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  • Writer's picturePeter McKenzie

To become a successful negotiator try varying your voice.

(Negotiation skills part 1)

I love to strike a good deal. As a virtually penniless student backpacking through Morroco, I remember getting fleeced by the souk traders in Marrakech. I learned a lot of lessons and on subsequent trips to Egypt or Turkey where bartering is part of daily life, I improved my bargaining skills a lot (but still came off second best for sure!)

Street traders and hawks are some of the world´s best negotiators.

In business, I have done a lot better. I love negotiating. It is a skill that I have learned over the course of more than 25 years as a CFO. I have negotiated hundreds of supplier contracts, negotiated pay rises for my staff (and myself), and negotiated numerous other deals.

My negotiating highlight was when I sold a start-up business for a large multiple of earnings, far more than the buyer had initially bid or was willing to pay!

Throughout my career, I have been lucky to have been taught by some great masters that I saw in action. I have read some great material and been on some excellent courses (Chris Voss´s Negotiation Masterclass is one I highly recommend).

In this series of blog posts, I will share with you the secrets I have learned from these masters and my own experience.

I will start with one negotiation secret weapon that may surprise you.

Your voice

For public speaking, speakers train how to use their voices to effectively land their messages.

The same skills apply in the world of negotiations. A UCLA study showed that 93% of communication is non-verbal and up to 40% has to do with voice tone.

In negotiations, voice tone influences the emotional state of the conversation.

The person controlling the tone controls the negotiation.

There are 3 key voice styles used by negotiators to achieve the best negotiation result possible

1) The low voice

Dropping your regular voice tone by one or two registers can have a massive impact on how you are perceived. Research has shown that people with lower-pitched tones are seen as having more authority and being more competent. They command more respect.

It is important to have a downward inflection at the end of the sentence to add weight to what you are saying. Additionally, by speaking at a slower pace a feeling of calm is generated for the listener.

On the other hand, high-pitched voices, as well as fast-paced conversations are associated negatively with stress and panic.

For women, it can often be a challenge to find a lower voice tone, but with work it can be achieved.

For example, Margaret Thatcher famously had a high-pitched, fast voice when she started in politics. She worked hard on lowering her tone and pace of speaking and this was a key factor in her success, in becoming Prime Minister of the UK.

2) The friendly voice

A playful, varied positive voice is what you should aim to use in general throughout any negotiation. This is the voice of an easygoing person. How do you best achieve this? In one word…


By smiling we immediately come across as more likeable and trustworthy. People can also hear that from our voice.

People´s moods lighten and they open up when they see a smile or hear a friendly voice. This increases the chance of collaboration and getting to the negotiation result we want.

This all seems obvious, but the hardest part is to remember to smile.

When I am about to go into a negotiation in a meeting or even over the phone, I draw a big smiley face on my notes to remember to start with a smile on my face.

Once the conversation begins, the tone is already set and if we start without a smile, we will likely continue without one.

3) The questioning voice – using the upward inflection

Asking the right questions at the right moment and in the right manner is the key to a successful negotiation. If the questions are asked in an aggressive or demanding way, the other person will feel threatened.

To help them relax and know that you are being inquisitive, using an upward inflection, or raising the tone of the voice at the end of the sentence will stop them from getting defensive.

When people are posed with a good question, they often answer with more detail than we are expecting which can give us a key advantage to getting what we want from the negotiation.

It is important to practice these techniques at every opportunity. You will find that you are negotiating something virtually every day, so there will be more chances to do this than you think.

Play with these different voices and see what happens. You will be surprised by how effective varying the pace and tone of the voice can be in getting the result you want.

Negotiating can be fun, even if you are being fleeced by a street trader in Marrakech!

If you would like help with your negotiation skills, contact me at my mail address below.

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