As Stephen R. Covey’s groundbreaking business book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People approaches its 30th birthday, I still find it to be more relevant than ever, particularly with regard to becoming a more effective negotiator. Rediscover this classic – or get to know it for the first time – when preparing for your next negotiation. Here, my take on the seven habits from a negotiator’s perspective:

  1. Be proactive. This habit acknowledges that we are all responsible for our own actions. You need to keep your focus on the things you can control rather than focus on the negative and waste time worrying “what if [insert frightening scenario here] happens?” In a negotiation, the best way to be proactive is to prepare well before it begins. Gather as much information as you can. Brainstorm ways to create value. Know your BATNA. (Check out my recent post on preparing for a negotiation here.) If you’re not proactive, you’re playing the game according to someone else’s rules when you should be writing your own.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. Rather than script out your next negotiation in a reactive way – “if she says this, I’ll respond with this” – imagine yourself and your adversary at the end of the negotiation. What win-win scenario do you envision? Then work backward to see how you can achieve that result in reality. Hint: you’ll need to show your opponent that you understand and appreciate her point of view (empathy, not sympathy) to get her to open up.
  3. Put first things first. Covey’s time management matrix focuses on the four quadrants in which people divide their time: dealing with things that are (1) urgent and important, (2) not urgent but important, (3) urgent but not important, and (4) not urgent and not important. The theory is that people tend to spend the most time on urgent activities, even if they aren’t important (think: someone’s on the phone for you right now), at the expense of activities that are important but not urgent (think: long-term relationship building). The goal is to recognize and make time for what’s important, rather than simply live your life responding to fires that break out (and they always do). In the negotiation context, this means you need to see the big picture. It’s too easy to get sucked into spending valuable time hammering out unimportant details at the negotiation table just because someone brings them up and lose focus on why you’re there in the first place. Before you begin, make a list of what’s important in the discussion and what you need to prioritize. Refer to it during the discussion to stay on track.
  4. Think win/win. You’re not going to get too far in your negotiation if you’re entirely focused on “winning” at all costs. You are much more likely to reach a workable resolution if you and your adversary are both working toward a win-win goal, even if you both have different ideas of how to get there. Again, you must demonstrate empathy when hearing out the other side (you are hearing out the other side, right?) if you want to end up with a solution you can both live with. Think collaboration, not dominance.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This habit is perhaps the most vital to a negotiation. You need to actively listen to your opponent, but it doesn’t end there – you must listen to understand (“okay, now I know why he’s asking for that…perhaps we could resolve it this way”), not simply to respond (“I can’t believe he said that…I’m going to say this to prove him wrong”). Once again, it comes back to understanding and empathy. When your adversary believes you understand what’s driving him, he’ll be more open to seeing things your way.
  6. Synergize: Covey emphasizes that collaboration always produces a more complete result. Avoid the lowest communication levels – legalese, protectiveness – and strive for “synergistic” win-win communication. It all goes back to connecting with your adversary on a personal level and finding solutions, not “winning.”
  7. Sharpen the saw. This habit focuses on your own well-being – physical, social, mental, and spiritual. Take care of yourself and always be open to learning. It’s the only way you’ll keep moving – in a negotiation and in life.