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The Right Way to Use Leverage in a Negotiation

By |March 02, 2020

There’s a fundamental mindset problem with trying to gain negotiation leverage: You’re trying to take advantage of the other side or the situation at hand to the detriment of your counterparts.

The reality is that the other side can feel it when you’re trying to leverage your position. It’s very apparent. No matter how slick you think you are, it’s no secret. The other side will always pick up on the fact that you’re trying to use leverage on them, and they won’t like it.

Do you really think people are going to be happy working with you knowing that you’re trying to take advantage of where they’re sitting?negotiation leverage

What Negotiation Leverage Really Is

Most people think of leverage the wrong way.

When it comes to negotiation leverage, that leverage is really based on trust and understanding. It’s about using trust and understanding to create a deal that wouldn’t be made any other way.

Doing this requires: 

People only trust others when they feel they understand them. When you accurately summarize the other side’s position, you’ve allowed them to take the floor. Not only have they spoken their minds to get their points across, but you’ve also proven that you understand where they’re coming from by reiterating their position.

If you want to use negotiation leverage effectively, do not move the conversation forward assuming the other side knows you understand their position. Rather, you need to be able to articulate why they came to the table in the first place.

When you summarize the other side’s position thoroughly, you’ll arrive at the two words that should be music to your ears: that’s right.

The Wrong Way to Think About Negotiation Leverage

Real leverage is in the ability to obtain information that may have been purposefully hidden from you or information that no one else can get. It’s not about being in a higher position or having more money than someone else. In fact, that’s the kind of leverage that builds animosity.

If someone feels like you have an upper hand on them, they are literally counting the moments until they can get the upper hand back. And that’s not a dynamic you want to create in a negotiation at all.

On the flip side, when you make it so that the other side understands that you know every aspect of why they’re at the table in the first place, great things will happen. You’ll know that you’ve gotten to this point when you hear phrases like that’s right and that’s exactly it—said with enthusiasm. 

When you hear those words, you’re gaining leverage in the sense of how we define tactical empathy.

Gaining Negotiation Leverage When You Don’t Understand Something

Let’s say you’ve gotten a you’re right or a simple yes—that’s probably true. That’s a very wishy-washy response. That’s the other side telling you that there are still things in play that you don’t understand.

Labels can help here, too: It seems like there’s something I missed or It seems like there’s more here that we’re not addressing. 

You can also ask a question: Would you disagree? or Would you say that’s inaccurate? can help. It’s applying the same label format to a no-oriented question.

If you can’t get a true that’s right from the other side, you don’t have leverage, you don’t have trust, and you don’t have true cooperation.

Let the Negotiation Leverage Work on Your Behalf

When you establish real trust, the other side will lay the deal out for you. It’s really that simple. There’s no point in bargaining because they’ve seen the real value and will want to get the deal done.

It sounds insane because that’s not the way negotiation is designed to work in the classic sense. But with the right approach, the other side will do the work for you. Trust us.

At the same time, if the other side isn’t willing to take the extra step to get the ball rolling, then there are still things you’re not understanding.

If you’ve never experienced your counterpart doing some of the work for you, that means you’re off track in your conversations. When you find yourself forcing the issue at the end or feeling frustrated, that’s an indicator that you need to back up a little bit and reset.

To do that, say something like this: Would you be offended if we restarted that certain aspect of our conversation?

The bottom line: Aim to achieve genuine trust and understanding. Don’t aim to make a deal. When you’ve achieved genuine trust from the other side, the road to the finish line is going to be way easier than you ever expected it to be.

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