How to Gain Leverage

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By AMA Staff

In many cases, a large degree of the leverage in a negotiation may be determined by factors beyond our control. For example, the other party might represent the more powerful company, or perhaps have more options to choose from. That doesn’t mean, however, that we must surrender leverage entirely. Skillful negotiators know how to up the odds in their favor by using tactics to increase their leverage.

One of the most effective ways of increasing your leverage is to take advantage of the other party's wants and needs. There are several ways of addressing the other party's wants and needs. You can match your products or services to the other party's needs, alter the other party's conception of what he or she wants or needs, or take advantage of the other party's affiliation needs.

Match Your Product or Service to Counterpart's Wants and Needs.
The first way to affect the other party's wants and needs involves matching what you have to offer (your products or services) to the other party's needs. Sometimes you can gain information prior to engaging the other party face-to-face, such as by talking with people familiar with the other party, searching the Internet for reports, analyses, and profiles, and so on. Large companies, for example, target their marketing ads on data collected from multiple sources by companies like Acxiom Corporation, which develops detailed patterns in consumer behavior based on credit-card purchases, warranty registrations, and so. 

Asking questions, particularly open-ended questions—questions that cannot be answered with a single word or short phrase—is a good way of identifying the other party's wants or needs. An open-ended question in effect says "Tell me what's on your mind . . . what is pressing on your mind." If you cannot tell what is on someone's mind from experience or observation (for example, an item they keep examining), you need to ask. And then you need to show how what you have to offer matches those wants and needs.

An important part of gaining useful information about the other party's wants or needs is exercising the right blend of asking questions and providing information. While offering alternatives and gauging another party's response can yield some information, asking questions generally yields more information. This makes silence an important tool in negotiating. Sometimes silence alone is the best tactic you can employ, and certainly following an open-ended question or inquiry. Silence makes many of us uncomfortable to the point of jumping in and offering valuable information about our wants and needs.

Alter Counterpart's Perceived Wants or Needs.
A second way of affecting the other party's perception that you have what he wants is by altering the other party's conception of what it is he wants and needs. This is perhaps easiest when the other party enters the negotiation uncertain about what he wants. For example, a real estate agent, who technically represents the seller, points out a number of features upon first approaching a new property with a prospective buyer—the small front yard (which is easy to care for), good shade from neighboring trees, a slate roof (which is durable).

As this example suggests, affecting the other party's conception of what he or she wants often focuses on the world of possibilities. Advertising agencies do this when they create a "sample" ad campaign for a potential client, a presentation that is at once breathtaking and unaffordable. The presentation sells the agency rather than the campaign, appealing to the client's imagination and ego. Fashion designers do the same when they introduce their new lines of spring fashions, many of which are impractical but captivating.

A special case of using this second technique to affect the other party's perception of what she wants or needs is the introduction of future opportunities. Some business negotiators, for example, will allude to the possibility of a long-term relationship, leading to increased sales or purchases. On occasion, this may be part of what a seller wants and hopes for from a buyer. An apartment manager, for example, needs someone to quickly repair gutters that were damaged by a storm, which might lead to a long-term contract to clean the gutters semiannually.

The ability to alter what a party really wants, or at least cast light on an issue or feature that did not seem especially important at the outset of the negotiation, is what separates the average salesperson from the great salesperson.

Tap Affiliation Needs.
A third way of affecting the other party's wants and needs is by recognizing that individuals also have social or "affiliation" needs, which represent a potential source of loss or "cost" in a negotiation. Recall that leverage is relationally based; it exists only as long as the relationship exists. If a relationship is important to one party but not so highly valued by the other party, then the relationship can be the basis for exercising leverage. This is most apparent in young children, who learn at some point that telling another child "I will not be your friend if you don't give me what I want" often produces capitulation. (When used on a parent, this ruse is generally taken at face value and defused with a statement like "I'll love you anyway.")

Affiliation needs can be engendered by making the other party feel welcome, important, or part of the team. By listening to the other party's stories or responding with affirmation at critical points, you implicitly communicate that you are more alike than different and, where you are different, that there is something special about the other party.
Most salespeople tap affiliation needs instinctively. They shake your hand, call you by your first name, tell you funny stories, laugh at your jokes, connect with you on multiple levels. Their friendly, gregarious approach is either part of their personalities, or they have learned through trial-and-error that customers who like them are more inclined to buy their product or service.

Tapping the other party's affiliation need is something that can even be accomplished at the very end of a negotiation. An individual who is selling a desktop computer and agrees to help the other party set it up and learn how to use it (or, alternatively, the individual who throws in some software or a microphone and camera) is likely to gain some affiliation points. That is, you feel some admiration or respect for the individual, which you now don't want to lose. Sometimes what is offered as a type of add-on or sweetener at the end of the negotiation is really of little or no value to the party who is making the offer or gesture. When such an item is initially held out as important, the tactic is referred to as a strawman tactic.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from Leverage by Roger Volkema. Copyright 2006, Roger Volkema. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. Click here for more information about this title. For information about other AMACOM books, visit

About The Author(s)

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