How to Get Your Way in a Negotiation

Know who’s across the table from you — and who’s not, but should be. Adapt your plan to get them what they want, and you'll get your way.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #446

You have the world’s best proposal. But the people you’re giving it to won’t accept its brilliance. You know there has to be something you can say to someone to get your deal through the door. Genius alone won’t cut it. You need to make your sale a win for everyone.

Know Who the Real Decision-Maker Is

Of course by everyone, I mean everyone in charge of accepting your proposal. Your first step should be to find the real decision-maker in the room. But looks can be deceiving, and so can behavior. The person who speaks eighty percent of the time might only hold twenty percent of the power. Pitching to them might send you down a wormhole, never to emerge. The decision-maker might also get annoyed by you ignoring them. BOOM! Deal dead! That’s why it’s crucial to find the real decision-maker as soon as you can.

Say you own an interstellar junkyard in a galaxy far, far away. You want to sell spare spaceship parts to the Rebel Alliance. You sit down for a holographic meeting with some loud-mouth, scruffy-looking guy and a woman with two buns in her hair who calls herself a princess. You aren’t sure at first who the decision-maker is.

So you decide to ask a few rapport-building questions that might give you some clue. You start with: “So, how long have you two been with the Alliance?”

Scruff boy immediately jumps in: “I only started fighting for the rebels a few weeks ago. I’m a rogue pilot and thought I could make more money with the Alliance than the Empire.”

In a more collected tone, the princess says: “I’ve been committed to leading the rebel forces my entire life. I’ve risked everything I have for over twenty years to make sure the Alliance runs smoothly and carries out my orders. Plus, I’m royalty and have total authority over the sourcing for spare spaceship parts.”

Clearly, the decision-maker is the princess. Start your pitch with questions that might yield clues to the real decision maker. Once you know who wears the pantsuit in the relationship, you can adapt your pitch to them.

Make the Decision-Maker Win Personally

Most decision-makers speak for a group. And the best, most mature ones put the needs of the group above their own. (Wow, I said that with a straight face. There really aren’t such people. Those people are either torn to shreds by the psychopathic ladder-climbers, or they abandon their morals to become psychopathic ladder-climbers themselves.) 

But even those pure souls like a deal that helps them personally, too. If you know what the decision-maker wants for themselves, in addition to what helps their team, you can craft an offer they can’t possibly refuse.

The princess is waiting for you to begin. You start by asking, “We want this deal to be a win for everyone. How can we make it a big win for you, in your own life, as well?”

The princess replies: “I have a care package I want to send home, and no way to deliver it. It’s nothing special. Just a few recipes, some holiday photos, a bottle of Alderaan Ruge Liqueur, and the plans to defeat a moon-sized planet-destroying weapon.”

“Well, then. Why don’t we add that care package to the first delivery of spare parts?”

Every hope or pain the decision-maker mentions is a chance for your plan to make their life better. Listen to what the decision-maker has to say and tweak your plan accordingly.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.