“Communication is key in negotiation” and “negotiation is an exercise in communication” – phrases you’ve probably heard so many times that they’ve become meaningless. What if instead, we said that negotiation is about communication and persuasion. That’s what the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, an expert in the field of influence and persuasion through evidence-based research, has revealed. According to Cialdini, negotiation is about persuasion and how one can present their ideas to others through effective communication in a way that moves them. By using Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, you can use scientific and psychological-based claims to improve success in your own negotiations – and improve your communication skills while doing so. Here, a closer look:


This principle states that people tend to give back to others what has been given to them – encouraging giving when you receive and making clear that you should be the first to “give.” Cialdini points out that what you’re giving should be personalized and unexpected.

For example, if you’re negotiating with a client around the holiday season, you could send them a holiday gift as a way to show that they can trust you. This can keep the relationship going in a meaningful way, especially if you send a personalized card. Research shows that client and customers are more likely to be touched by personal gestures such as a handwritten note or an envelope with a handwritten address rather than pre-typed label. Since you sent the gift first, the client now has the option to send one back (or not), but regardless, they will not forget the gesture you made.


People want what they can’t have – they crave exclusivity. In negotiations, it’s important to tell people about the benefits of your proposal. However, a more effective way of communicating is to highlight what makes your offer unique and what your counterpart stands to lose if they fail to consider it.

Say you’re negotiating the sale of a property or building. As the seller, you could consider mentioning to the potential buyer that there are others interested in buying as well so there isn’t that much time available to think about the offer. (Of course, if you use the scarcity principle to create a sense of urgency, you have to consider the ethics and be careful not to make fake claims that could risk your reputation.)


People follow the lead of those they perceive to be credible and knowledgeable – so it’s critical to communicate your expertise before you even start a negotiation.

An “expert introduction” is one way to establish credibility before a negotiation even begins. For example, if you are a client who calls an insurance company seeking to speak with an agent, the receptionist may transfer you to “Auto Agent David,” or to “Auto Agent David, who has 20+ years of experience in the auto industry and was recently recognized by an industry publication for his work.” Through this small extra detail, Auto Agent David’s authority just increased in your eyes.

Commitment & Consistency

People do not like to make large commitments. Therefore, it’s important to look for and ask for small initial commitments that can be made easily as a gateway to something bigger. For example, in a negotiation, if you are able to get your counterpart to agree to something smaller once, they are more likely to agree to something bigger later. Say you’re negotiating with a potential sponsor of your company event and want them to contribute a certain amount of time or money, you might want to start by asking for something minimal. Then, after they agree, you can ask them for more, or if you’re satisfied, the next time you host the event, you can ask the company to donate more than they did the first time.


People generally say yes to those that they like or feel more connected to. Furthermore, people like those who are similar to them, pay them compliments, and cooperate with them. When you are in a negotiation, sometimes a simple action like giving your counterpart a compliment and exchanging some personal information can create a more positive and successful interaction. Before starting a negotiation, try identifying a similarity that you and your counterpart share. This will set the stage for an agreeable outcome for both parties.


The final principle is consensus – people look to the actions of others and try to mimic them. People like to be in the majority and feel safe there. That’s why a sign asking people to recycle might help; however, a sign adding that a certain percentage of the population recycles could be even more effective. By encouraging action (or inaction) from people by pointing out what others are doing, people will generally follow the behaviors of others to determine their own. This is often referred to as “FOMO” or “fear of missing out” where people want to feel included and be a part of a pack.

And there you have it: Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion can help sway a negotiation in your favor when properly executed (ethically, of course). You’re probably already employing some of these principles in your daily life. For instance, giving compliments might seem effortless and a part of your personality, but that means you’ve already mastered the principle of “liking.” Likewise, you might already gear up to ask people for bigger commitments by asking for little ones first – that means you’ve been putting the principle of “commitment & consistency” into effect. The next time you find yourself facing an unswayable friend or foe, try one, two, three (or all) of Cialdini’s principles out.