Know Your Opponent’s Negotiation Position with this Trick

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Knowing Your Opponent’s Negotiation Position Could Be the Key that Unlocks the Door and Gets You All That You Want When Negotiating.

With this simple brain hack, you can find out what they are thinking and their negotiation position. A little like one of those street magicians’ that somehow knows the pin code to your phone.

The negotiation position is the ‘stance’ you take in a negotiation. For example, if you want to sell your secondhand car for £5,000 the position you took is £5,000. Although the actual amount of money you will take is probably lower, so your negotiation position has a public side – £5,000, and a private side – maybe £4,750.

Effective negotiators communicate their public negotiation position clearly, strongly and confidently. Knowing that they might concede their public position to their private position in return for getting something else. For example, you might reduce the price of the car to £4,900 for a cash payment.

Use this Tip to Know Your Opponent’s Negotiating Position

Using this tip requires you to pay attention to the details. Paying attention to the soft words, also known as the little words, that people use when negotiating. Active listening is the path that gets you to the front door and the little words are the key that can open the door.

For example, if I was buying your car and I said:

‘I’ll offer you £4,750 for your secondhand car’.

Or if I said:

‘I’ll offer you around £4,750 for your secondhand car’.
The difference?

One word.


Negotiating a car sale with salesman and client
It’s important to know your opponent’s negotiation position


My negotiation position is publically £4,750 because that is what I offered. My private position is more and you only know this because I used one word more in my sentence. The word ‘around’. People don’t even know that they do it. It’s part of our everyday language. We don’t know we do it, but it gives the game away. Gives away our negotiation position – our private position.

By using the word ‘around’ I inadvertently signalled to you that I would be prepared to pay more. We don’t know how much more but more than £4,750 because I used the word ‘around’ rather than just saying the p[rice with no little words accompanying the price.

Those Pesky Little Words that Give Away Our Negotiation Position

It is the little words that give away what we really think and effective negotiators listen for these when negotiating and look for them when they read proposals or emails. Great negotiators are sure never to use those little words, well, not unless they want to signal movement, and they keep a very keen ear out to listen for them. Once they hear a little word their next step is to explore the art of the possible.

In our secondhand car example, they might then ask, ‘What could you do on the price if I was to pay cash?’. They offer something small to test what movement there might be.

The list of small words and phrases that give away someone’s negotiating position is below:

Man looking at blank speech bubble against pink background
It’s all in the small words and phrases


  • My opening proposal is…
  • How would you feel about…
  • Today’s price is…
  • I’m authorised to offer…
  • I’d be happy with…
  • At a stretch, I could get to…
  • My boss would kill me but…
  • Because I like you…
  • You’re killing me but…
  • I’m looking for…
  • My current best price is…
  • The price is around…
  • Ideally, I would want…
  • I could drop by say £10 to £20.
  • If I came halfway?
  • Today’s your lucky day.
  • We’re so close.
  • We’re nearly there.
  • Mates rates.
  • Let’s just suppose…

Explaining 4 of the Examples above Further

  • I’m authorised to offer…
    • This means that someone else is probably ‘authorised’ to go to a better deal.
  • Ideally, I would want…
    • ‘Ideally’ is the keyword. We don’t live in an ideal world and they know that so they are expecting a lesser deal.
  • My boss would kill me but…
    • Everything said before ‘but’ is bu11shit.
  • My current best price is…
    • If that is their current price then their price in a few minutes might be lower. ‘Current’ indicates movement.
  • I could drop by say £10 to £20.
    • If they are offering a range, then that range could be, and normally is much wider.

How to Achieve Behavioural Change with this Negotiation Position Brain Hack

Ice cubes shaped like a brain
Get this brain hack


Here at MBM, we are experts at achieving real behavioural change because we believe that ‘information without application is just entertainment. In other words, reading the negotiation position top tip above is useful, but only if you use it. Otherwise, it’s just information.

Here are 3 things you can do to make this brain hack part of what you do:

  • Stephen Covey suggested that in order to retain more of what we learn we need to tell someone else. By sharing what we have learnt with someone else it means that we had to of digested the information, and turned it into our own words. By doing this we learned it better, and we did this because we wanted to look credible when we shared it. I.e. We understood what we were sharing, rather than simply regurgitating what we had learnt.
    • Action: Share with someone what you learnt above.
  • Write the list of words and phrases above on your own pad. Plus, read aloud each one as you write it. By doing this you will have much more absorbed the material than just reading it. This is because there are 3 learning modes; visual, audio and kinaesthetic. By writing the words you appeal to the visual learning input, by reading aloud the words you appeal to the audio learning input, and by the act of writing you are moving, which appeals to the kinaesthetic learning input. This is also known as ‘VAK’.
    • Action: Write the words above and say them as you do.
  • Watch someone in practice. This is a BBC The Apprentice candidate negotiating. Watch the 3-minute video and write down as many soft words as you can. We counted 11 little words that the Apprentice used and in doing so gave away his private negotiating position to the other party.

For even more useful content on negotiations, check out our ultimate guide on negotiation skills.

Related Articles:

Active Listening Articles and ContentNegotiating Skills Articles and ContentNegotiation Skills TipsNegotiation Tactics Articles and ContentNegotiation Techniques

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