Psychological Warfare: Negotiation Techniques

By on October 19, 2018

Learning negotiation techniques might just be one of the most valuable skills to add to your repertoire. We discuss a lot of cool aspects of self-development and performance on this site, including ways to run faster, jump higher, punch harder, and come up with more creative ideas.

But while all these skills are awesome, the likelihood of us needing to actually use many of them is admittedly pretty slim. Gone are the days when you would get into sword fights in the street. Unfortunately. Okay probably not unfortunately.

Today, success comes more from mastering ‘soft skills’ – from psychological warfare. And so that is what we’re going to be looking at in this series, starting with one skill that can potentially make you hugely more successful: negotiation techniques.

In fact, for most of us, the ability to put forward an argument and sell ourselves will be one of the biggest determining factors when it comes to our salary. This is particularly true for those that are self-employed like yours truly, but also in pretty much any other line of work. In many cases, you will be paid what you think your worth – and what you have the cahoonas to ask for.

Negotiation techniques come in handy in other aspects of life too: from closing deals with clients, to haggling for discounts, to getting your way in a debate.

So, with that in mind, what psychological techniques can you use to get your way in such a situation?

Negotiation Techniques – The Fundamentals

First, let’s assess what we mean by negotiation techniques and what our objective is.

Negotiation Techniques

Fundamentally, in any negotiation the objective is to try and come to a compromise that satisfied both parties. Your objective is not to screw over the other person or organization as that will just sour them on working with you in future, not to mention the fact that it’s much harder to achieve!

In order to accomplish this, often a good starting point is to understand your ZOPA.

ZOPA is the ‘Zone of Possible Agreement’. The idea here is that you understand what the minimum each party is willing to accept is, and what the maximum is that you’re gunning for. This now gives you a realistic range and in all likelihood, the agreed amount will fall somewhere in the middle.

So, if you’re negotiating pay, then the ZOPA will be the minimum that you’re willing to accept up to the maximum they’d be willing to pay. But likewise, if you’re negotiating where you will go on holiday with friends, the ZOPA will include the range of possibilities – the place you least want to visit and the place they least want to visit.

Negotiate Salary

A common strategy in this regard is to both write down a number and then present it at the same time. Either the number agrees, or you now have a range that you can discuss.


Something else worth considering though is that the use of negotiation techniques will in many ways begin before you even start discussing.

You can ask for a raise when you have recently demonstrated incredible value to your organization and when they are about to take on a big new client and you’ll be in a good position. OR you can ask for a raise when your organization is making large cutbacks and you’ve just had your fifth disciplinary meeting.

The same goes for raising any sensitive points in a relationship. Avoid the urge to engage in heated debates with your partner when you’re both tired and have had a bad day – bide your time.

It’s not just passive timing that will help with negotiation though. You can also do your bit to ‘prime’ the other party for a successful negotiation. This might mean doing things to put them in a good mood, or it might mean giving them a small gift.

Priming Negotiation

You often see this latter strategy used by stall owners in Europe and the Middle East. Prior to haggling, they will first offer you or a family member a free gift such as an inexpensive piece of jewellery or fridge magnet. They might likewise offer you a cup of tea.

While this gesture is small, it inspires a strong urge to reciprocate. In fact, it is human nature to want to reciprocate several times over before feeling at ease. Absurd though it may sound, you can find yourself spending 10, 20, or 30% more just because you got a free cup of tea!

There are lots of ways in fact that you can manipulate the emotions of the person you’re going to be negotiating with and in fact, you could even consider this to be a kind of ‘forced biohack’. In fact, some sales people go as far as to use oxytocin nasal sprays to make their customers more receptive and agreeable. You probably don’t want to go that far but building rapport with body-language (more soon), choosing the right lighting and temperature where possible, and even offering well-chosen snacks are good options.

Priming and Anchoring

Another great way to prime the other party prior to a negotiation is to ask them whether you have been doing a good job. This is an example of a negotiation technique called ‘priming’.

In other words: if you are about to ask for a raise, first e-mail your boss and say that you’re keen for feedback and wondered if they have been happy with your performance. This forces them to think about all the good things you have done for the company lately. Not only that, but it makes it much harder for them to then say ‘no’ when you ask for a raise.

‘Have I been working well lately?’

‘You’ve been killing it mate!’

‘So, can I have a raise?’


That’s just very socially awkward to pull off.

Another way to correctly set the tone prior to a negotiation is to use something called ‘Anchoring’. This negotiation technique is the process of encouraging a discussion to revolve around a specific topic or number, such that it will almost always end up gravitating toward that number.

The example given is that if you go into a meeting where a boss intends to tell you why you’re not worth 40K, you may very well end up getting 40k. It’s like telling someone ‘not to drive toward that tree’. This is a surefire way to get them to look at the tree, end up heading toward the tree, and thus crash into the tree. Instead you should just say ‘watch out’.

Contrast and Value

Okay, so let’s say that you’ve primed your target, set the scene, established the ZOPA and made an effort to subtly gravitate toward a certain figure or outcome.

Prestige Worldwide

What if they’re still saying no?

There are a few more negotiation techniques up our sleeves.

The first is to recognize that a good compromise solution is one where both parties are getting more value specifically. So, if you’re going to ask for more, then often a good strategy is to demonstrate how you’re going to offer more value. I do this in my work as a writer by offering to provide extra proof reading or formatting for a higher fee.

This way, if you’re self-employed, you can even offer ‘packages’ allowing your audience to pick their own price. This way you aren’t forcing them into a corner, but chances are they’re going to want to get the best possible service, so they’ll end up giving you the “raise”.

Arnie Negotiation

Another option is to have a fall-back stance or a secondary option.

The example I was told involved a girl scout with a box of cookies. She goes door to door asking people if they’ll buy 10 boxes. When they say no, she asks if they would consider accepting just one – after all, it’s for a good cause!

This also utilizes another psychological phenomenon called contrast. Contrast describes the effect that placing two contrasting options or numbers side-by-side can have on a person.

In a store we see this often when two items are being sold. You might have your ‘Premium Luxury’ tie which costs $100 and your ‘Every Day Tie’ for $40. $40 is still a heck of a lot for a tie, but the very fact that it’s next to a $100 tie makes it seem a lot less expensive.

More importantly, this negotiation technique also allows the buyer to justify the purchase to themselves and thereby anticipate and prevent buyers’ remorse. They can say ‘this was an extravagant purchase, but at least I did buy the really expensive one!’. Thus they get to enjoy their purchase without feeling awful about it.

This is why going in with a very high offer, but then following up with a relatively low suggestion (that is still very high) can be a good gambit in the right circumstances.

Going Incremental

A similar negotiation strategy for flying in under the radar is to increase your proposition in increments. Instead of meeting and asking for a massive raise, meet and ask for a tiny raise. But just do it less often.

In Milgram’s famous obedience experiment, the psychologist instructed unwitting participants to deliver electric shocks to actors whenever they got a question wrong on a test. Of course, these actors weren’t really receiving shocks, but the participants in the study believed they were. Each time they answered incorrectly, the severity of the shock would increase. Eventually the participants believed they were delivering shocks that would be fatal – even as the actors pretended to have heart problems and in spite of warning signs written on the buttons themselves!

Milgram Experiment

How could normal people be persuaded into potentially carrying out murderous acts? Partly it was to do with the authority of the instructor, but it was also largely due to the incremental nature of the shocks. Delivering 100 volts might seem extreme, but if you just delivered 95 volts a moment ago… what does an extra 5 volts matter?

Likewise, if you’re asking for a $5 a day raise… that’s not going to see like a big deal. But when you multiply that by the number of working days in a given month (around 20), that becomes $100 a month – which isn’t nothing. This works particularly well if you’re self-employed and you can increase the rate by focusing on your smallest unit of work. I can charge less than a cent more per word in my writing, and clients often don’t realize they’ll be paying thousands of dollars more over the course of a year.

When They Still Say No

What if they still say ‘no’ and won’t compromise with you? What if none of your negotiation techniques have worked so far? We’re still not done yet!

One option is to try again. Listen carefully to the way that no is worded and look for any ‘ins’ you might have.

Let’s say you’re trying to get a position within an organization and the person you’re speaking to says no.


‘I’m sorry, but the manager has already considered your proposal and I don’t think they’ll be willing to change their mind.’

Assess this carefully and there are two ‘ins’ remaining. For starters, they have said they don’t ‘think’. A lot of people are simply too socially awkward to flat out refuse anything meaning you can take advantage of their politeness.

Your response to this should be:

‘I understand, but just to make sure can you please pass this new proposal on to your manager.’

This won’t win you many friends because it is breaking a kind of ‘social contract’. But if you’re willing to be more awkward than your negotiating partner, if you worry less about social awkwardness, then you will have a massive upper hand.

The other remaining ‘in’ is the fact that they have admitted they don’t have total authority. You know what to do:

‘If not, then please let me speak directly with your manager so I can explain my position.’

You might have heard that psychopaths tend to perform well in business – and this is one of the reasons why. Being willing to be awkward and to break social convention is a powerful tool that can help you win many debates. Of course you need to be careful not to irreparably burn bridges and damage relationships – and you also need to think about the ethics of what you’re doing. But when something really matters to you, being more willing to be blunt, rude, and generally ‘alpha’ makes a huge difference.

Watch my video on CBT for some more tips on how to do that if it doesn’t come naturally:

Being detached, aloof, and alpha will also help you to resist the use of negotiation techniques employed by your sparring partner.

And speaking of being socially awkward to get your way – never underestimate the power of silence. People hate silence and will typically do anything they can to fill it… even if that means agreeing to your terms or offering you what you’re asking for! Often the first to speak in a negotiation is the ultimate loser.

Turning a Loss Into a Win

Finally, if it is still a no and you’ve tried every negotiation technique, one last way to take something positive from the experience is to ask what you could have done differently.

If the outcome is that you’re not going to be able to get that extra $2K a year, then follow up with an email or call and ask what you can do to improve. What criteria would you need to meet in order to be worth that amount?

Not only does this show that you really mean business and you’re not going to let it drop, but you will also get useful feedback. Moreover, if you now take steps to fulfill those criteria, then your organization will have almost no option but to give you what you’re asking for now.  Sometimes the best negotiation techniques mean playing the long game.

negotiation techniques

Check mate!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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