Learn the art of persuasion from a master

WHETHER it’s striking a deal with a client or discussing your bonus with your boss, negotiation is a fact of life for those in the City. Indeed, it’s a skill that you need to master if you want to do well at work. Since every career coach and management guru seems to have a different view on how best to master this art, we decided to track down someone who definitely knows. Alex Deane is a barrister, world debating champion and a director at the public affairs company Bell Pottinger. Here are his top five tips.

“Being the master of your material may seem dull, but it’s absolutely necessary,” says Deane, “Scrabbling about in your folder – or even worse – ad-libbing, will undermine your argument.” A good negotiator does their homework in advance. “But to some extent this comes down to how good you are at your job and isn’t really about negotiation.”

“You should aim to minimise the amount of time you spend talking about the things you’re less comfortable with,” says Deane. But if you’re caught short, you must not bluff, especially if you are being recorded in any way.

There are ways to reduce the damage caused by conceding ignorance, though. Deane says specific questions can be avoided by copying rhetorical techniques used by the Prime Minister at Question Time: “If an opponent asks the Prime Minister a question like ‘how many hospital beds are there are in Crewe?’, for instance, Cameron can simple turn around and say ‘of course, I don’t know the specifics in this case, but if you care so much about it, I will find out’. A reasonable person will accept this type of answer.”

“Short points are good points. They give less time for your opponent to sit and contemplate what you are saying while you’re waffling on,” says Deane. Sometimes this can sound abrupt in a friendly discussion, but simply “talking to fill the silence” will muddle your argument.

“This can feel artificial, but believe me, you never want to go into a negotiation and be making an argument for the first time.” Ask your colleagues or friends to help you rehearse your argument with you. Do your best to anticipate what their responses might be and how to best rebut to them. “The best way to prepare is to think about the end goal that you want to achieve and work backwards,” says Deane. This will make you sound calmer and more persuasive when it comes around to the real thing.

Never enter a negotiation without knowing precisely where you will walk away. You must be firm and clear about your bottom line. “Of, course, there are likely to be things you’re willing to concede if the discussion gets difficult, but you need to decide what these are in advance and plan how and when you’re going to compromise on them.”