11 things top negotiators know (and now you do, too)


Learn the essentials of great negotiating. Broker Nick Schlekeway reveals the tried-and-true principles of world-class negotiators in Part 1 of this three-part series. 

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When it comes to real estate negotiations, most agents are focused on the wrong things. The wrong outcomes, the wrong players and, in most cases, even the wrong negotiations.

The negotiations that matter the most are not those between the buyer and seller over a purchase and sale agreement. The most important negotiations happen every day and the stakes are much higher than a refrigerator or a piece of equipment or a sale price.

Most agents carry an attitude and approach to negotiation that is either unproductive or downright toxic. They are completely attached to the outcome, and their ego takes center stage to the point at which they cannot be effective. Many agents, through sheer ignorance or willful arrogance, bumble their way through the negotiations of life.

I hope to shine a light on a meaningful path forward for some of you. Part one of this three-part series reveals the tried and true principles of world-class negotiators. 

11 principles of world-class negotiators 

Here are a few of the most important lessons I have learned in hundreds of negotiations with other agents, clients, vendors, employees, brokers and brokerage owners. 

1. Top performers look at the concept of negotiation with other people differently than the average agent. They don’t look at it in terms of “winning” or “losing” and they don’t approach it ready to “go to war” and “fight”.  Instead they ask difficult questions and perform real-time research with their counterpart to discover the underlying motivations and needs of the other party.  Upon discovery, they work to meaningful solutions that both parties can accept. 

2. Negotiations are all around us, every day. Everything is a “negotiation,” so you need to be good at this.

  • Getting out of bed: This is the first negotiation of the day, and the one you must win, with yourself. 
  • Did you get your workout in today or did you lose that negotiation? 
  • Is your mother-in-law living in your basement against your will? 
  • Do your kids eat their dinner or throw it on the floor? 
  • Is your lender sending you referrals or sending them to someone else?   
  • At what price does your seller list? 
  • What is your buyer’s search criteria, and what homes will you show them?

This list could go on and on.

3. The best in the business are always willing to walk away, or they are good enough at masking their emotions that the other side thinks they will walk away.  You have to be detached, emotionally and personally, from the outcome. If you have “commission breath” or come across as desperate, you will struggle to convert leads to clients and you will be unable to influence others to make decisions

4. Always keep your composure and keep your emotions in check. If you and your counterpart are screaming at each other, everyone loses. 

5. Do not negotiate against yourself. If you have made an offer or counter-offer, then your counterpart needs to come back to you with a response. If you modify your offer before they respond to you, then you are now negotiating against yourself. You are doing their job for them. 

6. Great negotiators ask great questions. Ask open-ended questions that get your counterpart talking. This is easier for us in real estate because real estate agents love to talk. After you ask your targeted, calibrated, open-ended questions, then you need to …

7. Shut up. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason; use them accordingly. Ask a direct, calibrated question and then shut your mouth so that they can answer it.

Silence is powerful. It is part of human nature to be uncomfortable with silence in a conversation and people will rush to fill that silence with noise. You will be absolutely blown away at the results you get in both personal and professional negotiations if you are willing to endure that silence and allow your counterpart to fill it with noise. 

8. This is never about you and it is certainly not about your ego. Beware your ego. Emotion in negotiations almost always comes from ego. Ego and emotions destroy negotiation.  

9. Get on the phone. You cannot be an impactful negotiator via text and email. Great agents negotiate a dozen times a day on the phone. Amateurs draft countless proposals and create endless email or text chains with six counteroffers. Written negotiations take too long, lead to misunderstandings and greatly reduce your ability to influence the other party. 

10. Knowledge can be powerful if it is used appropriately. If you have more knowledge of the given topic than does your counterpart, you have the upper hand in the negotiation. If you know the market or know the neighborhood better, then you become the authority and the “adult” in the conversation. 

11. Everyone, even serial killers, wants to be seen as “reasonable” and will seek to justify their actions. Beware the “F” word: Fair. “That is not fair” translates to “You are not being reasonable.” This is a powerful and common tactic that you must become familiar with both to employ and to defend against. 

Further reading and learning

When it comes to negotiation principles and practices, a huge inspiration to me is Chris Voss. Voss is a former FBI negotiator and an incredible thought leader in his field. His video series on “Masterclass” is incredible, and both of his books are a must-read: 

  • Never Split The Difference
  • The Full Fee Agent

A quote to ponder

He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.

Chris Voss

Nick Schlekeway is the founder of Amherst Madison, a Boise, Idaho-based real estate brokerage. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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