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How to Gain Leverage During a Negotiation

By |July 17, 2018

gain-leverage-negotiationIn a negotiation, having leverage means that you hold a perceived advantage that could give you the upper hand in achieving the agreement you desire.

Leverage is a powerful feeling, which is one of the reasons why we’ve named it one of the four most emotional words in negotiation. In some negotiations, you may feel you have leverage. Maybe you’re in a position of authority or have access to more information or resources than the other person. Other times, the reverse is true or you may feel as though you have no leverage at all.

Regardless of your position, your perception may or may not be the reality. You could be in a position of leverage and not realize it. Worse still, abusing perceived leverage could lead to broken engagements, poor implementation, or deals fraught with regrets.

In every negotiation, you’ll either start from the point of leverage or you may need to acquire it. But even in negotiations that seem skewed in the other person’s favor, there’s always an opportunity to gain leverage (or at least make your counterpart think you have it).

Here are six things you can do to gain leverage and conduct a successful negotiation:

1. Summarize the Facts of the Other Position

Identify facts, laws, policies, or other data that support and legitimize your counterpart’s position. When you demonstrate that you understand their position, you increase the likelihood of a negotiated agreement. Human nature dictates that people love to have others understand their circumstances, dynamics, feelings and environment. A summary is a great way to do that.

2. Use Labels and Calibrated Questions

Labels and calibrated questions are tools that can help you discover what your counterpart wants and needs. Using labels such as “it seems like you have a reason for saying that…,” can help you identify the motivation behind your counterpart’s statement. These verbal observations can be particularly helpful for extracting information from individuals who dislike being questioned. They also encourage a natural, honest response from individuals who don’t like to negotiate.

3. Dealing with Inaccuracies

You can capitalize on uncertainties or incongruence in your counterpart’s statements by using calibrated questions. Use “What” and “How” questions to make a comparison of the issues at hand. Even when you’ve identified an inconsistency, it’s important to avoid interrupting or making accusations. Doing so may be tempting, but can quickly lead the negotiation toward an argument or impasse.  

4. Identify Black Swans

A black swan—something rare that has a great impact on the negotiation—is a valuable piece of information, large or small, that can dramatically change the direction of the conversation and by extension, the outcome. There are at least three black swans in every negotiation. Discovering this closely guarded, or sometimes blind information, gives you an advantage as you continue toward the bargaining phase.

5. Slow Down to Speed Up

Slow down the negotiating process. When you reduce your urgency, you’re sending signals to your counterpart that you’re not desperate to settle (or at least you’re less desperate than they are). Take your time in the rapport building process. You know what your objective is and it will always be there. Don’t be in a hurry to get to it. The first 80-90% of your conversation is about deference. It’s not about you. It’s about them. You cannot rush demonstrating this. Delaying to save time may feel like taking the long route, but it’s often the fastest road to gaining trust-based influence.

6. Be Willing to Use No

Use the power of “no” in the negotiation process. Prepare “no-oriented questions” ahead of time—inquiries that are designed to elicit a “No” response. Providing the counterpart with an opportunity to say “No” to something you want a “Yes” to gives them protection. They feel safe because their autonomy is not threatened. “Yes” is a commitment. It’s an obligation, and generally speaking, we hate being obligated. This tactic is difficult but useful. In addition, there will come times when you need to say “No”.  Remember these tips:

  • Forced empathy: Asking “how” questions and using a bit of deference to make your counterpart feel in control
  • Tone of voice: Using effective pauses and a tone that sounds serious and in control can help get the other person talking
  • Emotional Intelligence: influence based on management of your and the counterpart(s) emotions

In a hostage situation, leverage can mean the difference between life and death. Similarly, in a business negotiation, the amount of perceived leverage can mean life or death of an important deal or transaction. There are reasons behind your counterpart being at the negotiating table, and once you discover those reasons, you have leverage.

Want to learn more? For in-depth, personalized negotiation training for businesses, check out our program options.