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The Secret Superpowers of Great Negotiators


Jim Anderson, Ph.D.

January/February 2011, eSide Supply Management Vol. 4, No. 1

Developing a handful of not-so-superhuman aptitudes can help you get more of what you want from your next negotiation.

Imagine you are sitting down to start your next negotiation. What secret superpowers would you need to ensure a positive outcome? Mind-reading abilities? Mind-control powers? X-ray vision?

Well, barring a freakish accident that transforms you overnight from a procurement specialist into a superhero, you will need a different approach.

What's Their Motivation?

In the absence of mind-reading abilities, you must try to assume the other side of the table's mind-set. This lets you understand what they might be thinking — and, therefore, how they will probably negotiate with you.

One of the most important pieces of information you will need to ascertain is what motivates the other party most. When you are trying to imagine what drives them in the negotiation, think beyond the obvious. The more value that motivation has to the other side, the more likely they will be to reach a deal with you.

Getting to "Yes" By Saying "No"

As useful as mind control would be during a negotiation, you do not have that superpower. But, with careful preparation, you can set the stage for a yes by telling the other party no. When done correctly, saying no actually helps control the other side's reaction by driving them closer to the goal you hope to achieve.

Saying no isn't as simple as just uttering the word, though; there are thousands of ways to say it. For example, silence is a very powerful way of saying no. Saying nothing — merely considering — sends a powerful message to the other side of the table.

The power of no is pretty simple: If you've been saying it for awhile, when you say yes to even the smallest concession, the other side will probably be surprised and gratified. So, use the power of saying no to your negotiating advantage.

Zero In on the Decision-Maker

During a negotiation, X-ray vision would let you take a peek at the other party's notes to better predict their negotiation strategy. Unless you're Superman, you don't have this superpower, either. You can, however, do a pretty good job of emulating it.

The key to uncovering the other side's strategy is simple: Ask who the true decision-maker is, and make sure he or she is sitting at the table. The person (or people) sitting across from you might not have the final say. If you can figure out who does, it's like having the ability to read the other side's notes and strategies. How?

Super Powers: Business man & woman in masks & cape.

In my experience, the person who controls the budget used to implement whatever agreement you reach is the true decision-maker. Additionally, most organizations only allow employees at the director level or beyond to enter into binding legal agreements.

Taking the time to understand who will benefit — and who won't — from reaching a negotiation agreement is important. It also lowers the odds that you'll experience pushback from left field. It's not quite the same as having X-ray vision, but it is close.

Supply Management Superhero Responsibilities

Who said being a supply management superhero would be easy? Having the ability to read minds, influence how those on the other side of the table think, and activate your X-ray vision aren't that difficult to emulate for negotiation purposes.

Even so, remember that with negotiation superpowers comes great responsibility. You should be able to get what you want more easily in your next negotiation — but, be sure to use your superpowers for good, not evil. In the end, every negotiation involves some elements of compromise.

Jim Anderson, Ph.D.

Jim Anderson, Ph.D. is the president of Blue Elephant Consulting in Tampa, Florida. To reach this author, please send an e-mail to

For more negotiation tools and tactics, visit the ISM articles database.

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