Harvard Business School professor Michael Wheeler offers some smart strategies for negotiating the best deals possible. Most importantly, by observing your opponent carefully you can often gain the upper hand, so you must “listen with all your senses.” This includes keeping an eye out for “micro-expressions”—those fleeting, involuntary facial movements that indicate what your counterpart is *really* thinking. These unintended signals are what poker players look for to detect bluffing. Look for anomalies—nonverbal cues that don’t match up with the conversation. Ask the right questions—don’t ever ask “Is that your best offer?” “A better strategy is to give the other party an out,” says Wheeler. “If someone says, ‘Take it or leave it,’ simply treat that statement as untrue for the moment and make a counterproposal. The truth of an ultimatum is tested by whether the person making it is willing to consider alternatives. It’s up to you to float them.” Take a broad view—remember that no matter how well you think you’ve judged the other person, you may be wrong. “In negotiation, it’s healthy to second-guess your impressions of the other party,” says Wheeler. While you’re listening to your counterpart, tune in to whether she seems insistent, confident, defensive, angry or a mix of those feelings. Only then will you have a good chance of figuring out her bottom line.

HBS Working Knowledge 8 Dec 2003