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How To Recognize Weakness or Strength During Negotiations

By |February 13, 2017

strengths-weaknesses-sized.jpgIndividual “signals” can be faked. “Signals” are choices of words, changes in tone of voice, body language changes (“flinches”) or things often referred to as “tells” .

So, you’re really looking to triangulate signals.  This means you want to find  usually about 3 signals, hence the term “triangulation”, pointing in the same direction to give you a pretty solid indicator of where they stand.  

Here’s what to look for:

The “F” Word

“We just want what’s fair.”    “We’ve given you a fair offer.”

No one uses the term “fair” to get what they want if they have legitimate, solid, criteria based justification.  If they had it, they’d use it. The use of the "f" word is a clear sign of weakness on your counterpart's side. 


Pinocchio Effect

One of our favorite clients always mirrors the other side’s positions.  A Black Swan Group mirror is repeating the last 1-3 words someone has just said, or a selected 1-3 words, usually with an upward – question sounding – inflection.

Your mirror has to be followed by an effective pause.  Let them fill the silence.  Count “one-one thousands” to yourself if you have to.  You’ll never get past “seven one thousand”.

After you mirror pay attention to:  what words they choose and how many.

There’s something called the “Pinocchio Effect” when it comes to telling the truth.  The more words someone uses; the harder they are trying to “convince” you; the more that correlates with lying and weakness of position. Since they know they’re lying, they worry, so they try harder to be believable.

Recognizing Feelings of Strength

When people feel rock solid about their position or what they’re saying, they tend to say less.  They’re more direct.  They “know” they’re telling the truth, it seems self-evident to them, so why work too hard to convince you?  If you’re not smart enough to believe them, it’s your fault.

This approach is often misread as “they’re trying to intimidate us” and people will react negatively out of ego.


Use of Pronouns

Smart negotiators who have a lot of decision making authority will tend to us plural pronouns a lot (“us” “we” “our team” “the board”) to reduce the perception of their importance.  They don’t want to be backed into a corner and forced to decide at the negotiating table so they are always referring to those who aren’t present.  This buys them time.

Negotiators who love the use of singular pronouns (“I” “me” “my”) are less influential on their side.  Their ego is a little hurt by their own real lack of power and using these terms in the negotiation is likely the only place they get to do so.


Get any “yes” 3 times in the same conversation.  This is a Jim Camp “Start With No” concept.  An easy way to do this is label, mirror, and paraphrase their “yes” and the words that go with it.

Why is 3+ important?  There’s 3 kinds of “Yes”. Confirmation, commitment, and  counterfeit. Since people are normally so happy to hear “yes” at all (of course not if you’ve read “Never Split The Difference”) that those who deceive us are only used to delivering it once.  They’ll flinch hard on the 2nd time they have to say it in a row.  Watch for a look away or a change in voice.  You’ll be astounded at the number of times you’ll get a flinch.

To sum up, triangulate your signals to find weaknesses and strengths by looking for:

  • Use of the “F” Word - a "fair offer" with no justifcation shows weakness 
  • The Pinocchio Effect - more convincing indicates weakness
  • Use of Personal Pronouns  - plural pronouns indicate strength while singular pronouns indicate weakness
  • 3+ - Hesitation on any of the  3 yeses indicates a problem

Take your time.  Make great deals!