6 Tips for Negotiating with Someone More Powerful Than You

Jul 21, 2014 - Joe Matar
When you’re negotiating with someone who has more sway than you, it’s an understatement to say it can be intimidating. It may seem like fighting an uphill battle, even defending opinions, services or products you passionately believe in. Fortunately, you can prepare yourself ahead of time and use strategies during the negotiation to help you come out on top. Here are six ways to avoid looking like a deer caught in headlights during your meeting -- and maybe even get what you want. (Click here to tweet this list.)

1. Stay calm

Feeling nervous is a natural reaction to intimidation. This is understandable, especially if this meeting is an important one -- say, an annual review where you’d like to fight for a pay raise or a round of funding that could make or break your dream venture. Remember: The people you speak to may be more powerful than you, but you’ve earned a right to their presence. Our thoughts can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you continually tell others, “I’m really nervous about this meeting,” you’ll be nervous. If you instead say, “I’m a little nervous, but I know I will make a great argument,” you’ll be surprised how much more successful you’ll be. Don’t think of yourself as not worth their time or attention, or that’s what you’ll be.

2. Prepare excessively

Preparation should be your mantra. It’s better to be over-prepared for a meeting with a superior or powerful colleague than it is to be under-prepared. Doing your homework allows you to make a more knowledgeable first impression, create better counterarguments and feel more at ease during the negotiation process. If you’ve adequately prepared, you can predict the other side’s objections ahead of time and back yourself up with facts. If you prepare for every eventuality, you’re less likely to leave money or other benefits on the table.

3. Be an optimist

One of the worst things you can do is negotiate against yourself. Understand what you, your services or your mission is worth, and don’t undersell or second guess yourself. Aim high, and you won’t be disappointed when you meet somewhere in the middle. There are many examples of this strategy working in the salary negotiation world. In some cases, employees have negotiated higher salaries, such as Henry, who negotiated himself to a $120k salary from an underpaid $60k one in a project management role. These success stories are real -- but they require determination, a strong understanding of market value and the optimism to aim high.

4. Focus on the other side’s needs

Stop obsessing over your needs, and take a look at the other side’s. They’re in it for themselves; they have specific needs that must be met, and if you can show how you can meet those needs, it’ll be far easier for them to make a positive decision. HydroWorx is by no stretch of the imagination the only company that provides aquatic therapy pools, but they cater to a star-studded client list that includes NFL teams, NASA, Navy Seals and NBC’s Biggest Loser, because they know how to meet their needs.

5. Listen

How will you know what needs must be met if you don’t listen in the first place? Instead of talking over the other side to make your piece known, you’ll command far greater respect if you practice good listening skills. The key to negotiation is knowing what questions to ask. Throw out the right questions -- preferably probing, open-ended ones -- and you’ll know how to respond.

You can always walk away

It doesn’t matter how powerful the person you’re negotiating with is; it’s important to be able to walk away. Not to say you should, but the option should be there. If you’re unwilling to walk away, the desperation will show in your communication, and your opponent will have the upper hand. Negotiate with options, and you’ll be able to make a strong case. When you follow these six essential negotiation techniques, you’re more likely to achieve your goals. Even if you aren’t as powerful as your opponent, you have value to offer and a case to make. Stay strong and optimistic, keep your ears open and never forget the option to walk away. Savannah Marie is a social media enthusiast and writer from New York. Read her blog and laugh at her tweets.