How To Negotiate When You Have No Leverage

If they’re talking to you, you have leverage. Who has the leverage in a kidnapping? As crazy as it sounds, it’s the people negotiating on behalf of the victim. After all, where else are the kidnappers going to go to get a ransom.

Can you apply this to your negotiations? Absolutely. Here’s how. And it’s a version of what we did to every kidnapper on the planet: terrorists, criminals, crazies, and sociopaths.

  1. Sprinkle Magic Dust On Them – Trigger “That’s Right” 
  2. Become Skynet – Change The Future to Change The Present
  3. Become A Jedi – The Calibrated “No”

This article will delve into each of these sections and also include links to some of our articles to goes into each with more depth if you’d like. Study up and rock it for your best chance of success! 

Sprinkle The Magic Dust – Trigger “That’s Right”

Why do sociopaths like empathy? Because it gets them what they want. Daniel Goleman calls it “Cognitive Empathy” and says it’s what sociopaths are best at!

How do you know when you’ve applied it? When you trigger a “that’s right” response from your counter-part, the person you’re working to influence. It’s like sprinkling magic dust on them.

The key to getting a “that’s right” will be to summarize your counterpart’s thoughts and feelings about their position so fully that the only thing they can say is “that’s right.” It’s especially important to summarize how they would say something that’s critical of you. Do this without agreement or disagreement. Do it without denials. Example of doing it wrong? – “I don’t want you to think...”

This article – How To Negotiate A Higher Salary – focuses on the magic of “that’s right” in salary negotiations. The top performers among you will see the parallels and begin applying it in all your communications.

A final tip here: You’ve got to understand “that’s right” is not “you’re right,” which may be what you’re used to driving for. “You’re right” is the kiss of death. Its what people say to get someone to shut-up & happily go away. Is that what you want people to be telling you?


Become Skynet – Change The Future To Change The Present

Let’s do a reverse Skynet (from all the “Terminator” movies) and instead of changing the present to change the future, let’s experiment with the idea that the vision of the future is what governs what we do today. So…let’s affect how people see how what we propose is going to turn out?

Let’s use “how” to reframe their thinking. 

“How is this going to enable me to get you what you want?”
“How is doing that going to make sure we are successful together in the future?”
“How can I be guaranteed to be involved in projects critical to your future success?”
“If I’m not taken care of, how can I get you what you want?”
Tom Girardi is a master of influence and negotiation.

Year after year, Tom is voted the top trial attorney in California. He once guest lectured at the “Negotiation & Deal-making” course I taught at USC. In every negotiation role-play he did with my students, he immediately reframed the conflict into some form of: “How can we work this out so that you and I are successful together in the future?”

It was brilliant. Every time Tom asked that question it took the edge off of the attack and turned his counter-part from an adversary to a collaborator. He also used a smile and a gentle demeanor. This approach went perfectly with the advice he gave of “The key to negotiation is to be nice and gentle.”

I was once at a private dinner where Tom was the featured guest. One of the attendees asked him in the Q & A, “Tom, where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

His answer? “Right here with all of you celebrating the successes we’ve had together.”


Become A Jedi – The Calibrated “No.”

A calibrated “no” is worth at least 5 “yeses.” Time after time, when my team and people we’ve coached elicit a “no” in a calibrated manner, our negotiations jump ahead about 5 moves. Every time.

One of our students at Georgetown was in a job negotiation and sought some coaching. We told him to write down every question he could think of to ask where the answer was “no,” and that “no” favored him.

You can do this yourself by flipping the attorney’s approach on its head. An attorney will try to make a case by asking a series of questions where the answer is “yes.” This always leads to a position that serves them. Some refer to this also as the “Yes-Momentum,” “Momentum Selling,” “Cornering” or even “Mere Agreement.” It’s always a trap.

The utterly insane thing is that when you flip your questions to get a “no” instead of a “yes,” people feel safe and in control! They then think 5 steps ahead!

Switch your “yes” to “no” by putting in the front of the question: “Would ____ be a bad/ridiculous idea?” or “Are you against…?”

What happened to the student who was in the job negotiation with his “no” questions? They had to go the company CFO to get special permission to give him a higher salary than they originally intended.

Read this for – 3 Ways To Make “No” Work For You

Study up for your success! The Black Swan Group wants you to succeed!

About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.