The Persuasive Negotiator

Edition: September 2001 - Vol 9 Number 09
Article#: 1063
Author: John O'Malley

Good negotiators desire to help all parties achieve their goals and objectives. But let's face it, they also want to gain compliance to a request. They have a better chance of doing so by considering and using six basic tendencies of human behavior:

•Reciprocation (''What goes around comes around.'')

•Consistency (''People are creatures of habit.'')

•Social validation (''United we stand, divided we fall.'')

•Liking (''Human bonding before business bonding.'')

•Authority (''He who projects authority will command the situation.'')

•Scarcity (''Supply and demand economics.'')


One of the essential tenets of human conduct is reciprocity, that is, the code that obligates individuals to repay in kind what they have received. This is why companies and salespeople give away unsolicited and perhaps even unwanted things, such as free samples or promotional items (the infamous coffee cup), free services, and subscriptions or memberships for a set period of time. Reciprocity also describes the indebtedness we feel toward those who give us something. In negotiation's give and take dynamics, for example, denial of a large concession by one party might trigger the same party to reciprocate with an equal or smaller concession.


Most people have a desire to be – or to at least appear to be – consistent to those around them. After all, we are creatures of habit. Customer loyalty is a type of consistency behavior. Getting the customer to make a verbal commitment, however insignificant, will more likely than not direct his or her future negotiating action. Next to asking for concessions, negotiators ask for commitments to move the other party nearer to agreement. Getting the other party to make a verbal commitment, especially in front of others, is a form of public commitment and works wonders toward gaining compliance.

Social Validation

With few exceptions, man is a social animal. We tend to want to do what our peers are doing. In fact, peer pressure is a strong persuader. Testimonials, research and facts are great at advancing the negotiating process because they provide social validation, that is, they show that other people are doing the same thing, believing in the same thing and wanting the same results. The more a negotiator can validate his or her claim and demands, the greater the chances of getting agreement and concession.


People like doing business with people they like. Research has shown that familiarity with a salesperson increases the chances that a prospect will buy. Celebrity spokespersons are used for just that reason. Research has also shown that a person's appearance or physical attractiveness greatly contributes to his or her success, as do similarities with other people. (Birds of a feather flock together.) The importance of praise cannot be overlooked when negotiating. Smart negotiators look for opportunities to honestly praise the other party.

The good cop/bad cop scenario takes advantage of this principle. Although one police officer appears to be mean and the other nice and on the suspect's side, they are on the same side – usually not that of the suspect. It's an old negotiating tactic, in which a person from one side quickly befriends someone from the other, and appears to work on that party's behalf. In reality, of course, he or she is leading the other side astray. Your only buddies should be sitting at your table, not theirs. People have a tendency to like those who are cooperative and appear to be helping them. Such actions enhance positive feelings and behavior on the part of the person being helped. Optimal negotiators stay in physical shape and excel at building personal and professional rapport quickly.


People rally around those who appear to be in charge, who display an authoritative appearance and behavior, and who exude confidence. A negotiator needs to project all three traits without overpowering the prospect. All right, maybe a little overpowering is OK.

Dressing for success is really a way of making a power statement. It makes a person appear confident; and if you are confident, the other party is more likely to believe in you, your position and your requests. Appearing to have authority is the next best thing to actually having authority. Act like you are in command and others will follow. Negotiators need to take command of the other party's situation, learning his or her interests and providing an enhancement or solution that is acceptable to them, without compromising the negotiator's needs. Right or wrong, industry leadership can bring with it authority on a given position, action and solution.


A great deal of evidence shows that items and opportunities become more desirable to people as they become less available. Scarcity applies to both things and information. If the negotiator can make an item scarce – for example, by offering it for a limited time or offering only a limited number of it, he or she can significantly increase his negotiating position. Likewise, if the negotiator can keep information about the item proprietary in nature (e.g., from an insider-source or special report), his or her chances of success increase.

Most people have a tendency to repay favors, behave consistently, follow the lead of similar others, favor requests of those we like, heed legitimate perceived authority, and value scarce resources. Negotiators who ethically exploit these key human characteristics will make major inroads to improving his or her negotiating skills and success.

John O'Malley is president of Strategic Visions Inc., a Birmingham, AL-based health care sales and marketing consulting firm. He is the author of Ultimate Patient Satisfaction (McGraw-Hill 1997). His newest book is Healthcare Marketing, Sales and Service (Health Administration Press 2001). He may be reached at (205) 995-8495 or

His website is