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Negotiation is a key skill for communicators

Hot take: you can’t succeed at internal communication unless you have effective negotiation skills.

And yet I never see “negotiation skills” listed on job specs for internal communicators.

We negotiate with our colleagues and stakeholders all the time. We need to influence decisions, build trust and rapport, understand our audiences, handle difficult conversations and persuade people to do things our way.

You can’t do any of these without successfully negotiating with people.

But traditional negotiation techniques often fall short and do not understand that the key to successful negotiation lies in the psychology of communication.

What is negotiation?

In its simplest form, negotiation is a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.

What can we learn from an FBI hostage negotiator?

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator who spent years bargaining with kidnappers, bank robbers and terrorists in high-stakes situations. He is now a bestselling author, and his book “Never Split the Difference” is an outstanding collection of negotiation lessons.

Voss argues that effective negotiation requires an understanding of human behaviour and an excellent ability to listen. He advocates for a negotiation approach founded on what he calls “tactical empathy” to influence people’s emotions and decisions successfully. Tactical empathy is like emotional intelligence on steroids; you not only recognise the perspective of the other person but you also vocalise that recognition so they see it.

3 negotiation techniques to try out

Here’s 3 techniques from the book that you can play round with to become a more effective negotiator. I personally use these approaches all the time. These tactics take practice and feel strange at the start – but give it a go. I assure you it’s worth it.

  1. Mirroring: This is when you repeat or paraphrase the last few words the other person has said. This technique keeps the other person talking and encourages them to share more information. By mimicking the other persons language and behaviour, you’re also building familiarity and rapport.

  2. Labelling: Labels are just verbal observations. This is a method to identify and validate the emotions or concerns of the other person. By labeling the emotions, negotiators can deescalate tense situations and foster an atmosphere of cooperation. What this looks like in practice is you saying “It sounds like…” or “It feels like…” or “It looks like…” and then labelling the other person’s emotions. It is outrageously effective at getting the other person to share more information, leading to an increase in trust and influence.

  3. The “Accusation Audit”: This is an approach to negotiation in which you begin by defusing the negatives that the other person is probably thinking about you. It involves listing the worst accusations they could make against you, and addressing them upfront. This pre-emptive strike can defuse potential defences by proactively addressing their concerns before they have a chance to voice them.

Want to hear it straight from the source? Watch Chris Voss in conversation with Steven Bartlett here:

How can I use this advice in my role as an internal communicator?

Here are some practical ways to use these techniques in your role.

  • Negotiating resources: I’ve never once met an internal communicator who had all the resources, budget and team members they needed. Resources can be limited and in high demand. Use your newfound negotiation skills to secure the resources you need to succeed.

  • Building trust and rapport: Successful internal communication relies on trust and rapport between colleagues. By employing techniques like mirroring and labelling, you can establish stronger connections and foster a climate of openness and cooperation.

  • Resolve conflict: We often deal with conflicts around messaging, content, tactics, approval processes, overall objectives… you name it, we see it. Use tactical empathy to build a better understanding of your stakeholders and their objectives in order to negotiate successfully to get the outcome that you want.

If this has piqued your interest, I really highly recommend getting a copy of the book “Never Split the Difference”. It’s been a staple of my bookshelf for years and I re-read it again and again. Negotiation is crucial for anyone working in internal communication. Effective negotiation skills help you to build positive relationships, resolve conflicts and advocate for your ideas.


Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

  1. Consulting: I help organisations create effective systems of internal communication. This includes reviewing your current system, developing internal communication strategies, establishing internal communication functions and more. Book a free call to discuss how I can help you.

  2. Coaching: I offer 1:1 coaching for a small number of clients to amplify your strategic abilities, gain confidence in your decision-making, improve your communication prowess and feel empowered to be creative at work. Email me for details of 8 and 12 week coaching packages, or enquire about a one-off 60 minute session.

  3. Training: I run workshops on effective internal communication, measurement, AI in internal communication, newsletters, effective writing and other internal communication topics. Keep an eye on my training page for upcoming dates.


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