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3 Icebreakers to Help You Actually Start Practicing Negotiation

By |January 08, 2024

We all want to get good at a skill. Unfortunately, most of us get stuck in the “reading about it” phase. 

We read a dozen self-help, personal development, and business development books. Each one is a great motivator, they have great ideas and always reframe things in a way that makes the subject relevant to you. 

But the problem is actually putting what you learn into practice. 

I spent years reading fitness and weight loss books—but I only ever put one of them into practice. When I did, I was in the best shape of my life…until I stopped practicing. Now I’m the shape of a half-full laundry sack. 

The Black Swan Skills are the same. You’ve read Never Split the Difference. You’ve watched the YouTube videos. But until you put it into practice, until you do the workouts, they’re only good ideas. 

What’s your excuse?

People usually offer the same excuses for not practicing the skills:

“I didn’t have the opportunity to use them.”

“I wasn’t in a negotiation.”

“I feel awkward using them.”

“I didn’t really run into any situations that required the use of the skills.”

People get too focused on trying to practice the skills only when they’re in a conversation that follows a certain structure. If it doesn’t look how they expect it to, they don’t practice them. 

So before you even determine to actually practice the skills, you need to broaden your scope of what negotiation is. Instead of waiting for a certain kind of conversation, widen your definition of a negotiation. Because anytime there’s a want or need involved—whether on your side or your counterpart’s side—you’re in a negotiation. 

And anytime there’s a negotiation, you can practice the Black Swan Skills.

3 ideas for icebreakers to help you

When you’re forming your plan for practice, it’s just like a workout or a diet plan. Consistency matters. 

Make up challenges either for your day or your week. Here are some examples:

  • Use two labels in every conversation this week.
  • Use at least one mirror in every conversation today
  • Determine to learn something new about each person you talk to

From there you can expand and use the techniques you don’t use as often. If you meet up with a coworker after work, try using a Summary to go over everything you two discussed about a certain topic in the past week. Bullet point it for them.

“So far we’ve discussed A, B, C, and a result you feel the problem isn’t getting handled correctly.” Try to get an enthusiastic “That’s right!” (That’s when you know they’ve felt heard and understood.)

You can use the skills as an icebreaker any time you’re interacting with others. This could be on a plane, at a restaurant, at the doctor’s office, anywhere. Your Labels can be very surface-level and quick with an upward inflection at the end: “That dish seems like something you’ve ordered before?”

Simple as that. It breaks the ice, you get a rep in, and you don't have to think too hard to start the conversation. If that’s your roadblock—not knowing what to say—you’re thinking about it wrong. 

It’s not about needing to know what to say. It’s about needing to know how to listen. 

[INFOGRAPHIC] Download our infographic to learn the nine crucial negotiation  skills that will give you the edge over your counterpart »

The consequences of not practicing

When you don’t practice, you’re not going to enjoy the long-term benefits of mastering a skill—whether that’s satisfied relationships, more collaboration, or success at work. Those who put in the time reap the benefits.

And when you don’t turn these skills into a routine, when those high stakes conversations roll around, your curiosity is going to be turned off. You’re going to fail to listen well. You’re going to fail to see obstacles. You’re going to react badly instead of responding productively.

Remember that habit is what makes a good negotiator—not just one big win. If you’re a salesperson and you make a lot of sales on Tuesday, when Wednesday comes around, you don’t get to take the day off. The same goes for the skills.

Because mastering a skill isn’t just about learning in order to win—it’s learning in order to grow.

The Black Swan Group Negotiation 9