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Notwithstanding the extra-ordinary advantages of joint problem-solving, many negotiators lack training in the skills necessary for its most effective use. This in part, is because in many cultures only negative values are placed on “conflict” and the skills required to confront and manage it effectively are not sufficiently valued to be taught at home or in schools.
The skills needed for effective joint problem-solving negotiations revolve around the need to communicate acceptance to other parties so that they are encouraged to continue the flow of information, rather than to communicate rejection which makes others defensive and closes down the information exchange. We will thus examine the issue of negotiating skills in this unit.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  Identify and outline the skills necessary for effective problem solving;
  2.  Discuss the necessity for proper preparation before negotiations; 
  3.  Explain the need for proper briefing and training for negotiation teams. 


3.1 The Skills for Effective Problem – Solving Negotiation

Five key skills for effective problem-solving negotiations are as follows:

  1. Empathic or Active Listening: This skill means listening in a way that lets the speaker know that you understand and appreciate the problem and how the speaker feels about it. The listener throwing both verbal and non-verbal cues signals the speaker that “I accept and value both you and what you are saying, I am not judging you. I want to hear more and I desire to explore this matter further with you before deciding how to resolve it. Empathic listening not only surfaces information and ideas, but encourages the speaker, who has a full opportunity for expression to speak to a willing and effective listener. 
  2. Withholding Judgment: This is a component of empathic listening, but merits separate mention because of the difficulty many negotiators have by refraining from making and acting onjudgment either before the parties come to the table or while an issue is still being defined and discussed. Responding in a way that judges the other party (that is a poor plan, or that is not a bad idea, but it will never work), creates defensiveness and shuts down the communication. Even a positive judgment (even a brilliant idea) can discourage the search for even better solutions. 
  3.  Dealing with Emotions: Emotion, especially anger is a critical skill because the emotions of a negotiation are as real and important as the substance. Recognizing, acknowledging responding to another’s anger is always in such a way that it:(i) does not deny or belittle their feeling; (ii) permits them to express their emotion; and (iii) helps clear their head for rational discussion of the issue. This is imperative for efficient and productive negotiations. Being able to avoid getting “hooked” by another party’s anger and knowing how to handle your own emotions during a negotiation is equally important. (d) Asking Good Questions: This is among the most overlooked skills of negotiation. Open-ended questions (“I don’t understand how your plan would work”, “will you tell me more about it”), encourages a communication to continue. Threatening questions such as “What in the world gave you the idea we could accept aplan like that?” shuts it down. (e) Creative Thinking: This expands a party’s search to generate solutions. Many negotiators have been conditioned to use only the analysis and logical portion of their brain. The formality of a negotiation setting can reinforce their tendency. If negotiators can free themselves to use the creative side of their brain as well as the analytic, they can expect to create even better solutions.

A party may devalue the skill required for effective joint problem- solving because they do not address some of the important traditional  sources of power in a negotiation, such as the ability to punish or reward others, the ability to intimidate or coerce, etc. There can be no questioning the importance of power in any negotiation. But parties who come to the table equipped in the skills of joint problem-solving have another more subtle type of power. They are able to behave in ways that
build trust and respect, reduce tensions, generate cooperation and encourage sharing of information and ideas about the problem and the parties.

3.1.1 Preparing for Negotiation

The Plan: A negotiating plan should prioritize all agenda issues, indicating the perceived,
(i) minimal needs (bottom lines); and (ii) possible outcomes.
Thought should be given to how each issue will be presented, including the content of the presentation, who should present it and how other parties might respond and why.
A plan should address the style of negotiation to be used. If it is joint  problem-solving, consideration should be given to the type of information not known to other parties that must be held in confidence at all times and which can be released incrementally as a show of good faith.As much information as available should be compiled about the other parties and the members of their negotiation team. Information about the statements they have made on the issues, their reputations, their
professional backgrounds can influence, predict and explain their behaviour during negotiations.
Other dimensions of a plan can include the methods that will be used to: (i) communicate what is happening in negotiations to your constituents and obtain accurate feedback from them;
(ii) communicate when needed with influential parties outside the negotiations;
(iii) work with the media in ways that protect your interests without violating the negotiation protocols;
(iv) monitor the media during the course of negotiations and transmit that information to your negotiating team and other key persons; and (v) obtain desired feedback or counsel from advisors or other supporters.

3.1.2 The Negotiation Team

A negotiating team should include individuals who are knowledgeable, articulate, energetic, hardworking and capable of discipline and teamwork. Every team member should have a designated role, such as: (a) team leader; (b) designates spokespersons(s); (c) person(s) to take comprehensive notes of what is said; (d) person(s) to observe non-verbal behaviour; (e) resources specialist; and
(f) a person(s) to display charts or distributes written materials, etc. Team members should draft their opening statement, presentations on the issues and potential questions. They should anticipate the negotiation. Provides an opportunity to rehearse presentations and prepare responses.


It is important that countries pay attention to the quality of negotiations they engage in, and of the quality of negotiators sent. For many countries, especially in the developing countries, it is often the case that they do not get good representations during negotiations at the global level. This is often underplayed to their own detriment. Training and skills are essential to effective negotiations, more so in this era of multi- level governance and multilateral diplomacy.


In this unit, we have discussed the need for ensuring that the negotiation skills of those engaged in negotiations are adequate. Preparing well before negotiations commence is very important. Negotiation is increasingly becoming a very important instrument of diplomacy and international Relations in the 21st century.


What do you consider the skills necessary for effective problem solving
during negotiation?


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