Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!
There are essentially three voice tones available to negotiators: the late-night FM DJ voice, the positive/playful voice, and the direct or assertive voice. Forget the assertive voice for now; except in very rare circumstances, using it is like slapping yourself in the face while you’re trying to make progress. You’re signaling dominance onto your counterpart, who will either aggressively, or passive-aggressively, push back against attempts to be controlled
Most of the time, you should be using the positive/playful voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking. A smile, even while talking on the phone, has an impact tonally that the other person will pick up on
When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). It applies to the smile-er as much as to the smile-ee: a smile on your face, and in your voice, will increase your own mental agility
The way the late-night FM DJ voice works is that, when you inflect your voice in a downward way, you put it out there that you’ve got it covered. Talking slowly and clearly you convey one idea: I’m in control. When you inflect in an upward way, you invite a response. Why? Because you’ve brought in a measure of uncertainty. You’ve made a statement sound like a question. You’ve left the door open for the other guy to take the lead, so I was careful here to be quiet, self-assured
Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other. It can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice. It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding, in sync, and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust. It’s a phenomenon (and now technique) that follows a very basic but profound biological principle: We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Mirroring, then, when practiced consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity. “Trust me,” a mirror signals to another’s unconscious, “You and I—we’re alike.”
While mirroring is most often associated with forms of nonverbal communication, especially body language, as negotiators a “mirror” focuses on the words and nothing else. Not the body language. Not the accent. Not the tone or delivery. Just the words
It’s almost laughably simple: for the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one gets to a Jedi mind trick. Simple, and yet uncannily effective
- Mirroring four simple steps:
- Use the late-night FM DJ voice
- Start with “I’m sorry”
- Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart
One of my students experienced the effectiveness of this simple process at her workplace, where her impulsive boss was known for his “drive-bys”: an infuriating practice by which the boss would suddenly swing by one’s office or cubicle unannounced with an “urgent,” poorly thought out assignment that created a lot of unnecessary work. Past attempts at any kind of debate created immediate pushback. “There’s a better way” was always interpreted by this boss as “the lazy way.” Such a drive-by occurred toward the end of a long consulting engagement, one that had generated literally thousands of documents. The boss, still skeptical of anything “digital,” wanted the security of paper copies. Popping his head into her office, the boss said, “Let’s make two copies of all the paperwork.” “I’m sorry, two copies?” she mirrored in response, remembering not only the DJ voice, but to deliver the mirror in an inquisitive tone. The intention behind most mirrors should be “Please, help me understand.” Every time you mirror someone, they will reword what they’ve said. They will never say it exactly the same way they said it the first time. Ask someone, “What do you mean by that?” and you’re likely to incite irritation or defensiveness. A mirror, however, will get you the clarity you want while signaling respect and concern for what the other person is saying. “Yes,” her boss responded, “one for us and one for the customer.” “I’m sorry, so you are saying that the client is asking for a copy and we need a copy for internal use?” “Actually, I’ll check with the client—they haven’t asked for anything. But I definitely want a copy. That’s just how I do business.” “Absolutely,” she responded. “Thanks for checking with the customer. Where would you like to store the in-house copy? There’s no more space in the file room here.” “It’s fine. You can store it anywhere,” he said, slightly perturbed now. “Anywhere?” she mirrored again, with calm concern. When another person’s tone of voice or body language is inconsistent with his words, a good mirror can be particularly useful. In this case, it caused her boss to take a nice, long pause—something he did not often do. My student sat silent. “As a matter of fact, you can put them in my office,” he said, with more composure than he’d had the whole conversation. “I’ll get the new assistant to print it for me after the project is done. For now, just create two digital backups.” A day later her boss emailed and wrote simply, “The two digital backups will be fine.” Not long after, I received an ecstatic email from this student: “I was shocked! I love mirrors! A week of work avoided!”
- A good negotiator prepares, going in, to be ready for possible surprises; a great negotiator aims to use her skills to reveal the surprises she is certain to find
- Don’t commit to assumptions; instead, view them as hypotheses and use the negotiation to test them rigorously
- People who view negotiation as a battle of arguments become overwhelmed by the voices in their head. Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible
- To quiet the voices in your head, make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say
- Slow. It. Down. Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard. You risk undermining the rapport and trust you’ve built
- Put a smile on your face. When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). Positivity creates mental agility in both you and your counterpart
- There are three voice tones available to negotiators:
- The late-night FM DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow. When done properly, you create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness
- The positive/playful voice: Should be your default voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking
- The direct or assertive voice: Used rarely. Will cause problems and create pushback
Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding. Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy
Strike up a conversation and put a label on one of the other person’s emotions—it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to the mailman or your ten-year-old daughter—and then go silent. Let the label do its work
Research shows that the best way to deal with negativity is to observe it, without reaction and without judgment. Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts
Here is the situation (the song, if you will): My student Ryan B. was flying from Baltimore to Austin to sign a large computer-consulting contract. For six months, the client representative had gone back and forth on whether he wanted the services, but a major system collapse put the representative in a tight spot with his CEO. To shift the blame, he called Ryan with his CEO on the line and very aggressively demanded to know why it was taking Ryan so long to come ink the contract. If Ryan was not there by Friday morning, he said, the deal was off. Ryan bought a ticket for the next morning, Thursday, but a freak lightning storm whipped up in Baltimore, closing the airport for five hours. It became painfully clear that Ryan wasn’t going to make his original connection to Austin from Dallas. Worse, when he called American Airlines just before departing, he found that his connection had been automatically rebooked to 3 p.m. the next day, putting the contract in jeopardy. When Ryan finally got to Dallas at 8 p.m., he ran to the gate where the day’s final American Airlines flight to Austin was less than thirty minutes from takeoff. His goal was to get on that flight or, at worst, get an earlier flight the next day. In front of him at the gate, a very aggressive couple was yelling at the gate agent, who was barely looking at them as she tapped on the computer in front of her; she was clearly making every effort not to scream back. After she’d said, “There’s nothing I can do,” five times, the angry couple finally gave up and left. To start, watch how Ryan turns that heated exchange to his advantage. Following on the heels of an argument is a great position for a negotiator, because your counterpart is desperate for an empathetic connection. Smile, and you’re already an improvement.“Hi, Wendy, I’m Ryan. It seems like they were pretty upset.” This labels the negative and establishes a rapport based on empathy. This in turn encourages Wendy to elaborate on her situation, words Ryan then mirrors to invite her to go further. “Yeah. They missed their connection. We’ve had a fair amount of delays because of the weather.” “The weather?” After Wendy explains how the delays in the Northeast had rippled through the system, Ryan again labels the negative and then mirrors her answer to encourage her to delve further. “It seems like it’s been a hectic day.”“There’ve been a lot of ‘irate consumers,’ you know? I mean, I get it, even though I don’t like to be yelled at. A lot of people are trying to get to Austin for the big game.” “The big game?” “UT is playing Ole Miss football and every flight into Austin has been booked solid.” “Booked solid?” Now let’s pause. Up to this point, Ryan has been using labels and mirrors to build a relationship with Wendy. To her it must seem like idle chatter, though, because he hasn’t asked for anything. Unlike the angry couple, Ryan is acknowledging her situation. His words ping-pong between “What’s that?” and “I hear you,” both of which invite her to elaborate. Now that the empathy has been built, she lets slip a piece of information he can use. “Yeah, all through the weekend. Though who knows how many people will make the flights. The weather’s probably going to reroute a lot of people through a lot of different places.” Here’s where Ryan finally swoops in with an ask. But notice how he acts: not assertive or coldly logical, but with empathy and labeling that acknowledges her situation and tacitly puts them in the same boat. “Well, it seems like you’ve been handling the rough day pretty well,” he says. “I was also affected by the weather delays and missed my connecting flight. It seems like this flight is likely booked solid, but with what you said, maybe someone affected by the weather might miss this connection. Is there any possibility a seat will be open?” Listen to that riff: Label, tactical empathy, label. And only then a request. At this point, Wendy says nothing and begins typing on her computer. Ryan, who’s eager not to talk himself out of a possible deal, engages in some silence. After thirty seconds, Wendy prints a boarding pass and hands it to Ryan, explaining that there were a few seats that were supposed to be filled by people who would now arrive much later than the flight’s departure. To make Ryan’s success even better, she puts him in Economy Plus seating. All that in under two minutes! The next time you find yourself following an angry customer at a corner store or airplane line, take a moment and practice labels and mirrors on the service person. I promise they won’t scream, “Don’t try to control me!” and burst into flames—and you might walk away with a little more than you expected
As you try to insert the tools of tactical empathy into your daily life, I encourage you to think of them as extensions of natural human interactions and not artificial conversational tics
In any interaction, it pleases us to feel that the other side is listening and acknowledging our situation. Whether you are negotiating a business deal or simply chatting to the person at the supermarket butcher counter, creating an empathetic relationship and encouraging your counterpart to expand on their situation is the basis of healthy human interaction
These tools, then, are nothing less than emotional best practices that help you cure the pervasive ineptitude that marks our most critical conversations in life. They will help you connect and create more meaningful and warm relationships. That they might help you extract what you want is a bonus; human connection is the first goal
With that in mind, I encourage you to take the risk of sprinkling these in every conversation you have. I promise you that they will feel awkward and artificial at first, but keep at it. Learning to walk felt awfully strange, too
- As you internalize these techniques, turning the artifice of tactical empathy into a habit and then into an integral part of your personality, keep in mind these lessons:
- Imagine yourself in your counterpart’s situation. The beauty of empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other person’s ideas (you may well find them crazy). But by acknowledging the other person’s situation, you immediately convey that you are listening. And once they know that you are listening, they may tell you something that you can use
- The reasons why a counterpart will not make an agreement with you are often more powerful than why they will make a deal, so focus first on clearing the barriers to agreement. Denying barriers or negative influences gives them credence; get them into the open
- Pause. After you label a barrier or mirror a statement, let it sink in. Don’t worry, the other party will fill the silence
- Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power. We all want to talk about the happy stuff, but remember, the faster you interrupt action in your counterpart’s amygdala, the part of the brain that generates fear, the faster you can generate feelings of safety, well-being, and trust
- List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. Performing an accusation audit in advance prepares you to head off negative dynamics before they take root. And because these accusations often sound exaggerated when said aloud, speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true
- Remember you’re dealing with a person who wants to be appreciated and understood. So use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics
“No” is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. We’ve been conditioned to fear the word “No.” But it is a statement of perception far more often than of fact. It seldom means, “I have considered all the facts and made a rational choice.”
“No” is often a decision, frequently temporary, to maintain the status quo. Change is scary, and “No” provides a little protection from that scariness
We’ve instrumentalized niceness as a way of greasing the social wheels, yet it’s often a ruse. We’re polite and we don’t disagree to get through daily existence with the least degree of friction. But by turning niceness into a lubricant, we’ve leeched it of meaning. A smile and a nod might signify “Get me out of here!” as much as it means “Nice to meet you.” That’s death for a good negotiator, who gains their power by understanding their counterpart’s situation and extracting information about their counterpart’s desires and needs. Extracting that information means getting the other party to feel safe and in control. And while it may sound contradictory, the way to get there is by getting the other party to disagree, to draw their own boundaries, to define their desires as a function of what they do not want
- I encourage you to think of them as the anti–“niceness ruse.” Not in the sense that they are unkind, but in the sense that they are authentic. Triggering “No” peels away the plastic falsehood of “Yes” and gets you to what’s really at stake. Along the way, keep in mind these powerful lessons:
- Break the habit of attempting to get people to say “yes.” Being pushed for “yes” makes people defensive. Our love of hearing “yes” makes us blind to the defensiveness we ourselves feel when someone is pushing us to say it
- “No” is not a failure. We have learned that “No” is the anti-“Yes” and therefore a word to be avoided at all costs. But it really often just means “Wait” or “I’m not comfortable with that.” Learn how to hear it calmly. It is not the end of the negotiation, but the beginning - “Yes” is the final goal of a negotiation, but don’t aim for it at the start. Asking someone for “Yes” too quickly in a conversation—“Do you like to drink water, Mr. Smith?”—gets his guard up and paints you as an untrustworthy salesman
- Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, so trigger it. By saying what they don’t want, your counterpart defines their space and gains the confidence and comfort to listen to you. That’s why “Is now a bad time to talk?” is always better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
- Sometimes the only way to get your counterpart to listen and engage with you is by forcing them into a “No.” That means intentionally mislabeling one of their emotions or desires or asking a ridiculous question—like, “It seems like you want this project to fail”—that can only be answered negatively
- Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you
- If a potential business partner is ignoring you, contact them with a clear and concise “No”-oriented question that suggests that you are ready to walk away. “Have you given up on this project?” works wonders
“Sleeping in the same bed and dreaming different dreams” is an old Chinese expression that describes the intimacy of partnership (whether in marriage or in business) without the communication necessary to sustain it. Such is the recipe for bad marriages and bad negotiations
With each party having its own set of objectives, its own goals and motivations, the truth is that the conversational niceties—the socially lubricating “yeses” and “you’re rights” that get thrown out fast and furious early in any interaction—are not in any way a substitute for real understanding between you and your partner
The power of getting to that understanding, and not to some simple “yes,” is revelatory in the art of negotiation. The moment you’ve convinced someone that you truly understand her dreams and feelings (the whole world that she inhabits), mental and behavioral change becomes possible, and the foundation for a breakthrough has been laid
- Use these lessons to lay that foundation:
- Creating unconditional positive regard opens the door to changing thoughts and behaviors. Humans have an innate urge toward socially constructive behavior. The more a person feels understood, and positively affirmed in that understanding, the more likely that urge for constructive behavior will take hold
- “That’s right” is better than “yes.” Strive for it. Reaching “that’s right” in a negotiation creates breakthroughs
- Use a summary to trigger a “that’s right.” The building blocks of a good summary are a label combined with paraphrasing
- Identify, rearticulate, and emotionally affirm “the world according to . . .”
When the negotiation is over for one side, it’s over for the other too
- All negotiations are defined by a network of subterranean desires and needs. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the surface. Once you know that the Haitian kidnappers just want party money, you will be miles better prepared
- Splitting the difference is wearing one black and one brown shoe, so don’t compromise. Meeting halfway often leads to bad deals for both sides - Approaching deadlines entice people to rush the negotiating process and do impulsive things that are against their best interests
- The F-word—“Fair”—is an emotional term people usually exploit to put the other side on the defensive and gain concessions. When your counterpart drops the F-bomb, don’t get suckered into a concession. Instead, ask them to explain how you’re mistreating them
- You can bend your counterpart’s reality by anchoring his starting point. Before you make an offer, emotionally anchor them by saying how bad it will be. When you get to numbers, set an extreme anchor to make your “real” offer seem reasonable, or use a range to seem less aggressive. The real value of anything depends on what vantage point you’re looking at it from
- People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart sees that there is something to lose by inaction
- While going first rarely helps, there is one way to seem to make an offer and bend their reality in the process. That is, by alluding to a range
What I mean is this: When confronted with naming your terms or price, counter by recalling a similar deal which establishes your “ballpark,” albeit the best possible ballpark you wish to be in. Instead of saying, “I’m worth $110,000,” Jerry might have said, “At top places like X Corp., people in this job get between $130,000 and $170,000.” That gets your point across without moving the other party into a defensive position. And it gets him thinking at higher levels. Research shows that people who hear extreme anchors unconsciously adjust their expectations in the direction of the opening number. Many even go directly to their price limit. If Jerry had given this range, the firm probably would have offered $130,000 because it looked so cheap next to $170,000
One of the easiest ways to bend your counterpart’s reality to your point of view is by pivoting to nonmonetary terms. After you’ve anchored them high, you can make your offer seem reasonable by offering things that aren’t important to you but could be important to them. Or if their offer is low you could ask for things that matter more to you than them. Since this is sometimes difficult, what we often do is throw out examples to start the brainstorming process
Not long ago I did some training for the Memphis Bar Association. Normally, for the training they were looking for, I’d charge $25,000 a day. They came in with a much lower offer that I balked at. They then offered to do a cover story about me in their association magazine. For me to be on the cover of a magazine that went out to who knows how many of the country’s top lawyers was priceless advertising. (Plus my mom is really proud of it!). They had to put something on the cover anyway, so it had zero cost to them and I gave them a steep discount on my fee. I constantly use that as an example in my negotiations now when I name a price. I want to stimulate my counterpart’s brainstorming to see what valuable nonmonetary gems they might have that are cheap to them but valuable to me
Every number has a psychological significance that goes beyond its value. And I’m not just talking about how you love 17 because you think it’s lucky. What I mean is that, in terms of negotiation, some numbers appear more immovable than others. The biggest thing to remember is that numbers that end in 0 inevitably feel like temporary placeholders, guesstimates that you can easily be negotiated off of. But anything you throw out that sounds less rounded—say, $37,263—feels like a figure that you came to as a result of thoughtful calculation. Such numbers feel serious and permanent to your counterpart, so use them to fortify your offers
- Calibrated questions are not just random requests for comment. They have a direction: once you figure out where you want a conversation to go, you have to design the questions that will ease the conversation in that direction while letting the other guy think it’s his choice to take you there. That’s why I refer to these questions as calibrated questions. You have to calibrate them carefully, just like you would calibrate a gun sight or a measuring scale, to target a specific problem.
The good news is that there are rules for that.
- First off, calibrated questions avoid verbs or words like “can,” “is,” “are,” “do,” or “does.” These are closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no.” Instead, they start with a list of words people know as reporter’s questions: “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.” Those words inspire your counterpart to think and then speak expansively
- But let me cut the list even further: it’s best to start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” Nothing else. “Who,” “when,” and “where” will often just get your counterpart to share a fact without thinking. And “why” can backfire. Regardless of what language the word “why” is translated into, it’s accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage.
- The only time you can use “why” successfully is when the defensiveness that is created supports the change you are trying to get them to see. “Why would you ever change from the way you’ve always done things and try my approach?” is an example. “Why would your company ever change from your long-standing vendor and choose our company?” is another. As always, tone of voice, respectful and deferential, is critical
- Otherwise, treat “why” like a burner on a hot stove—don’t touch it
- Having just two words to start with might not seem like a lot of ammunition, but trust me, you can use “what” and “how” to calibrate nearly any question. “Does this look like something you would like?” can become “How does this look to you?” or “What about this works for you?” You can even ask, “What about this doesn’t work for you?” and you’ll probably trigger quite a bit of useful information from your counterpart
- Even something as harsh as “Why did you do it?” can be calibrated to “What caused you to do it?” which takes away the emotion and makes the question less accusatory
- You should use calibrated questions early and often, and there are a few that you will find that you will use in the beginning of nearly every negotiation. “What is the biggest challenge you face?” is one of those questions. It just gets the other side to teach you something about themselves, which is critical to any negotiation because all negotiation is an information-gathering process
- Here are some other great standbys that I use in almost every negotiation, depending on the situation:
- What about this is important to you? - How can I help to make this better for us?
- How would you like me to proceed?
- What is it that brought us into this situation? - How can we solve this problem?
- What’s the objective? / What are we trying to accomplish here?
- How am I supposed to do that?
- After a few weeks of this, my client decided she’d had enough and invoiced the CEO for the last bit of work she’d done (about $7,000) and politely said that the arrangement wasn’t working out. The CEO answered by saying the bill was too high, that he’d pay half of it and that they would talk about the rest. After that, he stopped answering her calls.
The underlying dynamic was that this guy didn’t like being questioned by anyone, especially a woman. So she and I developed a strategy that showed him she understood where she went wrong and acknowledged his power, while at the same time directing his energy toward solving her problem. The script we came up with hit all the best practices of negotiation we’ve talked about so far. Here it is by steps:
- A “No”-oriented email question to reinitiate contact: “Have you given up on settling this amicably?” - A statement that leaves only the answer of “That’s right” to form a dynamic of agreement: “It seems that you feel my bill is not justified.” - Calibrated questions about the problem to get him to reveal his thinking: “How does this bill violate our agreement?” - More “No”-oriented questions to remove unspoken barriers: “Are you saying I misled you?” “Are you saying I didn’t do as you asked?” “Are you saying I reneged on our agreement?” or “Are you saying I failed you?” - Labeling and mirroring the essence of his answers if they are not acceptable so he has to consider them again: “It seems like you feel my work was subpar.” Or “. . . my work was subpar?” - A calibrated question in reply to any offer other than full payment, in order to get him to offer a solution: “How am I supposed to accept that?” - If none of this gets an offer of full payment, a label that flatters his sense of control and power: “It seems like you are the type of person who prides himself on the way he does business—rightfully so—and has a knack for not only expanding the pie but making the ship run more efficiently.” - A long pause and then one more “No”-oriented question: “Do you want to be known as someone who doesn’t fulfill agreements?”
Who has control in a conversation, the guy listening or the guy talking? The listener, of course. That’s because the talker is revealing information while the listener, if he’s trained well, is directing the conversation toward his own goals. He’s harnessing the talker’s energy for his own ends. When you try to work the skills from this chapter into your daily life, remember that these are listener’s tools. They are not about strong-arming your opponent into submission. Rather, they’re about using the counterpart’s power to get to your objective. They’re listener’s judo.
As you put listener’s judo into practice, remember the following powerful lessons: - Don’t try to force your opponent to admit that you are right. Aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiation - Avoid questions that can be answered with “Yes” or tiny pieces of information. These require little thought and inspire the human need for reciprocity; you will be expected to give something back - Ask calibrated questions that start with the words “How” or “What.” By implicitly asking the other party for help, these questions will give your counterpart an illusion of control and will inspire them to speak at length, revealing important information - Don’t ask questions that start with “Why” unless you want your counterpart to defend a goal that serves you. “Why” is always an accusation, in any language - Calibrate your questions to point your counterpart toward solving your problem. This will encourage them to expend their energy on devising a solution - Bite your tongue. When you’re attacked in a negotiation, pause and avoid angry emotional reactions. Instead, ask your counterpart a calibrated question - There is always a team on the other side. If you are not influencing those behind the table, you are vulnerable
Calibrated “How” questions are a surefire way to keep negotiations going. They put the pressure on your counterpart to come up with answers, and to contemplate your problems when making their demands - With enough of the right “How” questions you can read and shape the negotiating environment in such a way that you’ll eventually get to the answer you want to hear. You just have to have an idea of where you want the conversation to go when you’re devising your questions - The trick to “How” questions is that, correctly used, they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution—your solution. A gentle How/No invites collaboration and leaves your counterpart with a feeling of having been treated with respect - Look back at what Julie did when the Colombian rebel kidnappers made their first demands.“How can we raise that much?” she asked. Notice that she did not use the word “No.” But she still managed to elegantly deny the kidnappers’ $5 million demand. As Julie did, the first and most common “No” question you’ll use is some version of “How am I supposed to do that?” (for example, “How can we raise that much?”). Your tone of voice is critical as this phrase can be delivered as either an accusation or a request for assistance. So pay attention to your voice. This question tends to have the positive effect of making the other side take a good look at your situation. This positive dynamic is what I refer to as “forced empathy,” and it’s especially effective if leading up to it you’ve already been empathic with your counterpart. This engages the dynamic of reciprocity to lead them to do something for you. Starting with José’s kidnapping, “How am I supposed to do that?” became our primary response to a kidnapper demanding a ransom. And we never had it backfire. - Besides saying “No,” the other key benefit of asking “How?” is, quite literally, that it forces your counterpart to consider and explain how a deal will be implemented. A deal is nothing without good implementation. Poor implementation is the cancer that eats your profits - By making your counterparts articulate implementation in their own words, your carefully calibrated “How” questions will convince them that the final solution is their idea. And that’s crucial. People always make more effort to implement a solution when they think it’s theirs. That is simply human nature. That’s why negotiation is often called “the art of letting someone else have your way.” - There are two key questions you can ask to push your counterparts to think they are defining success their way: “How will we know we’re on track?” and “How will we address things if we find we’re off track?” When they answer, you summarize their answers until you get a “That’s right.” Then you’ll know they’ve bought in - On the flip side, be wary of two telling signs that your counterpart doesn’t believe the idea is theirs. As I’ve noted, when they say, “You’re right,” it’s often a good indicator they are not vested in what is being discussed. And when you push for implementation and they say, “I’ll try,” you should get a sinking feeling in your stomach. Because this really means, “I plan to fail.” - When you hear either of these, dive back in with calibrated “How” questions until they define the terms of successful implementation in their own voice. Follow up by summarizing what they have said to get a “That’s right.” Let the other side feel victory. Let them think it was their idea. Subsume your ego. Remember: “Yes” is nothing without “How.” So keep asking “How?” And succeed
- In two famous studies on what makes us like or dislike somebody,1 UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian created the 7-38-55 rule. That is, only 7 percent of a message is based on the words while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker’s body language and face
While these figures mainly relate to situations where we are forming an attitude about somebody, the rule nonetheless offers a useful ratio for negotiators. You see, body language and tone of voice—not words—are our most powerful assessment tools. That’s why I’ll often fly great distances to meet someone face-to-face, even when I can say much of what needs to be said over the phone. So how do you use this rule? First, pay very close attention to tone and body language to make sure they match up with the literal meaning of the words. If they don’t align, it’s quite possible that the speaker is lying or at least unconvinced. When someone’s tone of voice or body language does not align with the meaning of the words they say, use labels to discover the source of the incongruence
There are actually three kinds of “Yes”: Commitment, Confirmation, and Counterfeit.
So many pushy salesman try to trap their clients into the Commitment “Yes” that many people get very good at the Counterfeit “Yes.“
- One great tool for avoiding this trap is the Rule of Three
- The Rule of Three is simply getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation. It’s tripling the strength of whatever dynamic you’re trying to drill into at the moment. In doing so, it uncovers problems before they happen. It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction
- When I first learned this skill, my biggest fear was how to avoid sounding like a broken record or coming off as really pushy.
- The answer, I learned, is to vary your tactics
- The first time they agree to something or give you a commitment, that’s No. 1. For No. 2 you might label or summarize what they said so they answer, “That’s right.” And No. 3 could be a calibrated “How” or “What” question about implementation that asks them to explain what will constitute success, something like “What do we do if we get off track?”
- Or the three times might just be the same calibrated question phrased three different ways, like “What’s the biggest challenge you faced? What are we up against here? What do you see as being the most difficult thing to get around?”
- Either way, going at the same issue three times uncovers falsehoods as well as the incongruences between words and body language we mentioned in the last section. So next time you’re not sure your counterpart is truthful and committed, try it
- People always talk about remembering and using (but not overusing) your counterpart’s name in a negotiation. And that’s important. The reality though is people are often tired of being hammered with their own name. The slick salesman trying to drive them to “Yes” will hit them with it over and over
- Instead, take a different tack and use your own name. That’s how I get the Chris discount
- Just as using Alastair’s name with the kidnapper and getting him to use it back humanized the hostage and made it less likely he would be harmed, using your own name creates the dynamic of “forced empathy.” It makes the other side see you as a person
- A few years ago I was in a bar in Kansas with a bunch of fellow FBI negotiators. The bar was packed, but I saw one empty chair. I moved toward it but just as I got ready to sit the guy next to it said, “Don’t even think about it.” “Why?” I asked, and he said, “Because I’ll kick your ass.” He was big, burly, and already drunk, but look, I’m a lifelong hostage negotiator—I gravitate toward tense situations that need mediation like a moth to the flame. I held out my hand to shake his and said, “My name is Chris.” The dude froze, and in the pause my fellow FBI guys moved in, patted him on the shoulders, and offered to buy him a drink. Turned out he was a Vietnam veteran at a particularly low point. He was in a packed bar where the entire world seemed to be celebrating. The only thing he could think of was to fight. But as soon as I became “Chris,” everything changed.
Now take that mindset to a financial negotiation. I was in an outlet mall a few months after the Kansas experience and I picked out some shirts in one of the stores. At the front counter the young lady asked me if I wanted to join their frequent buyer program. I asked her if I got a discount for joining and she said, “No.” So I decided to try another angle. I said in a friendly manner, “My name is Chris. What’s the Chris discount?” She looked from the register, met my eyes, and gave a little laugh. “I’ll have to ask my manager, Kathy,” she said and turned to the woman who’d been standing next to her. Kathy, who’d heard the whole exchange, said, “The best I can do is ten percent.” Humanize yourself. Use your name to introduce yourself. Say it in a fun, friendly way. Let them enjoy the interaction, too. And get your own special price
Like you saw Aaron and Julie do with their kidnappers, the best way to get your counterparts to lower their demands is to say “No” using “How” questions. These indirect ways of saying “No” won’t shut down your counterpart the way a blunt, pride-piercing “No” would. In fact, these responses will sound so much like counterbids that your counterparts will often keep bidding against themselves
- We’ve found that you can usually express “No” four times before actually saying the word
- The first step in the “No” series is the old standby: “How am I supposed to do that?” You have to deliver it in a deferential way, so it becomes a request for help. Properly delivered, it invites the other side to participate in your dilemma and solve it with a better offer
- After that, some version of “Your offer is very generous, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me” is an elegant second way to say “No.” This well-tested response avoids making a counteroffer, and the use of “generous” nurtures your counterpart to live up to the word. The “I’m sorry” also softens the “No” and builds empathy. (You can ignore the so-called negotiating experts who say apologies are always signs of weakness.)
- Then you can use something like “I’m sorry but I’m afraid I just can’t do that.” It’s a little more direct, and the “can’t do that” does great double duty. By expressing an inability to perform, it can trigger the other side’s empathy toward you
- “I’m sorry, no” is a slightly more succinct version for the fourth “No.” If delivered gently, it barely sounds negative at all
- If you have to go further, of course, “No” is the last and most direct way. Verbally, it should be delivered with a downward inflection and a tone of regard; it’s not meant to be “NO!”
- Superstar negotiators—real rainmakers—know that a negotiation is a playing field beneath the words, where really getting to a good deal involves detecting and manipulating subtle, nonobvious signals beneath the surface. It is only by visualizing and modifying these subsurface issues that you can craft a great deal and make sure that it is implemented.
As you put the following tools to use, remember this chapter’s most important concept. That is, “Yes” is nothing without “How.” Asking “How,” knowing “How,” and defining “How” are all part of the effective negotiator’s arsenal. He would be unarmed without them
- Ask calibrated “How” questions, and ask them again and again. Asking “How” keeps your counterparts engaged but off balance. Answering the questions will give them the illusion of control. It will also lead them to contemplate your problems when making their demands
- Use “How” questions to shape the negotiating environment. You do this by using “How can I do that?” as a gentle version of “No.” This will subtly push your counterpart to search for other solutions—your solutions. And very often it will get them to bid against themselves
- Don’t just pay attention to the people you’re negotiating with directly; always identify the motivations of the players “behind the table.” You can do so by asking how a deal will affect everybody else and how on board they are
- Follow the 7-38-55 Percent Rule by paying close attention to tone of voice and body language. Incongruence between the words and nonverbal signs will show when your counterpart is lying or uncomfortable with a deal
- Is the “Yes” real or counterfeit? Test it with the Rule of Three: use calibrated questions, summaries, and labels to get your counterpart to reaffirm their agreement at least three times. It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction
- A person’s use of pronouns offers deep insights into his or her relative authority. If you’re hearing a lot of “I,” “me,” and “my,” the real power to decide probably lies elsewhere. Picking up a lot of “we,” “they,” and “them,” it’s more likely you’re dealing directly with a savvy decision maker keeping his options open
- Use your own name to make yourself a real person to the other side and even get your own personal discount. Humor and humanity are the best ways to break the ice and remove roadblocks
Any response that’s not an outright rejection of your offer means you have the edge
- Here’s a quick guide to classifying the type of negotiator you’re facing and the tactics that will be most fitting for you.
- ANALYST. Analysts are methodical and diligent. They are not in a big rush. Instead, they believe that as long as they are working toward the best result in a thorough and systematic way, time is of little consequence. Their self-image is linked to minimizing mistakes. Their motto: As much time as it takes to get it right. Classic analysts prefer to work on their own and rarely deviate from their goals. They rarely show emotion, and they often use what is very close to the FM DJ Voice I talked about in Chapter 3, slow and measured with a downward inflection. However, Analysts often speak in a way that is distant and cold instead of soothing. This puts people off without them knowing it and actually limits them from putting their counterpart at ease and opening them up. Analysts pride themselves on not missing any details in their extensive preparation. They will research for two weeks to get data they might have gotten in fifteen minutes at the negotiating table, just to keep from being surprised. Analysts hate surprises. They are reserved problem solvers, and information aggregators, and are hypersensitive to reciprocity. They will give you a piece, but if they don’t get a piece in return within a certain period of time, they lose trust and will disengage. This can often seem to come out of nowhere, but remember, since they like working on things alone the fact that they are talking to you at all is, from their perspective, a concession. They will often view concessions by their counterpart as a new piece of information to be taken back and evaluated. Don’t expect immediate counterproposals from them
- ACCOMMODATOR. The most important thing to this type of negotiator is the time spent building the relationship. Accommodators think as long as there is a free-flowing continuous exchange of information time is being well spent. As long as they’re communicating, they’re happy. Their goal is to be on great terms with their counterpart. They love the win-win. Of the three types, they are most likely to build great rapport without actually accomplishing anything. Accommodators want to remain friends with their counterpart even if they can’t reach an agreement. They are very easy to talk to, extremely friendly, and have pleasant voices. They will yield a concession to appease or acquiesce and hope the other side reciprocates. If your counterparts are sociable, peace-seeking, optimistic, distractible, and poor time managers, they’re probably Accommodators. If they’re your counterpart, be sociable and friendly. Listen to them talk about their ideas and use calibrated questions focused specifically on implementation to nudge them along and find ways to translate their talk into action. Due to their tendency to be the first to activate the reciprocity cycle, they may have agreed to give you something they can’t actually deliver. Their approach to preparation can be lacking as they are much more focused on the person behind the table. They want to get to know you. They have a tremendous passion for the spirit of negotiation and what it takes not only to manage emotions but also to satisfy them. While it is very easy to disagree with an Accommodator, because they want nothing more that to hear what you have to say, uncovering their objections can be difficult. They will have identified potential problem areas beforehand and will leave those areas unaddressed out of fear of the conflict they may cause. If you have identified yourself as an Accommodator, stick to your ability to be very likable, but do not sacrifice your objections. Not only do the other two types need to hear your point of view; if you are dealing with another Accommodator they will welcome it. Also be conscious of excess chitchat: the other two types have no use for it, and if you’re sitting across the table from someone like yourself you will be prone to interactions where nothing gets done
- ASSERTIVE. The Assertive type believes time is money; every wasted minute is a wasted dollar. Their self-image is linked to how many things they can get accomplished in a period of time. For them, getting the solution perfect isn’t as important as getting it done. Assertives are fiery people who love winning above all else, often at the expense of others. Their colleagues and counterparts never question where they stand because they are always direct and candid. They have an aggressive communication style and they don’t worry about future interactions. Their view of business relationships is based on respect, nothing more and nothing less. Most of all, the Assertive wants to be heard. And not only do they want to be heard, but they don’t actually have the ability to listen to you until they know that you’ve heard them. They focus on their own goals rather than people. And they tell rather than ask. When you’re dealing with Assertive types, it’s best to focus on what they have to say, because once they are convinced you understand them, then and only then will they listen for your point of view. To an Assertive, every silence is an opportunity to speak more. Mirrors are a wonderful tool with this type. So are calibrated questions, labels, and summaries. The most important thing to get from an Assertive will be a “that’s right” that may come in the form of a “that’s it exactly” or “you hit it on the head.” When it comes to reciprocity, this type is of the “give an inch/take a mile” mentality. They will have figured they deserve whatever you have given them so they will be oblivious to expectations of owing something in return. They will actually simply be looking for the opportunity to receive more. If they have given some kind of concession, they are surely counting the seconds until they get something in return. If you are an Assertive, be particularly conscious of your tone. You will not intend to be overly harsh but you will often come off that way. Intentionally soften your tone and work to make it more pleasant. Use calibrated questions and labels with your counterpart since that will also make you more approachable and increase the chances for collaboration. We’ve seen how each of these groups views the importance of time differently (time = preparation; time = relationship; time = money). They also have completely different interpretations of silence. I’m definitely an Assertive, and at a conference this Accommodator type told me that he blew up a deal. I thought, What did you do, scream at the other guy and leave? Because that’s me blowing up a deal. But it turned out that he went silent; for an Accommodator type, silence is anger. For Analysts, though, silence means they want to think. And Assertive types interpret your silence as either you don’t have anything to say or you want them to talk. I’m one, so I know: the only time I’m silent is when I’ve run out of things to say. The funny thing is when these cross over. When an Analyst pauses to think, their Accommodator counterpart gets nervous and an Assertive one starts talking, thereby annoying the Analyst, who thinks to herself, Every time I try to think you take that as an opportunity to talk some more. Won’t you ever shut up? Before we move on I want to talk about why people often fail to identify their counterpart’s style. The greatest obstacle to accurately identifying someone else’s style is what I call the “I am normal” paradox. That is, our hypothesis that the world should look to others as it looks to us. After all, who wouldn’t make that assumption? But while innocent and understandable, thinking you’re normal is one of the most damaging assumptions in negotiations. With it, we unconsciously project our own style on the other side. But with three types of negotiators in the world, there’s a 66 percent chance your counterpart has a different style than yours. A different “normal
Negotiation academics like to treat bargaining as a rational process devoid of emotion. They talk about the ZOPA—or Zone of Possible Agreement—which is where the seller’s and buyer’s zones cross. Say Tony wants to sell his car and won’t take less than $5,000 and Samantha wants to buy but won’t pay more than $6,000. The ZOPA runs from $5,000 to $6,000. Some deals have ZOPAs and some don’t. It’s all very rational
In a real bargaining session, kick-ass negotiators don’t use ZOPA. Experienced negotiators often lead with a ridiculous offer, an extreme anchor. And if you’re not prepared to handle it, you’ll lose your moorings and immediately go to your maximum. It’s human nature. Like the great ear-biting pugilist Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” As a well-prepared negotiator who seeks information and gathers it relentlessly, you’re actually going to want the other guy to name a price first, because you want to see his hand. You’re going to welcome the extreme anchor. But extreme anchoring is powerful and you’re human: your emotions may well up. If they do there are ways to weather the storm without bidding against yourself or responding with anger. Once you learn these tactics, you’ll be prepared to withstand the hit and counter with panache. First, deflect the punch in a way that opens up your counterpart. Successful negotiators often say “No” in one of the many ways we’ve talked about (“How am I supposed to accept that?”) or deflect the anchor with questions like “What are we trying to accomplish here?” Responses like these are great ways to refocus your counterpart when you feel you’re being pulled into the compromise trap
You can also respond to a punch-in-the-face anchor by simply pivoting to terms. What I mean by this is that when you feel you’re being dragged into a haggle you can detour the conversation to the nonmonetary issues that make any final price work. You can do this directly by saying, in an encouraging tone of voice, “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.” Or you could go at it more obliquely by asking, “What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?”. And if the other side pushes you to go first, wriggle from his grip. Instead of naming a price, allude to an incredibly high number that someone else might charge. Once when a hospital chain wanted me to name a price first, I said, “Well, if you go to Harvard Business School, they’re going to charge you $2,500 a day per student.” No matter what happens, the point here is to sponge up information from your counterpart. Letting your counterpart anchor first will give you a tremendous feel for him. All you need to learn is how to take the first punch
When a negotiation is far from resolution and going nowhere fast, you need to shake things up and get your counterpart out of their rigid mindset. In times like this, strong moves can be enormously effective tools. Sometimes a situation simply calls for you to be the aggressor and punch the other side in the face. That said, if you are basically a nice person, it will be a real stretch to hit the other guy like Mike Tyson. You can’t be what you’re not. As the Danish folk saying goes, “You bake with the flour you have.” But anyone can learn a few tools
- Here are effective ways to assert smartly:
- Marwan Sinaceur of INSEAD and Stanford University’s Larissa Tiedens found that expressions of anger increase a negotiator’s advantage and final take. Anger shows passion and conviction that can help sway the other side to accept less. However, by heightening your counterpart’s sensitivity to danger and fear, your anger reduces the resources they have for other cognitive activity, setting them up to make bad concessions that will likely lead to implementation problems, thus reducing your gains
- Also beware: researchers have also found that disingenuous expressions of unfelt anger—you know, faking it—backfire, leading to intractable demands and destroying trust. For anger to be effective, it has to be real, the key for it is to be under control because anger also reduces our cognitive ability. And so when someone puts out a ridiculous offer, one that really pisses you off, take a deep breath, allow little anger, and channel it—at the proposal, not the person—and say, “I don’t see how that would ever work.” Such well-timed offense-taking—known as “strategic umbrage”—can wake your counterpart to the problem. In studies by Columbia University academics Daniel Ames and Abbie Wazlawek, people on the receiving end of strategic umbrage were more likely to rate themselves as overassertive, even when the counterpart didn’t think so.
- The real lesson here is being aware of how this might be used on you. Please don’t allow yourself to fall victim to “strategic umbrage.”
- Across our planet and around the universe, “Why?” makes people defensive. As an experiment, the next time your boss wants something done ask him or her “Why?” and watch what happens. Then try it with a peer, a subordinate, and a friend. Observe their reactions and tell me if you don’t find some level of defensiveness across the spectrum. Don’t do this too much, though, or you’ll lose your job and all your friends. The only time I say, “Why did you do that?” in a negotiation is when I want to knock someone back. It’s an iffy technique, though, and I wouldn’t advocate it. There is, however, another way to use “Why?” effectively. The idea is to employ the defensiveness the question triggers to get your counterpart to defend your position. I know it sounds weird, but it works. The basic format goes like this: When you want to flip a dubious counterpart to your side, ask them, “Why would you do that?” but in a way that the “that” favors you. Let me explain. If you are working to lure a client away from a competitor, you might say, “Why would you ever do business with me? Why would you ever change from your existing supplier? They’re great!”. In these questions, the “Why?” coaxes your counterpart into working for you
- Using the first-person singular pronoun is another great way to set a boundary without escalating into confrontation. When you say, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t work for me,” the word “I” strategically focuses your counterpart’s attention onto you long enough for you to make a point
- The traditional “I” message is to use “I” to hit the pause button and step out of a bad dynamic. When you want to counteract unproductive statements from your counterpart, you can say, “ I feel _ when you _ because _ ” and that demands a time-out from the other person
- But be careful with the big “I”: You have to be mindful not to use a tone that is aggressive or creates an argument. It’s got to be cool and level
We’ve said previously that no deal is better than a bad deal. If you feel you can’t say “No” then you’ve taken yourself hostage. Once you’re clear on what your bottom line is, you have to be willing to walk away. Never be needy for a deal
Before we move on, I want to emphasize how important it is to maintain a collaborative relationship even when you’re setting boundaries. Your response must always be expressed in the form of strong, yet empathic, limit-setting boundaries—that is, tough love—not as hatred or violence. Anger and other strong emotions can on rare occasions be effective. But only as calculated acts, never a personal attack. In any bare-knuckle bargaining session, the most vital principle to keep in mind is never to look at your counterpart as an enemy
The person across the table is never the problem. The unsolved issue is. So focus on the issue. This is one of the most basic tactics for avoiding emotional escalations. Our culture demonizes people in movies and politics, which creates the mentality that if we only got rid of the person then everything would be okay. But this dynamic is toxic to any negotiation. Punching back is a last resort. Before you go there, I always suggest an attempt at de-escalating the situation. Suggest a time-out. When your counterparts step back and take a breath, they’ll no longer feel that they are hostage to a bad situation. They’ll regain a sense of agency and power. And they’ll appreciate you for that
Think of punching back and boundary-setting tactics as a flattened S-curve: you’ve accelerated up the slope of a negotiation and hit a plateau that requires you to temporarily stop any progress, escalate or de-escalate the issue acting as the obstacle, and eventually bring the relationship back to a state of rapport and get back on the slope. Taking a positive, constructive approach to conflict involves understanding that the bond is fundamental to any resolution
Never create an enemy
- The Ackerman model is an offer-counteroffer method, at least on the surface. But it is a very effective system for beating the usual lackluster bargaining dynamic, which has the predictable result of meeting in the middle.
The systematized and easy-to-remember process has only four steps:
- Set your target price (your goal)
- Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price
- Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent)
- Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer
- When calculating the final amount, use precise, nonround numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight
- On your final number, throw in a nonmonetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit
The genius of this system is that it incorporates the psychological tactics we’ve discussed—reciprocity, extreme anchors, loss aversion, and so on—without you needing to think about them
Eight months after a Georgetown MBA student of mine named Mishary signed a rental contract for $1,850/month, he got some unwelcome news: his landlord informed him that if he wanted to re-up, it would be $2,100/month for ten months, or $2,000/month for a year. Mishary loved the place and didn’t think he’d find a better one, but the price was already high and he couldn’t afford more. Taking to heart our class slogan, “You fall to your highest level of preparation,” he dove into the real estate listings and found that prices for comparable apartments were $1,800–$1,950/month, but none of them were in as good a building. He then examined his own finances and figured the rent he wanted to pay was $1,830. He requested a sit-down with his rental agent. This was going to be tough. At their meeting, Mishary laid out his situation. His experience in the building had been really positive, he said. And, he pointed out, he always paid on time. It would be sad for him to leave, he said, and sad for the landlord to lose a good tenant. The agent nodded. “Totally in agreement,” he said. “That’s why I think it will benefit both of us to agree on renewing the lease.” Here Mishary pulled out his research: buildings around the neighborhood were offering “much” lower prices, he said. “Even though your building is better in terms of location and services, how am I supposed to pay $200 extra?” The negotiation was on. The agent went silent for a few moments and then said, “You make a good point, but this is still a good price. And as you noted, we can charge a premium.” Mishary then dropped an extreme anchor. “I fully understand, you do have a better location and amenities. But I’m sorry, I just can’t,” he said. “Would $1,730 a month for a year lease sound fair to you?” The agent laughed and when he finished said there was no way to accept that number, because it was way below market price. Instead of getting pulled into a haggle, Mishary smartly pivoted to calibrated questions. “Okay, so please help me understand: how do you price lease renewals?” The agent didn’t say anything shocking—merely that they used factors like area prices and supply-and-demand—but that gave Mishary the opening to argue that his leaving would open the landlord to the risk of having an unrented apartment and the cost of repainting. One month unrented would be a $2,000 loss, he said. Then he made another offer. Now, you’re probably shaking your head that he’s making two offers without receiving one in return. And you’re right; normally that’s verboten. But you have to be able to improvise. If you feel in control of a negotiation, you can do two or three moves at a time. Don’t let the rules ruin the flow. “Let me try and move along with you: how about $1,790 for 12 months?” The agent paused. “Sir, I understand your concerns, and what you said makes sense,” he said. “Your number, though, is very low. However, give me time to think this out and we can meet at another time. How does that sound?” Remember, any response that is not an outright rejection means you have the edge. Five days later the two met again. “I ran the numbers, and believe me this is a good deal,” the agent started. “I am able to offer you $1,950 a month for a year.” Mishary knew he’d won. The agent just needed a little push. So he praised the agent and said no without saying, “No.” And notice how he brilliantly mislabels in order to get the guy to open up? “That is generous of you, but how am I supposed to accept it when I can move a few blocks away and stay for $1,800? A hundred and fifty dollars a month means a lot to me. You know I am a student. I don’t know, it seems like you would rather run the risk of keeping the place unrented.” “It’s not that,” the agent answered. “But I can’t give you a number lower than the market.” Mishary made a dramatic pause, as if the agent was extracting every cent he had. “Then I tell you what, I initially went up from $1,730 to $1,790,” he said, sighing. “I will bring it up to $1,810. And I think this works well for both.” The agent shook his head. “This is still lower than the market, sir. And I cannot do that.” Mishary then prepared to give the last of his Ackerman offers. He went silent for a while and then asked the agent for a pen and paper. Then he started doing fake calculations to seem like he was really pushing himself. Finally, he looked up at the agent and said, “I did some numbers, and the maximum I can afford is $1,829.” The agent bobbed his head from side to side, as if getting his mind around the offer. At last, he spoke. “Wow. $1,829,” he said. “You seem very precise. You must be an accountant. [Mishary was not.] Listen, I value you wanting to renew with us and for that I think we can make this work for a twelve-month lease.” Ka-ching! Notice this brilliant combination of decreasing Ackerman offers, nonround numbers, deep research, smart labeling, and saying no without saying “No”? That’s what gets you a rent discount when a landlord wanted to raise his monthly take.
When push comes to shove—and it will—you’re going to find yourself sitting across the table from a bare-knuckle negotiator. After you’ve finished all the psychologically nuanced stuff—the labeling and mirroring and calibrating—you are going to have to hash out the “brass tacks.” For most of us, that ain’t fun.
- Top negotiators know, however, that conflict is often the path to great deals. And the best find ways to actually have fun engaging in it. Conflict brings out truth, creativity, and resolution. So the next time you find yourself face-to-face with a bare-knuckle bargainer, remember:
- Identify your counterpart’s negotiating style. Once you know whether they are Accommodator, Assertive, or Analyst, you’ll know the correct way to approach them
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level of preparation. So design an ambitious but legitimate goal and then game out the labels, calibrated questions, and responses you’ll use to get there. That way, once you’re at the bargaining table, you won’t have to wing it
- Get ready to take a punch. Kick-ass negotiators usually lead with an extreme anchor to knock you off your game. If you’re not ready, you’ll flee to your maximum without a fight. So prepare your dodging tactics to avoid getting sucked into the compromise trap
- Set boundaries, and learn to take a punch or punch back, without anger. The guy across the table is not the problem; the situation is
- Prepare an Ackerman plan. Before you head into the weeds of bargaining, you’ll need a plan of extreme anchor, calibrated questions, and well-defined offers. Remember: 65, 85, 95, 100 percent. Decreasing raises and ending on nonround numbers will get your counterpart to believe that he’s squeezing you for all you’re worth when you’re really getting to the number you want
In every negotiating session, there are different kinds of information. There are those things we know, like our counterpart’s name and their offer and our experiences from other negotiations. Those are known knowns. There are those things we are certain that exist but we don’t know, like the possibility that the other side might get sick and leave us with another counterpart. Those are known unknowns and they are like poker wild cards; you know they’re out there but you don’t know who has them. But most important are those things we don’t know that we don’t know, pieces of information we’ve never imagined but that would be game changing if uncovered. Maybe our counterpart wants the deal to fail because he’s leaving for a competitor. These unknown unknowns are Black Swans
I began to hypothesize that in every negotiation each side is in possession of at least three Black Swans, three pieces of information that, were they to be discovered by the other side, would change everything
I’m going to come back to specific techniques for uncovering Black Swans, but first I’d like to examine what makes them so useful. The answer is leverage. Black Swans are leverage multipliers. They give you the upper hand. Now, “leverage” is the magic word, but it’s also one of those concepts that negotiation experts casually throw about but rarely delve into, so I’d like to do so here. In theory, leverage is the ability to inflict loss and withhold gain. Where does your counterpart want to gain and what do they fear losing? Discover these pieces of information, we are told, and you’ll build leverage over the other side’s perceptions, actions, and decisions. In practice, where our irrational perceptions are our reality, loss and gain are slippery notions, and it often doesn’t matter what leverage actually exists against you; what really matters is the leverage they think you have on them. That’s why I say there’s always leverage: as an essentially emotional concept, it can be manufactured whether it exists or not
To get leverage, you have to persuade your counterpart that they have something real to lose if the deal falls through
- At a taxonomic level, there are three kinds: Positive, Negative, and Normative
- Positive leverage is quite simply your ability as a negotiator to provide—or withhold—things that your counterpart wants. Whenever the other side says, “I want . . .” as in, “I want to buy your car,” you have positive leverage. When they say that, you have power: you can make their desire come true; you can withhold it and thereby inflict pain; or you can use their desire to get a better deal with another party
- Negative leverage is what most civilians picture when they hear the word “leverage.” It’s a negotiator’s ability to make his counterpart suffer. And it is based on threats: you have negative leverage if you can tell your counterpart, “If you don’t fulfill your commitment/pay your bill/etc., I will destroy your reputation.” This sort of leverage gets people’s attention because of a concept we’ve discussed: loss aversion. As effective negotiators have long known and psychologists have repeatedly proved, potential losses loom larger in the human mind than do similar gains. Getting a good deal may push us toward making a risky bet, but saving our reputation from destruction is a much stronger motivation. So what kind of Black Swans do you look to be aware of as negative leverage? Effective negotiators look for pieces of information, often obliquely revealed, that show what is important to their counterpart: Who is their audience? What signifies status and reputation to them? What most worries them? To find this information, one method is to go outside the negotiating table and speak to a third party that knows your counterpart. The most effective method is to gather it from interactions with your counterpart. That said, a word of warning: I do not believe in making direct threats and am extremely careful with even subtle ones. Threats can be like nuclear bombs. There will be a toxic residue that will be difficult to clean up. You have to handle the potential of negative consequences with care, or you will hurt yourself and poison or blow up the whole process. If you shove your negative leverage down your counterpart’s throat, it might be perceived as you taking away their autonomy. People will often sooner die than give up their autonomy. They’ll at least act irrationally and shut off the negotiation. A more subtle technique is to label your negative leverage and thereby make it clear without attacking. Sentences like “It seems like you strongly value the fact that you’ve always paid on time” or “It seems like you don’t care what position you are leaving me in” can really open up the negotiation process.
- Every person has a set of rules and a moral framework. Normative leverage is using the other party’s norms and standards to advance your position. If you can show inconsistencies between their beliefs and their actions, you have normative leverage. No one likes to look like a hypocrite. For example, if your counterpart lets slip that they generally pay a certain multiple of cash flow when they buy a company, you can frame your desired price in a way that reflects that valuation. Discovering the Black Swans that give you normative valuation can be as easy as asking what your counterpart believes and listening openly. You want to see what language they speak, and speak it back to them
- Here are two tips for reading religion correctly:
- Review everything you hear. You will not hear everything the first time, so double-check. Compare notes with your team members. You will often discover new information that will help you advance the negotiation
- Use backup listeners whose only job is to listen between the lines. They will hear things you miss
- In other words: listen, listen again, and listen some more
We’ve seen how a holistic understanding of your counterpart’s “religion”—a huge Black Swan—can provide normative leverage that leads to negotiating results. But there are other ways in which learning your counterpart’s “religion” enables you to achieve better outcomes
Research by social scientists has confirmed something effective negotiators have known for ages: namely, we trust people more when we view them as being similar or familiar. People trust those who are in their in-group. Belonging is a primal instinct. And if you can trigger that instinct, that sense that, “Oh, we see the world the same way,” then you immediately gain influence. When our counterpart displays attitudes, beliefs, ideas—even modes of dress—that are similar to our own, we tend to like and trust them more. Similarities as shallow as club memberships or college alumni status increase rapport. That’s why in many cultures negotiators spend large amounts of time building rapport before they even think of offers. Both sides know that the information they glean could be vital to effective deal making and leverage building. It’s a bit like dogs circling each other, smelling each other’s behind
Once you know your counterpart’s religion and can visualize what he truly wants out of life, you can employ those aspirations as a way to get him to follow you. Every engineer, every executive, every child—all of us want to believe we are capable of the extraordinary. As children, our daydreams feature ourselves as primary players in great moments: an actor winning an Oscar, an athlete hitting the game-winning shot. As we grow older, however, our parents, teachers, and friends talk more of what we can’t and shouldn’t do than what is possible. We begin to lose faith. But when someone displays a passion for what we’ve always wanted and conveys a purposeful plan of how to get there, we allow our perceptions of what’s possible to change. We’re all hungry for a map to joy, and when someone is courageous enough to draw it for us, we naturally follow. So when you ascertain your counterpart’s unattained goals, invoke your own power and follow-ability by expressing passion for their goals—and for their ability to achieve them
It’s not human nature to embrace the unknown. It scares us. When we are confronted by it, we ignore it, we run away, or we label it in ways that allow us to dismiss it. In negotiations, that label most often takes the form of the statement, “They’re crazy!” That’s one reason I’ve been highly critical of some of the implementation of America’s hostage negotiation policy—which is that we don’t negotiate with those we refer broadly to as “the Terrorists,” including groups from the Taliban to ISIS. The rationale for this nonengagement is summarized well by the journalist Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst: “Negotiations with religious fanatics who have delusions of grandeur generally do not go well.” The alternative we’ve chosen is to not understand their religion, their fanaticism, and their delusions. Instead of negotiations that don’t go well, we shrug our shoulders and say, “They’re crazy!” But that’s absolutely wrongheaded. We must understand these things. I’m not saying that because I’m a softheaded pacifist (the FBI doesn’t hire agents like that) but because I know understanding such things is the best way to discover the other side’s vulnerabilities and wants and thereby gain influence. You can’t get that stuff unless you talk. No one is immune to “They’re crazy!” You can see it rear its head in every kind of negotiation, from parenting to congressional deal making to corporate bargaining. But the moment when we’re most ready to throw our hands up and declare “They’re crazy!” is often the best moment for discovering Black Swans that transform a negotiation. It is when we hear or see something that doesn’t make sense—something “crazy”—that a crucial fork in the road is presented: push forward, even more forcefully, into that which we initially can’t process; or take the other path, the one to guaranteed failure, in which we tell ourselves that negotiating was useless anyway
- Common reasons negotiators mistakenly call their counterparts crazy. I’d like to talk through them here.
- MISTAKE #1: THEY ARE ILL-INFORMED. Often the other side is acting on bad information, and when people have bad information they make bad choices. There’s a great computer industry term for this: GIGO—Garbage In, Garbage Out
- MISTAKE #2: THEY ARE CONSTRAINED. In any negotiation where your counterpart is acting wobbly, there exists a distinct possibility that they have things they can’t do but aren’t eager to reveal. Such constraints can make the sanest counterpart seem irrational. The other side might not be able to do something because of legal advice, or because of promises already made, or even to avoid setting a precedent. Or they may just not have the power to close the deal
- MISTAKE #3: THEY HAVE OTHER INTERESTS. Think back to William Griffin, the first man ever to kill a hostage on deadline. What the FBI and police negotiators on the scene simply did not know was that his main interest was not negotiating a deal to release the hostages for money. He wanted to be killed by a cop. Had they been able to dig up that hidden interest, they might have been able to avoid some of that day’s tragedy. The presence of hidden interests isn’t as rare as you might think. Your counterpart will often reject offers for reasons that have nothing to do with their merits
Whatever the specifics of the situation, these people are not acting irrationally. They are simply complying with needs and desires that you don’t yet understand, what the world looks like to them based on their own set of rules. Your job is to bring these Black Swans to light
As we’ve seen, when you recognize that your counterpart is not irrational, but simply ill-informed, constrained, or obeying interests that you do not yet know, your field of movement greatly expands. And that allows you to negotiate much more effectively.
Students often ask me whether Black Swans are specific kinds of information or any kind that helps. I always answer that they are anything that you don’t know that changes things. To drive this home, here’s the story of one of my MBA students who was interning for a private equity real estate firm in Washington. Faced with actions from his counterpart that didn’t pass the sense test, he innocently turned up one of the greatest Black Swans I’ve seen in years by using a label. My student had been performing due diligence on potential targets when a principal at the firm asked him to look into a mixed-use property in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. He had no experience in the Charleston market, so he called the broker selling the property and requested the marketing package. After discussing the deal and the market, my student and his boss decided that the asking price of $4.3 million was about $450,000 too high. At that point, my student called the broker again to discuss pricing and next steps. After initial pleasantries, the broker asked my student what he thought of the property. “It looks like an interesting property,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t know the market fundamentals. We like downtown and King Street in particular, but we have a lot of questions.” The broker then told him that he had been in the market for more than fifteen years, so he was well informed. At this point, my student pivoted to calibrated “How” and “What” questions in order to gather information and judge the broker’s skills. “Great,” my student said. “First and foremost, how has Charleston been affected by the economic downturn?” The broker replied with a detailed answer, citing specific examples of market improvement. In the process, he showed my student that he was very knowledgeable. “It sounds like I’m in good hands!” he said, using a label to build empathy. “Next question: What sort of cap rate can be expected in this type of building?” Through the ensuing back-and-forth, my student learned that owners could expect rates of 6 to 7 percent because buildings like this were popular with students at the local university, a growing school where 60 percent of the student body lived off campus. He also learned that it would be prohibitively expensive—if not physically impossible—to buy land nearby and build a similar building. In the last five years no one had built on the street because of historic preservation rules. Even if they could buy land, the broker said a similar building would cost $2.5 million just in construction. “The building is in great shape, especially compared to the other options available to students,” the broker said. “It seems like this building functions more as a glorified dormitory than a classic multifamily building,” my student said, using a label to extract more information. And he got it. “Fortunately and unfortunately, yes,” the broker said. “The occupancy has historically been one hundred percent and it is a cash cow, but the students act like college students . . .” A lightbulb went on in my student’s head: there was something strange afoot. If it were such a cash cow, why would someone sell a 100 percent occupied building located next to a growing campus in an affluent city? That was irrational by any measure. A little befuddled but still in the negotiation mindset, my student constructed a label. Inadvertently he mislabeled the situation, triggering the broker to correct him and reveal a Black Swan. “If he or she is selling such a cash cow, it seems like the seller must have doubts about future market fundamentals,” he said. “Well,” he said, “the seller has some tougher properties in Atlanta and Savannah, so he has to get out of this property to pay back the other mortgages.” Bingo! With that, my student had unearthed a fantastic Black Swan. The seller was suffering constraints that, until that moment, had been unknown. My student put the broker on mute as he described other properties and used the moment to discuss pricing with his boss. He quickly gave him the green light to make a lowball offer—an extreme anchor—to try to yank the broker to his minimum. After quizzing the broker if the seller would be willing to close quickly, and getting a “yes,” my student set his anchor. “I think I have heard enough,” he said. “We are willing to offer $3.4 million.” “Okay,” the broker answered. “That is well below the asking price. However, I can bring the offer to the seller and see what he thinks.” Later that day, the broker came back with a counteroffer. The seller had told him that the number was too low, but he was willing to take $3.7 million. My student could barely keep from falling off his chair; the counteroffer was lower than his goal. But rather than jump at the amount—and risk leaving value on the table with a wimp-win deal—my student pushed further. He said “No” without using the word. “That is closer to what we believe the value to be,” he said, “but we cannot in good conscience pay more than $3.55 million.” (Later, my student told me—and I agreed—that he should have used a label or calibrated question here to push the broker to bid against himself. But he was so surprised by how far the price had dropped that he stumbled into old-school haggling.) “I am only authorized to go down to $3.6 million,” the broker answered, clearly showing that he’d never taken a negotiation class that taught the Ackerman model and how to pivot to terms to avoid the haggle. My student’s boss signaled to him that $3.6 million worked and he agreed to the price. I’ve teased several of the techniques my student used to effectively negotiate a great deal for his firm, from the use of labels and calibrated questions to the probing of constraints to unearth a beautiful Black Swan. It also bears noting that my student did tons of work beforehand and had prepared labels and questions so that he was ready to jump on the Black Swan when the broker offered it. Once he knew that the seller was trying to get money out of this building to pay off mortgages on the underperforming ones, he knew that timing was important. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. Afterward my student told me he wished he hadn’t lowballed the offer so quickly and instead used the opportunity to discuss the other properties. He might have found more investment opportunities within the seller’s portfolio. In addition, he could have potentially built more empathy and teased out more unknown unknowns with labels or calibrated questions like “What markets are you finding difficult right now?” Maybe even gotten face time with the seller directly
What we don’t know can kill us or our deals. But uncovering it can totally change the course of a negotiation and bring us unexpected success
Finding the Black Swans—those powerful unknown unknowns—is intrinsically difficult, however, for the simple reason that we don’t know the questions to ask. Because we don’t know what the treasure is, we don’t know where to dig
- Here are some of the best techniques for flushing out the Black Swans—and exploiting them. Remember, your counterpart might not even know how important the information is, or even that they shouldn’t reveal it. So keep pushing, probing, and gathering information.
- Let what you know—your known knowns—guide you but not blind you. Every case is new, so remain flexible and adaptable
- Remember the Griffin bank crisis: no hostage-taker had killed a hostage on deadline, until he did
- Black Swans are leverage multipliers. Remember the three types of leverage: positive (the ability to give someone what they want); negative (the ability to hurt someone); and normative (using your counterpart’s norms to bring them around)
- Work to understand the other side’s “religion.” Digging into worldviews inherently implies moving beyond the negotiating table and into the life, emotional and otherwise, of your counterpart. That’s where Black Swans live
- Review everything you hear from your counterpart. You will not hear everything the first time, so double-check. Compare notes with team members. Use backup listeners whose job is to listen between the lines. They will hear things you miss
- Exploit the similarity principle. People are more apt to concede to someone they share a cultural similarity with, so dig for what makes them tick and show that you share common ground
- When someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t. Faced with this situation, search for constraints, hidden desires, and bad information
- Get face time with your counterpart. Ten minutes of face time often reveals more than days of research. Pay special attention to your counterpart’s verbal and nonverbal communication at unguarded moments—at the beginning and the end of the session or when someone says something out of line
Negotiation is a psychological investigation. You can gain a measure of confidence going into such an investigation with a simple preparatory exercise we advise all our clients to do. Basically, it’s a list of the primary tools you anticipate using, such as labels and calibrated questions, customized to the particular negotiation
When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion—you fall to your highest level of preparation
One note of caution before going into greater depth on this exercise: some negotiation experts fetishize preparation to such a degree that they advise people to create the equivalent of preordained scripts for exactly how the negotiation will unfold and the exact form and substance the agreement will take on. By now, after reading this far, you’ll understand why that’s a fool’s errand. Not only will such an approach make you less agile and creative at the table, it will make you more susceptible to those who are
Based on my company’s experiences, I believe that good initial preparation for each negotiation yields at least a 7:1 rate of return on time saved renegotiating deals or clarifying implementation
In the entertainment industry, they have a single document that summarizes a product for publicity and sales that they call a “one sheet.” Along the same lines, we want to produce a negotiation “one sheet” that summarizes the tools we are going to use
It will have five short sections
- SECTION I: THE GOAL
- Think through best/worst-case scenarios but only write down a specific goal that represents the best case
- Typically, negotiation experts will tell you to prepare by making a list: your bottom line; what you really want; how you’re going to try to get there; and counters to your counterpart’s arguments
- But this typical preparation fails in many ways. It’s unimaginative and leads to the predictable bargaining dynamic of offer/counteroffer/meet in the middle. In other words, it gets results, but they’re often mediocre
- The centerpiece of the traditional preparation dynamic—and its greatest Achilles’ heel—is something called the BATNA
- Roger Fisher and William Ury coined the term in their 1981 bestseller, Getting to Yes, and it stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Basically, it’s the best possible option you have if negotiations fail. Your last resort. Say you’re on a car lot trying to sell your old BMW 3-series. If you already have another dealer who’s given you a written offer for $10,000, that’s your BATNA
- The problem is that BATNA tricks negotiators into aiming low. Researchers have found that humans have a limited capacity for keeping focus in complex, stressful situations like negotiations. And so, once a negotiation is under way, we tend to gravitate toward the focus point that has the most psychological significance for us
- In that context, obsessing over a BATNA turns it into your target, and thereby sets the upper limit of what you will ask for. After you’ve spent hours on a BATNA, you mentally concede everything beyond it
- God knows aiming low is seductive. Self-esteem is a huge factor in negotiation, and many people set modest goals to protect it. It’s easier to claim victory when you aim low. That’s why some negotiation experts say that many people who think they have “win-win” goals really have a “wimp-win” mentality. The “wimp-win” negotiator focuses on his or her bottom line, and that’s where they end up
- So if BATNA isn’t your centerpiece, what should be?
- Remember, never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better. Once you’ve got flexibility in the forefront of your mind you come into a negotiation with a winning mindset
- Let’s say you’re selling old speakers because you need $100 to put toward a new set. If you concentrate on the $100 minimum, you’ll relax when you hear that number and that’s what you’ll get. But if you know that they are for sale in used audio stores for $140, you could set a high-end goal of $150, while remaining open to better things
- Now, while I counsel thinking about a best/worst range to give my clients the security of some structure, when it comes to what actually goes on your one sheet, my advice is to just stick with the high-end goal, as it will motivate and focus your psychological powers, priming you to think you are facing a “loss” for any term that falls short. Decades of goal-setting research is clear that people who set specific, challenging, but realistic goals end up getting better deals than those who don’t set goals or simply strive to do their best
- Bottom line: People who expect more (and articulate it) get more
- Here are the four steps for setting your goal:
- Set an optimistic but reasonable goal and define it clearly
- Write it down
- Discuss your goal with a colleague (this makes it harder to wimp out)
- Carry the written goal into the negotiation
- SECTION II: SUMMARY
- Summarize and write out in just a couple of sentences the known facts that have led up to the negotiation
- You’re going to have to have something to talk about beyond a self-serving assessment of what you want. And you had better be ready to respond with tactical empathy to your counterpart’s arguments; unless they’re incompetent, the other party will come prepared to argue an interpretation of the facts that favors them
- Get on the same page at the outset
- You have to clearly describe the lay of the land before you can think about acting in its confines. Why are you there? What do you want? What do they want? Why?
- You must be able to summarize a situation in a way that your counterpart will respond with a “That’s right.” If they don’t, you haven’t done it right
- SECTION III: LABELS/ACCUSATION AUDIT
- Prepare three to five labels to perform an accusation audit
- Anticipate how your counterpart feels about these facts you’ve just summarized. Make a concise list of any accusations they might make—no matter how unfair or ridiculous they might be. Then turn each accusation into a list of no more than five labels and spend a little time role-playing it
- There are fill-in-the-blank labels that can be used in nearly every situation to extract information from your counterpart, or defuse an accusation:
- It seems like _____ is valuable to you
- It seems like you don’t like _____
- It seems like you value ____
- It seems like _____ makes it easier
- It seems like you’re reluctant to _____
- As an example, if you’re trying to renegotiate an apartment lease to allow subletters and you know the landlord is opposed to them, your prepared labels would be on the lines of “It seems as though you’re not a fan of subletters” or “It seems like you want stability with your tenants.”
- SECTION IV: CALIBRATED QUESTIONS
- Prepare three to five calibrated questions to reveal value to you and your counterpart and identify and overcome potential deal killers
- Effective negotiators look past their counterparts’ stated positions (what the party demands) and delve into their underlying motivations (what is making them want what they want). Motivations are what they are worried about and what they hope for, even lust for
- Figuring out what the other party is worried about sounds simple, but our basic human expectations about negotiation often get in the way. Most of us tend to assume that the needs of the other side conflict with our own. We tend to limit our field of vision to our issues and problems, and forget that the other side has its own unique issues based on its own unique worldview. Great negotiators get past these blinders by being relentlessly curious about what is really motivating the other side
- Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling has a great quote that sums up this concept: “You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”
- There will be a small group of “What” and “How” questions that you will find yourself using in nearly every situation. Here are a few of them:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- How is that worthwhile?
- What’s the core issue here?
- How does that affect things?
- What’s the biggest challenge you face?
- How does this fit into what the objective is?
- QUESTIONS TO IDENTIFY BEHIND-THE-TABLE DEAL KILLERS
- When implementation happens by committee, the support of that committee is key. You’ll want to tailor your calibrated questions to identify and unearth the motivations of those behind the table, including:
- How does this affect the rest of your team?
- How on board are the people not on this call?
- What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?
- QUESTIONS TO IDENTIFY AND DIFFUSE DEAL-KILLING ISSUES
- Internal negotiating influence often sits with the people who are most comfortable with things as they are. Change may make them look as if they haven’t been doing their job. Your dilemma in such a negotiation is how to make them look good in the face of that change
- You’ll be tempted to concentrate on money, but put that aside for now. A surprisingly high percentage of negotiations hinge on something outside dollars and cents. Often they have more to do with self-esteem, status, autonomy, and other nonfinancial needs
- Think about their perceived losses. Never forget that a loss stings at least twice as much as an equivalent gain. For example, the guy across the table may be hesitating to install the new accounting system he needs (and you are selling) because he doesn’t want to screw anything up before his annual review in four months’ time. Instead of lowering your price, you can offer to help impress his boss, and do it safely, by promising to finish the installation in ninety days, guaranteed.
- QUESTIONS TO USE TO UNEARTH THE DEAL-KILLING ISSUES
- What are we up against here?
- What is the biggest challenge you face?
- How does making a deal with us affect things?
- What happens if you do nothing?
- What does doing nothing cost you?
- How does making this deal resonate with what your company prides itself on?
- It’s often very effective to ask these in groups of two or three as they are similar enough that they help your counterpart think about the same thing from different angles.
- Every situation is unique, of course, but choosing the right mix of these questions will lead your counterpart to reveal information about what they want and need—and simultaneously push them to see things from your point of view.
- Be ready to execute follow-up labels to their answers to your calibrated questions.
- Having labels prepared will allow you to quickly turn your counterpart’s responses back to them, which will keep them feeding you - new and expanding information. Again, these are fill-in-the-blank labels that you can use quickly without tons of thought:
- It seems like ____ is important
- It seems you feel like my company is in a unique position to ____
- It seems like you are worried that ____
- SECTION V: NON CASH OFFERS
- Prepare a list of noncash items possessed by your counterpart that would be valuable
- Ask yourself: “What could they give that would almost get us to do it for free?” Think of the anecdote I told a few chapters ago about my work for the lawyers’ association: My counterpart’s interest was to pay me as little cash as possible in order to look good in front of his board. We came upon the idea that they pay in part by publishing a cover story about me in their magazine. That was low-cost for them and it advanced my interests considerably
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