3 Questions
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How you can identify an expert negotiator with 3 key questions

In this article, I intend to reveal a simple technique involving three key questions that can help you discern whether the person you consider appointing as a negotiator, within your capacity as a decision-maker (e.g. a Senior Manager), is not just a professional, but potentially ranks among the elite in their field.

How You Can Identify an Expert Negotiator Using These Three Key Questions

    Question Nr. 1:
    Do we need a negotiating team?

Inquire with your potential lead negotiator: "Do you believe we require a negotiation team?"

An inexperienced individual might offer a vague response or dismiss the idea rather quickly, essentially saying, "I can handle this on my own; no need for a team."

Conversely, a seasoned professional will assert the necessity of negotiating as a team, sharing examples to showcase the typical structures they've successfully employed over years, underlining the value of experience. They'll stress the crucial role of delineating between the decision-maker and the negotiator, and the strategic advantage of having both a 'Good Guy' for relationship building and a 'Bad Guy' for mission focus.

A top-tier negotiator will further elaborate on the pivotal importance of a team strategy, perhaps drawing parallels to the configurations used by the FBI or international crisis negotiation teams (refer to Misino, "Negonate and Win," p. 14, for example).

    Question Nr. 2:
    Are There "Golden Rules" of Negotiation Conduct?

Ask your prospective negotiator: "What's your approach during negotiations? Are there any universal 'golden rules' of conduct that apply to every and any negotiation?"

A novice might sidestep the question, suggesting that "There are no set rules; it's all about going with your gut feeling."

In stark contrast, a professional will advocate for a consistent approach, always viewing the counterpart as a collaborator and avoiding any indications of perceived provocation. They can illustrate how they prioritize establishing a good connection first, then focus on the dual objectives (theirs and their counterpart's), and leverage essential psychological influence techniques, employing terms like "It's standard practice" (Social Proof), "My supervisor has a different viewpoint" (Authority), or "Why is your offer fair?" (Fairness).

An elite-level negotiator will go into detail about their adept use of the FBI's renowned Behavior Change Stairway Model (BCSM) and its practical application (refer to Vecchi/van Hasselt/Romano, 2005, p. 541; https://www.academia.edu/1498235/crisis_hostage_negotiation_current_strategies_and_issues_in_high_risk_conflict_resolution). They will also align their methods with established crisis negotiation frameworks (for example, McMains/Mullins, "Crisis Negotiations," 6th Edition, 2020).

    Question Nr. 3:
    Is There a Standard Negotiating Process?

Pose this question to your potential lead negotiator: "Is there a standard process for negotiations, do they follow a traditional or typical pattern?"

An inexperienced person might offer a non-committal response or say, "It's unpredictable, every situation is different. I just go with the flow and see how things unfold."

In contrast, a seasoned professional will affirm their adherence to a consistent methodology. They approach negotiations equipped with the "initial positions" defined by you, the Decision Maker (the last element of the TOP LADY formula, i.e., Your Instruction). They initiate with an opening phase (engaging in small talk, establishing the agenda, achieving a smart start), progress to the core phase (termed "Middle of Act Two" in the Driver-Seat Concept), and conclude with a formal closure.

During the main phase, a skilled negotiator steadfastly maintains their initial positions while exhibiting utmost respect and amiability. Through discussions, they elucidate open points and methodically navigate through conflicts. Following this, they coordinate with the Decision Maker to strategize on trading open points/conflicts via the esteemed "give and take bargaining" method (leveraging the principle of reciprocity), aiming for a universally satisfying outcome ("Play to win – create satisfaction").

Negotiators at the pinnacle of their field will go a step further, explicating how they derive each negotiation's process from the globally recognized Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (https://kilmanndiagnostics.com/overview-thomas-kilmann-conflict-mode-instrument-tki/). This model proposes five core strategies for conflict resolution in negotiations: (i) Competing (striving to prevail and win), (ii) Avoiding (delaying conflict resolution, "buying time"), (iii) Accommodating (yielding without reciprocation), (iv) Collaborating (seeking joint solutions for mutual satisfaction), and (v) Compromising (settling for a suboptimal compromise leaving all parties somewhat dissatisfied).

For negotiations that extend beyond single transactions and aim to preserve relationships, adept negotiators combine Competing with Collaborating in this manner: They start by rigorously and respectfully debating their starting positions with the aim of analyzing all open conflicts.

A break is then taken to discuss and reflect as a team. Only then are all conflicts resolved collectively. Hence, professionals typically initiate with Competing, employing destructive criticism to clarify conflicts (refer to Gerhard Schwarz, Conflict Management, 9th ed.). Subsequently, they utilize constructive criticism to explore solutions. This procedural approach, inspired by the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and termed the ABC Strategy in the Driver-Seat Concept and the field guide (A for Analyze Open Points, B for Break 4 Change, and C for Concessions Package Procedure or Collaborating), epitomizes the systematic approach of professional negotiators.

To summarize, you can recognize a professional negotiator by their responses to these key points:

Regarding the team: „Yes, I always work in a team and distinguish between the Decision Maker and the Negotiator. Furthermore, I make a distinction between a Good Guy, for whom the relationship outweighs the mission, and a Bad Guy, for whom the mission takes precedence over the relationship."

Regarding behavior: „"My approach remains consistent: I first prioritize establishing a connection (Bonding), followed by addressing the substance of the negotiation (Mission), then I strategically focus on leveraging influence tactics (Influence)."

Regarding the process: "I adhere to a uniform structure for every negotiation process. I begin with a thorough analysis of all conflicts using a 'Confrontation' strategy for conflict resolution. Subsequently, I coordinate with the Decision Maker on whether a strategy shift is warranted. I then typically proceed with a 'Cooperation' strategy in order to resolve any conflicts."

If the responses to the aforementioned three key questions align with these insights, you've successfully identified a skilled negotiator worth integrating into your team. This maximizes the likelihood of successful negotiation outcomes while also avoiding potentially costly untested approaches.

Portrait von Hermann Rock, Spezialist für professionelle Verhandlungsführung

Dr. Hermann Rock


Play to win > create satisfaction

Entwickler des Driver-Seat-Konzepts | Über 20 Jahre Verhandlungserfahrung „am Tisch“ | Autor mehrerer Fachbücher zum Thema „Professionelle Verhandlungsführung“


Profilbild von Dr. Christoph Mund. Managing Director, Change & Innovation Management

Dr. Christoph Mund

Managing Director, Change & Innovation Management

"Dr. Hermann Rock ist Dozent in unserem Change & Innovation Management Studiengang, welches die Universität St. Gallen in Kooperation mit Dr. Wladimir Klitschko jährlich durchführt. Im Rahmen des Programms lehrt Hermann das Thema Verhandlung. Unsere Führungskräfte sind jedes Jahr aufs Neue von seinem Erfahrungsschatz, praxisnahen Tipps und wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnisse begeistert. Die Kombination aus Best-Practice und anwendungsorientierten Fallbeispielen schafft für unsere Teilnehmer einen nachhaltigen Mehrwert im Transfer. Wir können Hermann als Referent bedingungslos weiterempfehlen und stehen für weitere Auskünfte sehr gerne zur Verfügung."

Profilbild Neutral & Anonym

CA Prof. Dr. H.


"Ich war als Chefarzt sehr glücklich mit meinem Beruf, aber sehr unglücklich mit dem Gehalt. Dr. Hermann Rock hat mit unermesslicher Freundlichkeit, perfekter Systematik und absoluter Präzision die Verhandlungen mit dem Geschäftsführer geleitet.  Das Interesse der Gegenseite war gering, aber Dr. Rock hat durch geschickten Strategiewechsel das Interesse geweckt, die Motivation enorm hochgefahren und das Zielgehalt für mich erreicht. Interessant war, dass er die Reaktionen der Gegenseite immer voraus gesagt hat und diese sind immer genau so auch eingetroffen. Ich bin ihm unendlich dankbar, weil ich jetzt mit Beruf und Gehalt zufrieden bin."

Ihnen stehen schwierige Verhandlungen bevor?