Why do some people seem more persuasive than others? The ability to gain influence in a negotiation doesn’t have to do with your personality or how naturally charismatic you are. The secret to getting what you want goes far beyond your height, complexion, or number of degrees. Improving influence surpasses book knowledge and IQ. Reading the circumstance below the surface is key. Here lies 5 examples of how to get better at using methods of persuasion.
1. Be Mindful of Sequence
Effective negotiation occurs in three phases. The first phase is all about gathering information and building a relationship. It revolves around establishing an understanding and earning your counterpart’s trust. The second phase involves taking what you’ve learned and managing their perceptions of loss and fairness. It isn’t until the third phase when a deal finally begins to take shape. In phase three, your primary focus should be on implementation.
Too often, we forget that this process is sequential. We’re so focused on proving our value that we blindly skip ahead to stage three without first building a relationship, demonstrating an understanding and addressing the pictures in our counterpart’s head. In other words, we don’t create the foundation for influence.
It’s almost impossible to persuade someone to change their mind or alter their behavior if you haven’t first made them feel understood. And you can’t truly understand someone if you haven’t taken the time to sound them out, listening to all the information they’re giving you (both verbal and nonverbal). What is your intuition telling you?
2. Gather Information and Build Trust
As a rule, people aren’t inclined to trust when they’re being talked at. Rather than launching into a monologue about your ideal solution, your challenges, or the value you think you can provide, shift your attention to the relationship at hand. At its core, negotiation is an exercise in relationship building. In phase one of that process, focus on answering two questions:
How can you get your counterpart to think about out loud in front of you?
How can you earn their trust and convince them to meet with you again?
Using a mirror is a great way to encourage your counterpart to expand on what they’ve said and show that you’ve been paying attention. In addition to mirrors, use labels and summaries to demonstrate your understanding and nurture trust. As you attempt to uncover your counterpart’s perceptions, expectations, and past experiences, avoid the impulse to ask “why” questions. Despite your best intentions, asking “why” (as opposed to “how” or “what”) can come off as an attack.
3. Understand and Manage Loss
Every human decision can be broken down into perceived risk versus opportunity, loss versus gain. Everyone is scared of losing something, and that fear of loss tends to overshadow the potential benefits.
To influence a negotiation, you need to know what loss looks like for your counterpart. Employ tactical empathy, use labels, and try to paint an accurate picture of your counterpart’s perspective. When you get a “that’s right” response, you’ll know you’ve hit the nail on the head—and any resistance your counterpart has been harboring will melt away.
Once you understand your counterpart’s perception of loss, you can begin to manage how it affects the deal at hand. That said, addressing loss in the wrong way can come off as a threat or an attack on your counterpart’s autonomy (their most prized possession). So how do you inject the realization of loss into a conversation without destroying trust?
The most effective way to address loss is by asking calibrated and no-oriented questions.
- What happens if you don’t improve?
- How long are you willing to accept the status quo in the position you’re in now?
- Is it out of line to say that your team could use x?
- Would you disagree with x?
After summarizing your counterpart’s response back to them, round it out with another no-oriented question.
- Did I miss something?
- Did I get that wrong?
- Would you disagree?
When it comes to talking about loss, no-oriented questions are exceptionally effective. By inviting correction, you make it easier for your counterpart to maintain their autonomy and answer honestly. In contrast, fishing for a “yes” (by asking a question like, “Do I have that correct?”) can make your counterpart feel trapped and lead to a “counterfeit yes”—an insincere agreement meant to get you off their back.
Finally, avoid using your understanding of loss to make threats or set ultimatums. If you try to manage loss with threats, it will come back to bite you later.
4. Address Fairness
Like loss, our perceptions of fairness directly influence our ability to trust someone and hear them out. The desire to be treated fairly—and the fear of being treated unfairly—is central to negotiations. To influence your counterpart’s perceptions, you must manage fairness in relation to perceived loss and opportunity.
The best way to address fairness is by leading with it. Consider the following statement:
I want to make sure that you’re being treated fairly at all times. When you’re not, say something so that we can back up to the point where the unfairness occurred and work from there.
This approach creates a collaborative environment and prevents your counterpart from using fairness as an accusation down the road (e.g., “we’re not being given a fair deal”).
5. Tackle Implementation
If you’ve done all your work correctly, you won’t be met with resistance or counter offers in stage three. In fact, you shouldn’t need to do any persuading at all. Instead, you should spend the final phase of your negotiation addressing implementation and encouraging your counterpart to engage with the solution. Doing so will create buy-in and preemptively solve problems.
The best way to make your counterpart feel connected to the solution is by transforming them into a problem-solver. Make note of the vision they brought to the table, then make sure to address that vision and tie specific problems they’ve identified to the solution at hand. Rather than telling them that the contract should be six months long, lead them to that solution by asking, “How do you make sure you don’t regress?” and, “What are we going to put in place so that we know you’re improving?”
Asking calibrated questions can also help bring behind-the-scenes deal-killers to the negotiation table and encourage all those involved to think beyond the present moment. By asking “If … then?” or “When … what?” questions, you’ll force your counterpart to look to the future and problem-solve with you.
For more strategies and tips to get what you want out of a negotiation, download our latest e-book below.