opinion and assessment of the candidate by their words, as their actions portray a different meaning.

What kind of tone/body language should you use during a negotiation?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but it always helps to pay attention to the following:

  • Eye contact

It’s great to maintain eye contact with your interlocutor. It helps build a connection and establish rapport. It also helps you convey the message firmly and confidently.

  • Tone of voice

You should tweak the tone of your voice to reflect the right message during negotiation. You can use a high tone to express genuine interest in your interlocutor’s opinions and a low tone to show empathy.

  • Facial expressions

Always ensure that your facial expressions match your words. Smile, laugh, nod, or frown as needed. A blank facial expression makes you appear cold and blunt. 

  • Postures and gestures

Postures and gestures make conversations more personal and empathetic. They help your interlocutor evaluate your position beyond the words you speak. Keeping your arms crossed for instance can make you appear uncompromising while gesticulating makes you come across as passionate.

What to watch out for when examining the tone/body language of your interlocutor

Here are some non-verbal cues to watch out for when examining your interlocutor’s tone or body language:

  • Inconsistencies

Non-verbal cues are a great way to reinforce verbal statements. However, when there’s a disparity between what is being said and the speaker’s tone or body language, it clearly indicates that your interlocutor is not being honest about their feelings and emotions.

  • Subconscious movements

You should watch out for subconscious movements from your interlocutor. For instance, cracking knuckles or rubbing one’s ears are subconscious movements people make when they are nervous.

  • Read the room

If you’re negotiating or discussing with a group, you should pay attention to the different forms of non-verbal communication going on in the group. You may need to take some minutes to observe and interpret the different body movements before you come up with a theory.

Tone of voice and body language tips for video conferencing

Most negotiations are concluded virtually today. Just as you’ve adopted tools that make the remote world a lot easier to navigate, you also need to arm yourself with tips and tricks for negotiating virtually.

Using the right body language and tone of voice will make your video conferences a lot more engaging and personal. You’ll also come across as professional and make a great impression on other attendees.

Here are few tips and tricks that will help:

  • Don’t keep your face too close to your screen

On most video conferencing applications, you’ll find out that your screen is your counterpart’s space. Therefore, keeping your face close to your screen may appear intrusive. Make sure your face takes up not more than a third of your screen.

  • Use the right tone

Your tone is more important during video conferencing as you can barely see the other party’s body. Your counterpart will interpret your words based on the tone you use. Always use the right tone to convey your message.

  • Pay attention to lighting

You don’t have to invest in expensive studio lighting. A makeshift lighting such as a second screen will work perfectly. You can use plain background colors on your second screen to further accentuate the lighting in your room. For instance, a plain white background will make the room brighter while a plain yellow background will add a warm glow.

  • Use discreet equipment

Avoid large headphones with an attached microphone. They can be distracting. If you’re using a wired mic, hide the wire beneath your shirt to minimize any distractions.

  • Maintain eye contact

It’s important to maintain eye contact during video conferences. The only way to do this on a video call is to look at the lens or webcam. Looking at any other part of your screen or camera will make you appear unfocused.

4. Asking the right questions

Another great negotiation tip is effective questioning. Negotiations present an opportunity to extract information from your interlocutor. You can do this by asking the right questions.

Asking questions during negotiations steers the conversation in your desired direction. It keeps you in control of the narrative and makes you appear warm and empathetic. It also gives the interlocutor an opportunity to reflect and share their thoughts in better detail.

While asking questions can be all you need to bargain better, it must be done cautiously. Not all questions are conversation boosters. Certain questions may be viewed as offensive by your interlocutor. It’s also possible to get them worked up and defensive with the wrong questions.

Therefore, it’s best to know the questions to avoid asking and the type of questions that are great during a negotiation.

Questions to avoid in a negotiation
a) Leading questions

One effective way to extend and enrich your conversation with other people is by minimizing persuasion or intrusion of your views on the other person. One way to get this wrong is by asking leading questions.

Leading questions are subjective and compel the other speaker to accept your perspective. They force the interlocutor to accept your views and opinion in a subtle way. 

Here’s an example of a leading question during salary negotiations:

“With all the perks listed in our offer, don’t you think this is a great package for you?”

With leading questions, your interlocutor will be caught in a difficult position. They’ll have to consider the options you’re suggesting to them or defend their opinions against your suggestions.

Leading questions do not elicit further information from your interlocutor. They strain the conversation instead and may encourage the other party to provide false or presumptuous information.

b) Asking “why”

You should never ask “why” during a negotiation. I’m sure you’re probably thinking “why” after reading the previous sentence. “Why” is a natural response in most conversations, but it’s often used loosely.

On the surface level, it seems like a great way to request clarity and further information from your interlocutor. But at what price?

Asking why puts people in a position where they have to defend their opinions. Many people view the question as confrontational. This can strain the conversation with the other party and make the negotiation process competitive rather than collaborative.

Therefore, if your goal is to sustain a conversation until you’ve successfully negotiated the terms, ditch the “why” questions.

Need further convincing? Here’s a comparison of two questions during a negotiation with a vendor.

Question 1: Why can’t you accept our 7-day payment terms? 

Question 2: What is it about our 7-day payment terms that is important to your company?

Both questions seek to understand the vendor’s opposition to the 7-day payment terms, but the first question comes across as accusatory. It forces the vendor to defend their position and doesn’t guide the vendor to reveal helpful information.

The second question is more collaborative. It makes the interlocutor share more information that could be useful for the negotiation. It’ll also help the parties to reach a mutual decision faster.

c) Yes-and-no questions

Questions requiring yes or no answers should be used sparingly in a negotiation. Such questions put your interlocutor in a difficult position. They are forced to pick from two restrictive options which may not fully capture how they feel about the subject matter.

Moreover, yes-or-no questions do not help in eliciting information from your interlocutor. They actually cut off further information. Your interlocutor focuses on making a decision at that moment that may not be best for them.

Yes-or-no questions make conversations one-sided and less spontaneous. This can rub off negatively on your interlocutor and generally make the conversation less productive.

Here’s an example of a yes-or-no question while negotiating a pay raise with an employee:

“Will you accept our final offer of a 5% annual pay raise?” 

Now, there are only two likely responses to this question: yes or no. If the counterpart says yes, all is well and fair. If they say no, you’re left with two options. You may proceed to ask “why,” which is another question that you’d best avoid or end the negotiation at a deadlock.

A better way to phrase this question would be to make it more exploratory and less dismissive. Here’s a good alternative:

“What do you think about a 5% annual pay raise?”

Questions to ask during a negotiation
a) Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are great conversation starters and boosters. They are useful during negotiation as they help you draw information from your interlocutor. Simply put, open-ended questions are questions that require detailed answers and not yes or no answers. They get the speaker to narrate their feelings and help you understand things from your interlocutor’s perspective clearly.

Open-ended questions help you to build rapport quickly with your interlocutor who may be unwilling to share more details. They also position you as a great listener. 

Here’s a good example that can be used during employee appraisals:

“Tell me about your relationship with your team members.”

b) Calibrated questions

Calibrated questions are another great way to ensure that your interlocutor flows with the conversation. Calibrated questions are also known as “how” or “what” questions. They help your interlocutor focus on the key terms and explain their position better.

Here are good examples of calibrated questions during salary negotiations:

“How did you arrive at this particular rate?”

“What other benefits can we offer to make you whole?”

Calibrated questions position you as an active listener and problem solver. It gives your interlocutor the impression that you are willing to collaborate and find solutions that meet their needs. It also helps you express empathy and concern for your interlocutor.

Final thoughts on negotiation for technical managers

Thank you for reading our piece on best tactics in successful business negotiation. Feel free to leave your questions and comments in the comment section. We’ll be happy to address them.

To sum up, negotiation skills give technical managers an advantage in their professional and personal lives. They allow you to take on difficult conversations and make decisions with great negotiation skills. You can also achieve personal goals and lead your team to achieve set goals and objectives.

Luckily, negotiation strategies can be learned. If you consistently practice the techniques shared in this article, you’re bound to become a better negotiator.

If you’re also looking to improve or pick up new technical and managerial skills, you’ll certainly find our articles below very helpful:

By the way, if you’re a technical manager looking to speed up your software development, we’ll be happy to assist. You can always hire us for your ongoing and future projects!

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