"The key messages--around a labor negotiation, or a big contract--apply to everyday life," says Michael Anderson of Huthwaite, Inc. When the Huthwaite Research Group, headed by Neil Rackham, studied over 100 labor-relations negotiators here and in Europe in the '70s, they found that those who were successful were more likely to do certain things in confrontations than were the "average" negotiators. (A negotiator was deemed "successful" if both sides in a dispute rated him effective, if he had a good track record for agreements and if a high percentage of agreements turned out to be viable.)

Here are some of the key messages of successful negotiators:

Face-to-face, skilled negotiators--much more than average negotiators--avoid irritators, such as saying, "Our proposal is fair" (meaning yours isn't).

* They avoid "defend/attack" spirals, in which conflict becomes increasingly heated.

* They ask more questions than do average negotiators, reveal more feelings and use fewer reasons to back up arguments.

* They avoid counter-proposals (which sound like you're not listening to the other side).

* Except when they're about to disagree, they label behavior ("I want to clarify something . . ." "If I could make a suggestion . . .").

* They check often to see if what they've said has been understood.