Negotiating skills – Balancing task and relationship Kim Tasso

I thought I’d share a few key ideas from some recent workshops on negotiation skills. Sometimes I am training business support professionals, but on occasions I am asked to work with legal professionals who typically are known for their excellent negotiation skills. I use the model of balancing task and relationship – which is often the basis for leadership models. As a qualified and experienced interpersonal mediator and psychologist, I focus on the communication skills and interpersonal dynamics. Many leading negotiators – even those who deal with some of the toughest situations such as hostage negotiations – focus on the soft skills to achieve hard results.  Negotiating skills – Balancing task and relationship.

Negotiation skills training

I view negotiation on a spectrum with similar types of communication skills – confidence, assertiveness, influencing, persuading and collaborating.

Whilst every negotiation workshop is tailored to the particular needs of the delegates and situation – such as interpersonal dynamics, selling, agreeing fees and pricing, complaints handling, employment disputes and contracts – there are some core themes that are usually addressed.

Attitudes towards negotiation

Most people associate negotiation with conflict resolution. And it is amongst the tools to resolve disputes along with mediation, arbitration and litigation. This isn’t surprising when we consider the origins of the adversarial system created by the Greeks. And the later influential work of Lewin and Deutsch on human behaviour and motivation in groups.

Because of this, many people feel trepidation, anxiety and even fear at the prospect of negotiation. So exploring and modifying attitudes is an important starting point. This usually involves a consideration of the principles of negotiation and the emotional impact. And reframing negotiation from a confrontational experience to one that is more collaborative.

Fundamentals of negotiation

Integrative negotiation is where you aim for mutual gain – a Win:Win situation.

In principled negotiation (Fisher and Ury) you separate the people from the problem, focus on interests rather than positions, generate options for mutual gain and base choice on objective criteria.

Other key concepts include perception, perspective and punctuation (the timing assigned to events and sometimes what is cause and effect).

There is usually a consideration of dysfunctional negotiation styles, strategies and tactics. How to identify them and, more importantly, what to do when they arise.

Negotiation styles

As mentioned above, there is a balance to be achieved with the task (what you are trying to achieve) and the relationship (how you interact with the other party). It is rare that you can ignore the other party as often there is a need to continue the relationship after the negotiation.

Task assertion and relationship co-operation (Thomas and Kilmann) are reflected in the different styles of conflict resolution:

  • Competing/Duelling
  • Engaging/Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Accommodating/Benevolent
  • Avoiding

Some consider how these different styles map onto social styles assessments: SOCIAL STYLE Model – TRACOM Group which roughly relate to Insights Colour Insights Discovery® | Official flagship product | Insights

  • Amiables (Green)
  • Expressives (Yellow)
  • Drivers (Red)
  • Analysts (Blue)

I use the cats (analysts), dogs (amiables/expressives)  and bears (drivers)  model Adapting to dog, cat and bear personalities – Better business relationships ( Sometimes people use Warner’s styles of negotiation which considers empathy and energy. 

The process of negotiation

There are many processes for negotiation. But most share the idea that there is work to do in the following areas:

  • Before (prepare pre-negotiation)
    • Analyse, research and scope the issue, the people and the situation
    • Consider your aims and goals (as well as your limits – zone of agreement – and your best and worst possible outcomes)
    • Identify things that you might concede or trade and what you would find acceptable
  • During (discuss and negotiate)
    • Develop empathy and rapport
    • Agree agenda, common aims and process
    • Discuss and communicate (ask questions and listen)
    • Manage emotions and conflict
    • Monitor changing goals and power dynamics
    • Generate and evaluate options and solutions
    • Confirm agreement
  • After (post-negotiation and implementation)
    • Implement the agreement
    • Monitor change and progress
    • Repair any ruptured relationships

Negotiation skills

There are many skills involved in negotiation. For example:

People are often surprised that soft skills feature so strongly in the FBI hostage negotiation model (see Never split the difference: Negotiating by Chris Voss ( The Behavioural Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit:

  • Active Listening: Listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening.
  • Empathy: You get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel.
  • Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They start to trust you.
  • Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommend a course of action.
  • Behavioural Change: And this is what makes negotiation skills training challenging – there are a lot of different skills involved!

All negotiation training should involve skills practice.  I always enjoy crafting scenarios for role plays that emulate the types of situations that delegates typically encounter.

Negotiating questions

There was an interesting article in August 2023 Ask Better Negotiation Questions – PON – Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

It argues that most negotiators do not ask enough questions or share enough information. Ask questions to gather information – not to substantiate your own point of view. Be clear about the motivation behind your questions.

Why are questions so important? (Questioning skills) (

What is Socratic questioning? (Questioning skills) (

Resistance to questions may indicate a fear of revealing information that could be used against you. Other advice includes:

  1. Lean towards open questions (perceived as less threatening)
  2. Ask probing questions
    1. Nudging probe (to encourage people to continue)
    2. Silence probe (often people speak to fill silences)
    3. Information probe (ask a follow up question for clarification: “Can you be more specific/prove an example?)
    4. Summary probe (“So it sounds like….”)
    5. Clearinghouse probe (“Any other concerns?”)
  3. Combine neutral questions with explanations
    1. Avoid leading or loaded questions that convey a bias (i.e “Don’t you think..”)
    2. Explain reasons (“Some clients prefer X, others prefer Y – what are your preferences?”)

Links on negotiation and conflict for further reading

Mediation and dispute resolution – Contemporary issues by Tony Whatling ( June 2022

Mediation skills and strategies – A practical guide by Tony Whatling ( October 2020

leader’s guide to negotiation – book review ( September 2016

Never split the difference: Negotiating by Chris Voss ( May 2021

Book review – Persuasion: The art of influencing people by James Borg ( March 2021

Conference report: British Psychological Society’s (BPS) ( July 2019

15 Ways To Level Up Your Negotiation Skills ( February 2018

Seven tips for conflict management and negotiation ( May 2016

10 practical tips for fee and price negotiations – Kim Tasso June 2014

Nine ideas for better conflict management ( June 2013

Creating meaning from conflict (Conflict management) ( April 2012

Links on negotiation skills 

Kim Tasso psychology qualifications and accreditations

Kim Tasso mediation services – interpersonal conflict

What do you do when your boss is a micro-managing control freak? ( March 2024

Coaching and Consulting – People and Problem-Solving skills ( February 2024

The patterns of NLP applied to business interactions by Daryll Scott ( December 2023

leadership conversation skills: SCARF model of neuroscience ( October 2023

How to start conversations that get results ( September 2023

Boosting Your Confidence at Work – A Toolbox for Success ( July 2023

Conversation skills book review 3: Conversational intelligence ( May 2023

A general law of interpersonal relationships? ( June 2022

Emotional Regulation – A key element of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) ( August 2021

Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – the basics (Video) ( August 2021

What is curiosity and why is it important in business relationships? (Video) ( July 2021

Mediation skills and strategies – A practical guide by Tony Whatling ( October 2020

Soft skills – Dealing with difficult conversations ( September 2020

Business relationships – Using the drama triangle to resolve conflict ( September 2020

Book launch: Essential soft skills for lawyers – some research findings ( July 2020

An introduction to emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy (Video) ( July 2020

Better Business Relationships – The building blocks ( June 2020

Adapting to dog, cat and bear personalities – Better business relationships ( April 2020

trust for better business relationships ( February 2018

Coaching skills – the power of questions ( May 2017

Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” ( March 2017

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving – Some tips ( December 2016

Small changes that spark big influence (persuasion science) ( November 2014