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Mind Games

Find out what's really going on in your opponent's head.

Negotiating is like playing stud poker. It's the cards you can't see that really drive the betting. Want to know what your opponent is thinking? Try these tactics:

  • Make conversation. Use open-ended queries to get the other side talking-questions that begin with who, what, where, when, how or why. Avoid questions that can be answered with a terse yes or no. Do this while your opponent is off guard, before you start negotiating in earnest. Listen carefully. Use the power of silence to make them feel awkward and even chattier.
  • Ask the same question twice. Are you picking up inconsistencies? A classic move is to ask questions to which you already know the answers. You'll learn more from the wrong answers than the right ones. Make a deliberate mistake repeating back some information. If the other side doesn't catch it, you know something's up. If you really need to put someone in check, consider springing a blunt, direct question. Listen to what they say, but remember: It's their body language and tone that will give them away.
  • Listen to the pros. Experienced professionals are usually very skilled at discerning hidden agendas. Savvy agents, bankers, brokers, CPAs and attorneys already know the many ways you can be snaked. When they say something doesn't smell right, pay attention, and act accordingly.
A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener is author of Deal Power.

This story appears in the May 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »