It’s easy to despair when you’re bargaining with someone who appears to hold all the cards. Yet, as Ed Brodow, creator of the Negotiation Boot Camp Seminars, writes in Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals, even in a situation like this self-confidence can make you a strong negotiator.
Brodow goes beyond this platitude to offer useful advice about how to negotiate with a seemingly more powerful opponent. This includes:
- Figure out the limits to your opponent’s strength: Brodow once reported to a national sales manager who, in his eyes, was psychotic. The manager regularly threatened subordinates, took clandestine photos with a spy camera and tried to coerce Brodow’s secretary into providing evidence that Brodow was incompetent. But, while everyone else reporting to the manager ran scared, Brodow realized the worst the man could do was to fire him. So he laid out to the manager’s superior evidence of how much damage the man was doing to the company, then invited the superior to choose between firing Brodow or the manager. The superior axed the psycho.
- Get the other side to commit to the negotiations: A smart seller will always try to get the buyer to agree that he loves the seller’s product, so he’ll be more committed to making a deal. If you can convince the other negotiator to expend a lot of time and effort in the negotiation, you’ll increase his stake in reaching an agreement. He’ll find it tougher to walk away from a deal and will therefore be more open to offering concessions.
- Use your opponent’s impatience: If you sense she’s in a hurry to wrap things up, you can gain the upper hand simply by taking your time. We’re often impatient for fear that if we don’t agree quickly the deal will evaporate, but that’s usually not true. If you start to feel impatient, take a deep breath and let the other person become anxious instead. Whoever is more flexible about time has the advantage.
- Back up your bargaining positioning by citing an authority: Most people bow to the authority of law or custom. Use that to your advantage by calling upon a widely accepted source of legitimacy, for example, that a practice is the norm in your industry, that it’s your company’s policy, that there’s a precedent for it or that it’s supported by expert opinion. But don’t cave in to such an argument if the other guy makes it.
- Turn your weakness into strength: If you’re in a seemingly powerless position, ask for your opponent’s help and guidance. Play dumb, like Detective Columbo in the 1970s TV series. Give your opponent a chance to show off by demonstrating how smart they are, then use the information they reveal to your advantage.