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6 Negotiation lessons from Harvey Specter of ‘Suits’

Tyler Hall


As I am greatly anticipating the next season of Suits, which is commencing shortly, I recently enjoyed putting together some of Harvey Specter's memorable quotes, along with some thoughts as to how they may or may not be helpful for our own negotiations in the real world. 

Harvey is entertaining both to watch and to listen to. I love his witty one-liners that zing’- directed mostly at his opponents. A number of his really interesting and relevant quips are worth discussing in regard to the dos and don’ts of negotiating. Harvey tends to lean toward a win/lose outcome in his negotiations – which directly affects the longevity of his relationships - not that he seems to care too much. I’d like to build on his ideas, but in a context where long term relationships are considered worthy of protecting. Most of our relationships, whether internal or external, do indeed matter if we desire to enable deals that will stand the test of time. 


“I don’t get lucky. I make my own luck.” 


If you go to a restaurant and the waiter asks for your order, and you ask him to bring out what he  thinks you might like, you’re simply hoping that the waiter will guess correctly. When you enter into negotiations without preparing thoughtfully according to a structured approach, you will be hoping that good fortune will be on your side to get you what you desire - if you actually know what it is that you are trying to achieve. You will gain much better and more predictable outcomes by knowing exactly what you do and do not want, thereby making your own luck in a negotiation. 


“When you’re backed against the wall, break the goddamn thing down.” 

Keep the tension low 

Don’t back people into corners: it will lead to lose/lose outcomes. What does a snake do when it is cornered? It attacks because it feels threatened. If you raise the tension in a negotiation with the other party, expect them to either reciprocate or flee. In that environment it will be hard-if not impossible - to create a trusting and mutually beneficial long term outcome or any outcome at all. Continually poke and deny the other party and expect the same back. 


“You always have a choice.” 

Be flexible 

Harvey is not on the money here for those of you who have to deal in oligopoly and monopoly markets. Even so, in those types of markets or where there are multiple choices, try to remain flexible and consciously attempt to understand what is important to the other party. You could then repackage your proposals in a manner that may address their needs in a way that is cheaper for you and still achieves both what you and they want. Be curious and remember that negotiating is about giving to get’, so be flexible in your strategy in order to achieve your objectives. 


“You do what they say or they shoot you, right? Wrong! You take the gun. You pull out a bigger gun or you call their bluff, or you do one of another 146 other things.” 

Analyse the power balance 

Understanding your sources of power in a negotiation will enable you to achieve better outcomes. I wouldn’t suggest Harvey’s style of taking their gun as a source of power as that’s the other party’s power. However, understand thoroughly what incentives and sanctions you have to motivate and facilitate better deals. We often find in our working with clients that they tend to underestimate their sources of power. Discovering and utilising these sources of power will have a dramatically positive impact on driving better outcomes. 


“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.” 

Timing is everything 

Make time to prepare. As in point 1. If you don’t know what you want, don’t expect luck to be on your side to achieve a good deal.  

Keep a time buffer in your negotiations. If you have a deal coming close to your deadline you will be under pressure to make concessions to get it done. A big supermarket in Europe uses this to their advantage. They find that as supplier agreement renewals approach, if they delay re-signing of contracts to the last day of renewal,  they can extract up to 40% more value from  the supplier who is now  in a time-pressured position to secure the renewed contract 


“Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.”  

Leave your ego at the door 

Firstly, you’re obviously awesome for continuing to read this article and I appreciate that and hope it’s a helpful read. Secondly, Harvey’s swagger is awesome to observe - especially with quotes like this one. However, I don’t know about you, but I’d be looking for negotiating alternatives if Harvey said such a thing to me. No one likes the arrogance of a cat. Even if you are ‘the best’, be careful how you may project this in a negotiation as you may repel or offend the other party . Use your words of persuasion but recognise when it’s not working and move onto negotiating dialogue. Move to mutual interests. If it’s all about you, good luck in achieving an outcome that’s going to work well in life. Negotiating is about giving to get. It’s a dance where two or more parties make it possible to make the dance look amazing. 


Happy negotiating!


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