Influencing others is a vital part of most jobs. At heart almost all influencing is negotiating: 'if you do this, then I'll do that'. If you've got nothing to offer in return you're just begging.

And negotiating is invariably emotionally charged with hope, fear, optimism, anxiety, relief and many others all putting in an appearance. It's a prime example of how we conduct discussions on the level of System 2, but System 1 is frequently driving the decision-making.

Successful negotiating starts with taking care of the other person's System 1: "how can I make it as easy as possible for them to say 'yes' to what I want?"

And to do this effectively requires us to do two things:

  • listen carefully
  • communicate what we want with clarity and confidence

In my experience most people are good at one or the other. Either they listen really well but struggle to assert what they want with appropriate strength or they're great at saying what they want but don't listen properly. Consequently much of my work with clients who are looking to improve their influencing skills focuses on this combination of strong, clear communication and listening.


We tend to take listening for granted, but it involves a lot of self-discipline to let go of our own view of things, see a situation temporarily from the other person's point of view, and hear what's not being said as well as what is. But without this we fail to understand what really matters to others and miss opportunities to make concessions that are low-cost to us but high-value to them.

Whether people are receptive to our arguments is hugely influenced by the emotional climate of the exchange. And the absence of sincere, open listening is instantly picked up by other people's System 1, which is working overtime to assess whether we are to be trusted. The result is, at best, suspicion about our intentions and, at worst, cynicism. Neither of which is going to help the other person say 'yes' to what we want.

Lots of small, unspoken cues in the way we behave signify our intentions and reveal whether we are truly looking for win-win or trying to dupe the other person. I won't go into the arguments in favour of seeking win-win outcomes here, other than to say that I strongly believe it is the only basis for sustainable, ongoing relationships. On the articles (link) page of this site you can download a couple of pieces in which I spell out why I believe this. I'd add that win-win means just that: both parties are happy with the outcome. Those people who listen well but struggle to articulate what they want often end up with lose-win. And those who fail to listen are often actually aiming for win-lose.

where and when?

The other thing that strongly influences the dynamic is the environment. All sorts of factors, such as the timing of discussions, where you are - whose territory are you on? - the positioning of chairs, and so on, will determine whether your opposite number's System 1 relaxes enough for them to hear your arguments in good faith. And vice versa. And it's another area in which small changes can make a really significant difference.

By making smarter choices about where and when you negotiate, and by making sure you listen properly and articulate what you want clearly, and with strength, you can dramatically increase both your impact and your ability to influence where it counts.