2 Key Ways To Make Your Counterpart The Problem Solver


We all know at this point, as quoted in Never Split the Difference, the key to negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control. Turning your counterpart into the solver of problems is essential to making this happen for 2 reasons. First, we know that human nature tells us people feel in control when they are doing the talking. Second, buy-in is paramount to great execution. As a negotiator, your task is to with presenting moments for the other side to do some contemplating. Facilitate an interaction where they are considering things they feel the need to collaborate with you on directly, have to check with their team on, or both.

Often times, we come to the table prepared to push agreement to our solution. The real issue with coming to the table and presenting potential solutions you have thoughtfully considered is your counterpart hasn't thought it through, and there are questions in their mind unanswered by your presentation. This leaves them in a place where they are distracted and half listening. How do you know what they think if you haven’t asked and where does it leave you if they can’t process your information? The answer may closely coincide with why they never agree right away, disregard your solutions altogether, or have silly questions to issues you have already explained.


What we fail to consider at times is that when people have things swimming around in their head, they physically don't have the ability to listen carefully. Which is why “bringing them back to earth” is a bridge that needs to be crossed before you can make real progress. Correctly phrased calibrated questions and labels are the two skills you need to rely on to accomplish this goal.


1. Calibrated Questions

It is easy to unintentionally use a question to pressure the other side or forcefully get them to explain themselves. For example, "Why wouldn’t you want to do X?" "Where do you see this fitting?" or even "When will you be making the decision?" are all improperly phrased. Why questions are a great tool but can create a minefield of tension. Where and when questions have one-word answers and sometimes simply can’t be answered by the other side when their own agenda is blocking the ability to problem solve.


What and How questions define the boundary we want to stay within, but things like: "What do you think?" or "How are you doing?" don’t help anyone. When phrasing this particular skill, you want to say a lot more than what you expressed with just the words.


2. Labels/Mislabels 

"It sounds like you don’t know where you want to start." In this context, the label, or mislabel, is meant to be an opening line or something used within the first sequence of the negotiation.


Just like our general usage of labels, here it is meant to get more information or “verbal vomit.” The real difference, of course, is instead of pinpointing a dynamic or emotional makeup at the moment, the use is to present a problem. Without any use of logic or potential solutions, it is just a simple observation. This usage is also not to be feared, in fact, the emotion you are switching on is uneasiness in a very non-confrontational way. Which then causes the counterpart to confirm or deny the observation and begin to move toward solutions.


The key to negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control, making them the solver of problems puts them in the driver's seat and as discussed above personal buy-in is an excellent byproduct of someone sharing ideas. This leaves you in a position to confirm or deny their solution until they come up with the one you want. Inserting the “phases of No” as a potential way to navigate that aspect of the interaction.


One of the great things about Calibrated Questions and Labels is that they are chameleon skills. There are multiple applications and contextual ways to apply each. "How am I supposed to do that?" Is not designed to accomplish the same goal as "What is the best way to proceed? " Just like “It seems like you are upset” is designed to get to a different part of the interaction than “It looks like you have something you need us to hear.” The point is situational awareness; it’s not smart to drive the basket when you have an open 15ft jumper just because you like dunking. The purpose is to put the ball in the basket, just like the point of negotiation is to gather and collaborate.

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