Two people trying to win a negotiation, shaking hands by a cityscape.

Do you know how to win a negotiation? Does your negotiation partner want to be the only winner?

Herb Cohen contends that sometimes, it won’t be possible to craft a win-win negotiation. When you suspect someone wants to be the only one who wins, it’s time for you to step up and take the win yourself.

Let’s look at five tips that’ll help you win a negotiation.

Negotiation Tips Coming Out on Top

When you’re negotiating with people who stubbornly cling to this win-lose mindset, you may have no choice but to try to beat them at their own game. To do this, you must learn strategies and psychological tricks that allow you to get as much from the other negotiator as you can while conceding as little as possible.

Cohen argues that even if you morally object to practicing some of these techniques, learning about them will help protect you against them. When you’re aware of the tricks an opposing negotiator is trying to pull on you, you’ll be able to avoid being swindled.

(Shortform note: In Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell warns that it’s possible to take this mindset too far. Although it’s helpful to be aware when someone is trying to manipulate you, remaining in constant suspicion of those around you will alienate them, preventing you from building trust. For this reason, the vast majority of people assume by default that others are being truthful and honest, even when it sometimes comes back to bite them.)

Exploit Aggressive Negotiators’ Weaknesses

In Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss contends that aggressive negotiators who stubbornly cling to win-lose tactics possess unique weaknesses that more balanced negotiators don’t. To beat them at their own game, you must learn how to exploit these weaknesses.

For one, win-lose negotiators are often less willing to walk away from a negotiation than anyone else, since they see the inability to make a deal as a personal failure. This means that if you see through their tactics, you can pressure them into making more concessions than other negotiators, especially if they have a strict deadline for their deal.

Additionally, Voss asserts that this type of aggressive negotiator is typically ego-driven. For this reason, when they feel like they’re the one primarily controlling the flow of negotiation, they’re more likely to listen and barter with you. To give them the impression that they’re in control, echo their statements back to them. This shows that you’ve allowed them to shape how you view the situation.

Here are several tips on how to win a negotiation.

Tip #1: Project Confidence

Cohen explains that the person who has more power in a given negotiation always wins. Power, however, is situational: If someone needs you to accomplish a specific goal, you have power over them in that situation. For this reason, you can win any negotiation by convincing the other party that they need you to fulfill their desires more than you need them to fulfill yours.

The key to conveying your power in negotiation is projecting confidence, says Cohen. To estimate how much power you have in a given situation, people largely rely on their instinctual impressions of how you look and behave. The more confident you are, the more power other people will believe you have, and the more they’ll believe they need to concede for you to give them what they want.

To cultivate feelings of confidence, you must truly believe that you don’t need the other negotiator as much as they need you, according to Cohen. To do this, you have to recognize that you have a surplus of other options available—alternative ways of fulfilling your desires to use if the other negotiator offers you a bad deal. Boost your confidence before entering any negotiation by surveying the options at your disposal, and avoid negotiation at all costs if you don’t have a wide array of other options.

For instance, if you’re about to negotiate the cost of renovations to your house with a local contractor, you should refresh your memory of the other options at your disposal: You could ask your friends for referrals to other contractors, delay the renovations for several months, or even do some of the necessary labor yourself. Knowing that the contractor needs your business more than you need their labor, you can project the confidence necessary to get a better deal.

Tip #2: Inflate Your Value, Deflate Their Value

It doesn’t matter how much value each negotiating party has to offer. What matters is how much each side believes the offerings are worth, says Cohen. Thus, you can get a better deal if you can convince the other negotiator that what you’re offering is worth more than it really is, or that what their offering is worth less than it is.

For instance, imagine you own a fast-food franchise location and want to sell it to a local entrepreneur. You could inflate your restaurant’s value by giving away free desserts to customers on the day you give the potential buyer a tour, so the restaurant is busier than it typically is. Likewise, the purchasing entrepreneur could get a better price by deflating your restaurant’s value—for instance, by purchasing online bots to publish negative reviews on your Yelp page.

(Shortform note: Although it may seem dishonest to convince the other party your offerings are worth more and theirs are worth less, this isn’t necessarily deception because all economic value is subjective. The price of any product or service reflects the amount of subjective value buyers place on it, rather than any intrinsic quality of goodness or usefulness. If you can make the other party feel like they’re getting a good deal, then from their subjective point of view, they are.)

One way to inflate your offering’s value is by generating competition for it. Cohen suggests that if you have something truly valuable to sell, entertain as many buyers as possible, in a way that’s obvious to everyone you negotiate with. If the other negotiator sees that many people want what you have, it’ll seem more valuable and they’ll give you more for it. Don’t just give one potential buyer a tour of your restaurant—lead a whole tour group of potential buyers.

(Shortform note: Arguably, the main reason this strategy is so effective is because human beings are wired to mirror the actions of those around them in conditions of uncertainty. We do this because most of the time, this mental shortcut serves us well. For example, if you’re in a crowded street and everyone starts running in the same direction, it’s probably because there’s something dangerous coming, and you should run too. Likewise, when you see many other people around you in competition to buy something, your first instinct is that it must be worth buying.)

Tip #3: Discover Your Opponent’s Negotiation Ceiling (and Hide Yours)

Cohen explains that in win-lose negotiation, each party has a negotiation ceiling: the maximum amount they’re willing to sacrifice in exchange for what they want without abandoning the deal. The goal is to discover the other party’s true ceiling so you can get them to concede everything they’re willing to part with—while hiding your true ceiling so they can’t do the same to you.

Generally, any information about either party is a clue—big or small—about their negotiation ceiling. Thus, win-lose negotiators try to reveal as little as possible about themselves and the situation they’re in. For example, if you’re looking to sell a fast-food franchise location, you would want to hide the fact that you’re moving into a more affordable house because you can’t pay your mortgage. If you even make an offhand comment about how your kids are about to go to college, it could hint to opposing negotiators that you’re strapped for cash.

To maintain an information advantage, Cohen recommends making the other party do as much of the talking as possible.

Tip #4: Leverage Sunk Cost

According to Cohen, another reason it helps to be patient in negotiation is that the more time the other negotiator spends trying to make a deal with you, the less likely they are to walk away. Cohen explains that when someone has already spent a considerable amount of time and energy talking with you, failing to make a deal would mean they wasted it all. To avoid the pain of wasting this sunk cost, most negotiators will accept a lesser deal instead of walking. Thus, the longer you can extend the negotiation process, the better chance you have of getting a good deal.

(Shortform note: You can get suckered into making a bad deal because you feel you’ve sunk time and energy into negotiation, too. How can you avoid this? Train yourself to think in terms of costs and benefits across your entire life rather than the costs and benefits of an individual negotiation. For example, it may feel bad to pass on a house after you’ve been in negotiations to buy it for several months, and you’ve already spent $2,000 for an appraisal and other fees. However, if the home seller is truly offering you a bad deal, you can motivate yourself to walk away by broadening your view and thinking about the cheaper houses you can probably get elsewhere—saving much more than $2,000.)

Getting the other party to sink time and energy into a negotiation unlocks some new tactics for getting what you want, says Cohen: First, you can bring the negotiation process to a swift close by giving them an ultimatum. Make a single demand, and let the other party know that you’re going to walk away if they don’t give it to you. If the ultimatum is reasonable enough and the other side’s sunk cost is great enough, they’ll accept.

(Shortform note: When someone gives you an ultimatum, how should you respond? Experts warn not to accept the ultimatum at face value. Often, negotiators who pose ultimatums are pretending that they’re out of options—they want you to believe that if you say no, the deal will fall through. However, by researching the opposing negotiator and familiarizing yourself with the options that are really at their disposal, you can ignore ultimatums and continue negotiating. This is effective because sunk cost cuts both ways: People who offer ultimatums have sunk time and energy in the negotiation as well, and they don’t want to leave with nothing.)

Second, you can use the nibble: Cohen explains that this is when you throw in another small demand at the last second of the negotiation process—often, after the main deal has already been agreed upon by both sides. If the other party has a large sunk cost, they’re likely to give in. For example, if you’re buying an expensive custom-built computer, you could wait until the seller is finished building it, then ask for a free keyboard and mouse the day you go and pick it up. Since they’ve spent so much time and money building the computer for you, they’ll likely give in to this little extra demand rather than scrap the deal.

(Shortform note: While “the nibble” is the most common name for this negotiation tactic, it’s also known as the “quivering quill” because you pose your final demand when the other person has lifted the pen to sign the agreement. If a negotiator you expect to deal with again tries this tactic on you, think carefully before giving in, even if it’s a concession you would have accepted earlier on. If you teach your opponent that they can get away with last-minute demands, they’ll needle you for a little more every time you negotiate with them in the future.)

Tip #5: Manipulate Their Emotions

Last, Cohen notes that negotiators in the win-lose mindset can profit from emotional manipulation. That is, you do anything you can to evoke a specific emotional reaction from the other party that will help you get your way.

Often, this strategy involves playing up emotions you don’t really feel or outright lying to the other negotiator. For instance, if your roof gets destroyed by a falling tree and the insurance adjuster isn’t giving you a high enough settlement, you could start crying fake tears to get them to offer more money.

Another popular form of emotional manipulation is the implied threat—to make the other party give in to your demands out of fear that you’ll somehow hurt them. According to Cohen, if you keep your threat implied and vague rather than specific, your opponent will imagine that you’re willing and capable of doing much worse to them than you really are.

How to Win a Negotiation: 5 Tips for a Win-Lose Deal

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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