Three Ways to Increase Your Influence in Negotiation

By Chuck Doran and Megan Winkeler

When we teach people about influence in negotiation, we often begin with a short exercise: pick up a pen and try to sell it to someone within one minute. Then we ask participants to think about the strategies they used. Did you spend most of the time talking? What did you talk about? What questions did you ask?

In a way, this exercise is set up for failure. You have no opportunity to research the buyer, develop a pitch, or build rapport. However, it highlights the common pitfalls people fall prey to when trying to influence someone.

When we run this exercise in our negotiation workshops, most sellers spend the full minute talking about what makes the pen great. All the focus is on trying to convince the buyer to buy the pen rather than learning more about what the buyer wants and needs.

Increasing your influence in negotiation takes time and practice, but an easy way to improve your skills is to focus less on how you are going to pitch the decision maker and more on what you can learn about the other person. Here are few pieces of advance you can easily implement:

If you want to change someone’s mind, understand what’s in their mind first.

Before drafting a pitch about what sets your product apart or makes your idea perfect for your department, spend time learning about the wants, needs, goals, fears, and desires of the decision maker. In negotiation lingo, we call these interests, and they are what drives a person’s position and actions in a negotiation.

Your objective isn’t to respond to each individual interest. You are aiming to listen carefully and get a more comprehensive view of what they want and need. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason – use them proportionally. Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to drive the conversation, and make it your goal to listen more than you talk.

This approach allows you to shift from pitching your idea or product to facilitating a conversation focused on the person you’re hoping to influence. Ask questions early and often, listen for interests before responding, and use that information to have a conversation about how you can meet the decision maker’s needs.

Invest in the relationship.

If you just met someone and have no prior relationship, how can you signal that you want to work towards a long term, mutually beneficial relationship? You can start by explicitly stating your goal. Many negotiators overlook this step, jumping directly into the terms of an agreement or addressing the buyer’s concerns. However, this simple statement helps define your goal for the relationship, and you can increase its power by following through with your actions:

  • Be trustworthy: Make small commitments and follow through on them to display a pattern of trustworthy behavior. Even something as small as calling the potential client exactly when you say you will begins to build trust;
  • Identify offers that are low cost to you and high value to them: After asking lots of questions and identifying their interests, you can extend offers specifically tailored to their wants and needs. Doing this early shows that you are serious about your goal to make this a deal that works for them as much as it works for you:
  • If they say no, negotiate your relationship moving forward: Circumstances and needs change, and this person might be more interested your idea, product, or service at a later time. Before walking away, set up a time to revisit your conversation, or at least make sure they know that you’re still interested and available.

Understand not just what but who influences someone.

College football recruiters know that the best way to influence a potential recruit is through his parents, and they spend almost as much time trying to recruit them as they do the player himself. Utilize the same strategy by not only researching people you are selling to but also the influencers in their lives.

Map the relationships that are important to this person. Who does the decision maker listen to, and are these people supportive of your goal? If so, are there ways you can influence them instead? A great example of this occurs in the hiring process. If you aren’t hearing back from a hiring manager, you can network to identify someone the hiring manager is more likely to respond to who is willing to refer your application.

If you identify an influencer who is not supportive of your goal, find creative ways to meet their needs alongside the decision maker’s needs. If the decision maker has a boss pushing her to keep costs down this quarter, you can offer a payment plan with lower up front costs or some other package that makes the purchase more agreeable to the boss as well as the decision maker.

If you want more advice on how to increase your influence with customers, coworkers, and other people in your life, check out MWI’s workshop Influence Without Authority or contact Chuck Doran  for more information about how you can benefit from this and other custom training programs at 617-895-4026 or cdoran@mwi.org.

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