Blog: The Negotiation Edge

The True Power of “Yes”

A flat-out “yes” is a scary thing to say.

“Yes” is commitment. People are constantly trying to use it to trap you. That’s why when someone asks you the set-up “yes” question, your gut tightens and you ask yourself, “Where is this going? If I say ‘yes’, then what have I let myself in for?”

So let’s recognize that and use it.

I was coaching a film-maker here in LA. She’s got a deal-killing attorney on the other side who is trying to insert terms to “protect” her client. What’s she’s really trying to do is kill the deal. (Unfortunately, all too common with attorneys advising on any negotiation they weren’t involved in crafting.)

So when in doubt, they ask for a term that will kill the deal. It’s a way to kill the deal without taking responsibility for doing so.

What’s your countermove? Pretty simple actually, a little tactical empathy, followed by a question they would love to say “yes” to, but never will.

 Here’s what we did here (and PS: there’s been some name-calling by the attorney at my client that had come unexpectedly during a phone call):

In the email:

“Just so I am clear, you feel that I am being dishonest with you.
… you're absolutely determined to kill this deal.”


Another great thing about this in an email is your counterpart attorney will NEVER put a “yes” to this in writing. And since the answer is going to be a “no” – and “no” tends to trigger, clarity and feelings of safety – you increase the chances to a ridiculously high level that you will break the logjam productively.

The answer:

“I have no desire to “kill the deal” but I am keen on protecting my client.
Nor do I think that you were dishonest with me – to the contrary, you honestly told me…”


The attorney then went on to propose a solution (which was do-able) and actually solved the problem.

Empathy precedes assertion. You want to be more effective? Use it.

I know some people might say to themselves, “But wait, I can see how this could go wrong. What if she’d said ‘yes’?”

Don’t do that to yourself, because that’s not the comparison for decision, though we do this to ourselves all the time.

The comparison is not “What if this goes wrong?”, the comparison is “What happens if I don’t smoke this out? What happens if I do nothing?”

The answer to that is “Look at what’s happening now.”

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting things to change.

Great negotiation calls for great emotional intelligence. Lasting deals and lasting business relationships call for tactical empathy. Empathy gives you the ability to assert. Quite often in very direct ways.

As the iconic insurance company advertisement once said: “Don’t leave home without it.”

Like Seeing A Unicorn

Sebastian had spent most of the late morning into the early afternoon, one day in July, being exposed to the Black Swan method of labels and mirrors. Having already read “Never Split the Difference,” he was anxious to see and hear the practical application of the skills. Turns out, Sebastian was a quick study. As soon as the class concluded, he was chomping at the bit to see if the skills would bear fruit. That afternoon, he scheduled a phone call to negotiate the acquisition of a domain name. The seller anchored high with a five figure number. Rather than balk and counter, Sebastian used labels and mirrors to discover that it was most important to the seller for the domain to be used for a purpose in which he believed. Unbeknownst to the seller, this was Sebastian’s plan all along. Sebastian’s use of labels and mirrors uncovered other Black Swans as well:

How To Negotiate Your Way to 3 Billion Dollars Like Jimmy Iovine

Jimmy Iovine is the business partner of Dr. Dre (American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur). Iovine cut the deal that sold Beats to Apple for 3 billion dollars. The story of how they got there is the subject of the phenomenal HBO documentary special “The Defiant Ones.” I had to watch it 3 times to begin to catch the nuances of a Iovine’s brilliant style.

3 Guidelines For Negotiating Like a Pro

Traditionally speaking negotiation is seen as a focused comparison of ideas/results, in some circles, this can easily be construed into an argument over points.  

Typically a negotiation begins with one side stating what their issues are and what they want. Next, the other side does the same thing. In the end, if a deal is made both sides feel like they could have gotten more or they stuck it to the other side. Here are 3 guidelines for negotiating better outcomes.