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Gain the upper hand in negotiations

Learn how to negotiate and get the upper hand every time

Life, and business, are a series of negotiations. Whether you’re negotiating a contract for a new job, creating or dissolving a business partnership or negotiating with your spouse over who will make dinner that night, negotiation is an unavoidable – and often uncomfortable – part of life. This discomfort can make the prospect of learning negotiation tactics seem daunting unless we understand their value. 

In any type of negotiation, we all desire to give the illusion of control so we can gain the upper hand – but in order to do so, it helps to know what others are thinking and feeling. Are they walking into the negotiation feeling confident? Are they firm in their offer, or are they willing to budge? Are they happy with the offer that’s on the table? If only we knew the answers to these questions, we then could more confidently and accurately determine our next move. Understanding where the other party is coming from is central to the best negotiation tactics, which are designed to facilitate a mutually desirable outcome. 

The best negotiation tactics hinge on communication

Communication in all its forms is central to the best negotiation tactics. Effective communication allows you to assess the other party’s perspective and communicate your own diplomatically. In addition to spoken words, there are many non-verbal cues that can help you to determine what other people are thinking or how they’re feeling, even if they put on a strong poker face. In fact, our non-verbal actions speak much louder than our words. Most people would be surprised to learn that 55% of communication is non-verbal, 38% of communication is voice inflection and only 7% of communication comes from the words that we say.

To better understand what these non-verbal cues are and how they inform our negotiation tactics, we spoke to body language expert and Leadership Academy speaker, Jan Hargrave. The following list details the “top 10” best negotiation tactics to help you gain the upper hand every time. 

Top 10 best negotiation tactics

The best negotiation tactics require observing the other party while steering your interaction with them. 

1. Watch for facial expressions

Believing what a person’s facial expressions tell you is among the tried-and-true negotiation tactics. As Jan says, “If their facial expressions don’t match what they’re saying, then most likely the words that they’re saying are not genuine to them. There must be some congruence between the facial expressions and what they’re verbalizing. For example, if I say, ‘I love you,’ yet my face is angry and similar to that of someone who hates you, you would trust my face more than you would trust the words coming out of my mouth.” 

2. Assess body angle

“If someone is speaking with you, you should be square shouldered with them, and their body angle should be facing toward you – because we always point our bodies where our minds want to go. But if I’m speaking with you and my body is angled toward the door, that would indicate, ‘I want to hurry up and finish this, because I need to be somewhere else.’ People lean forward when they’re interested, and they lean away if they’re not interested. For example, if you have something that you really like, you’ll go toward it to touch it – but if it’s something you’re afraid of, you’re going to lean backwards. It’s the same thing when you’re in a negotiation with someone.”

3. Observe foot angle

Along with body language, observing the other party’s foot placement is among the time-tested negotiation tactics for understanding your opponent. Jan says, “When their foot is pointed toward you, they’re usually engaged in the conversation that they’re having with you. If their foot is not pointed toward you, and it is pointed toward the door, they want to quickly make an exit.”

4. Notice arm position

“When you look at their arms, notice if they’re crossed or uncrossed. It’s okay to casually cross arms when you’re talking to someone, but the only acceptable arm crossing is when hands and fingers are showing. When their hands and fingers are showing, it indicates that the person is in contemplation. When their arms are crossed and their hands aren’t showing at all, it’s as though they have a shield in front of themselves, protecting them from receiving your information. When someone is double-crossed closed, with both their arms crossed and their legs crossed, they’re feeling defensive and closed off to the negotiation.”

5. Keep an eye on the hands

The best negotiation tactics require keeping an eye on the other party’s hands. According to Jan, “When a person sits back, clasps his hands behind his head and leans back, that’s a negative gesture. It’s a gesture of confidence, but it’s too strong of a gesture to be done in a room of just two people. It’s equivalent to a person who has his feet up on the desk and thinking, ‘I am better than you are.’”

6. Observe the other party’s use of physical space

“The size of space you need around you while negotiating can indicate to another how much power you feel you have. For example, if you saw three limousines driving down the freeway and one is larger than the other two, you’d naturally think the most important person is in the largest of the three. So if someone is taking up a lot of space in a meeting room, it portrays the image, ‘I need all of this space because I’m going to be the one in control of the room.’ You can give the aura that you need more space by spreading your books out a little bit further than you need or by resting one of your arms on the arm of the chair that you’re sitting in. And on the flipside, if the person you’re negotiating with is taking up a lot of physical space, then you know they want control of the room.”

7. Listen more than you talk

Deep listening is one of the most valuable negotiation tactics you can cultivate, since it allows you to dig deep into the other party’s psyche. If you go into a negotiation with the intention to talk, you’re not able to discover the nuances of what the other party is hoping to gain. You also risk creating a dynamic of dominance instead of collaboration, which can shut down deliberations. By listening, you open up space for finding solutions that work for both parties. 

8. Frame the negotiation to create mutual appeal

Instead of framing the negotiation as an argument, frame it by what both parties are looking to gain, whether that’s money, publicity, time or another outcome. Your ability to frame the dialogue is one of the best negotiation tactics you can develop, since it sets the stage for a smoother dialogue that ultimately gives you the upper hand. 

9. Gain something from any concession

When you’re in deliberations, it can be tempting to cave to the other party in hopes of getting them to soften. This approach almost always backfires, since it creates the appearance that what you were asking for initially was in fact asking too much. Instead, use concessions as negotiation tactics to create leverage. If the other party wants you to drop your sale price, negotiate that you’ll do so if they sign a longer-term contract in return. This way, you’re not losing out – you’re creating pathways to a mutually-beneficial conclusion. 

10. Know when to fold

Even the best negotiation tactics fall flat when one or both parties is unwilling to reach a compromise. In deliberations and all of life, you must know when to walk away. If the other party isn’t willing to budge, or if what they’re willing to offer isn’t on par with what you need, be willing to part ways. 

Negotiation tactics are skills you can use in every area of life. Empower yourself with Tony Robbins’ Mastering Influence, your resource for becoming the best communicator and negotiator you can be.

About Jan Hargrave

Jan Hargrave is a professional speaker, distinguished lecturer, and expert in the vast world of nonverbal communication. She is the author of Let Me See Your Body Talk, Freeway of Love, Judge the Jury, and Strictly Business Body Language, Poker Face and a contributing author to The New York Post, The Forensic Examiner, In Touch Weekly and Cosmopolitan Magazine. She is the CEO of Jan Hargrave and Associates, a Houston-based consulting firm, and provides many of today’s leading corporations with seminars and specialized training.

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Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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