Ask a Negotiator: Felicity Steadman

In April 2017, CEDR launched its flagship negotiation training for individuals, Advanced Negotiation skills. In this Ask an Expert session, we spoke to Felicity Steadman, one of our lead negotiation trainers.

Felicity is a full-time negotiator, mediator, facilitator and trainer in dispute resolution skills. She developed her negotiation experience over 25 years in extensive labour relations negotiation in South Africa as it transitioned to its new political democracy post-apartheid. Felicity has trained hundreds of professionals in dispute resolution skills in dozens of jurisdictions around the world.

Why do you like being a negotiator?

We have to like being negotiators as we do it all the time. What I like is discovering what is important to the other person and then finding interesting ways of meeting their needs, as well as mine. There is always some adrenaline involved in negotiation, which gives me a buzz.

How did you get into negotiation?

My first recollection of negotiation was when I was a teenager, negotiating pay for Saturday and holiday jobs. It was initially difficult to get a good rate but once I’d proved my worth and the shop needed me, I was in a stronger negotiating position.

More formally, I got into negotiation when I was about 27 years old, representing a company in negotiations with trade unions. I was the chief negotiator in many instances and had to learn fast as the people I was negotiating with had much more negotiation experience.

What has been your hardest negotiation?

My most difficult negotiations have been ones where my mandate givers are less than open with me about my authority. When the chips are down and deadlock looms, I am told by my principals that there is more money available or, worse still, they helicopter in and give away more than I ever had the authority to give. The next time I face the same negotiation parties, they simply ask for my principal and don’t take me seriously at all.

I have learned that the negotiation between me as the negotiator and my mandate givers is tremendously important. This discussion should take place well ahead of the actual negotiation meetings and it should result in my obtaining the fullest and most flexible authority possible.

What has been your biggest success in negotiation?

My biggest success was negotiating maternity leave for myself and, by extension, for all women in my organisation. The maternity leave policy as it stood was very poor. I was the chief negotiator for my company in wages and conditions of employment negotiations with the trade union. Included in their demands was longer maternity leave, with more pay. I happened to be pregnant at the time and needed to negotiate the terms of my own maternity leave.

I considered the maternity leave standards across other industries and countries and thought about my needs as a new mother. I also thought about what it must be like for women working in our factories, needing the income and yet wanting to be at home with their new baby. I then went to my director to discuss my maternity leave provisions and got exactly what I wanted. Shortly after I was back with the directors obtaining a mandate for the annual wage negotiations and argued with the board for the same deal for other female employees. There was some hesitation about extending my conditions to all women, but it didn’t take much to persuade them of the fairness and consistency of doing so. It was a great victory at that time, the mid 1980s.

Has the way people negotiate changed in the course of your career?

Certainly. In the early years of my career, negotiators were mostly either untrained, or trained in adversarial competitive styles of bargaining. Negotiations were often characterised by tricks and ploys, parties were even taught how to use these and we didn’t pay much attention to building relationships with our negotiation partners. These days, negotiation skills training are more nuanced, research-based and it draws on economics, psychology, game theory among other disciplines.

The emphasis these days on interests and needs vs positions, the analysis of alternatives and risk, as well as the psychology of negotiation means negotiation training and negotiators are generally more sophisticated in their preparation and conduct. Having said that, there is always more to learn.

What do you think makes a great negotiator?

A good negotiator is able to cultivate excellent relationships with people in the negotiation, being both assertive and warmly empathetic. They think actively about the process, what steps to follow and how to move back and forth in the process.

They don’t move too fast, hastily making offers. They are comfortable to talk things through first in order to understand what is important to the other party. When it comes to bargaining, great negotiators take it slowly, again making carefully considered offers. Offers are based on the information they have gathered at the early stages of the negotiation and on sound risk analysis.

What tip would you give to someone wanting to improve their negotiation skills?

Preparation, preparation, preparation. Prepare for each and every negotiation and attend training to learn how to do this.


Felicity is one of the lead trainers on CEDR’s Advanced Negotiation Skills Programme, teaching both Module 1 – gain a solid framework and Module 2 – become an expert.

For more information on these courses, visit our website.


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One Response to Ask a Negotiator: Felicity Steadman

  1. Mika Koskinen 29/06/2017 at 21:06 #

    Now there is a story for us. Thank you Felicity of sharing!

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