Hang a Label On It

Happy handsome young man with beard talking on mobile phone standing over chalkboard background with blank speech bubble.jpegA “like” is an expression of value appreciation or desire that the Black Swan Group refers to as a positive. A “dislike” is a lack of appreciation, aversion or reluctance, to or for something. It is what we refer to as a negative. The positive or negative emotion that the counterpart attaches to a term or a dynamic is a clue as to the valuation they have put on it. The recognition, articulation, and exchange of values are what negotiation is all about.

Labeling allows us to attach a tentative identification of the dynamics, emotions or circumstances implied by your counterpart’s words, actions or demeanor. Such labeling shows that we are attempting to gain an understanding of the position they are in, whom they have to influence and challenges they face. When used effectively, labeling becomes one of the most powerful skills available to us because it helps us uncover the factors that drive the counterpart's behavior.

Label a positive and you reinforce it. Label a negative and that negative is diminished. Any passion, feeling or expressed thought has both a presenting and a latent emotional tone. It will be presented overtly either as positive or negative, leaving you to choose which you want to label.


People who hate cheaters love fair play. People who are passionate about their business have little tolerance for those who are apathetic about their company. If there is an aspect of dialogue that you want to reinforce – label it in a positive way “it sounds like you like…” or “it seems like…is important to you.” To diffuse or possibly eliminate a dynamic that is creating and obstruction, just select the opposite side – “it sounds like you don’t like...” or “It seems like you hate...”
You can even mislabel a dynamic to get to the core of their true motivation. Your counterpart’s reaction to a mislabel will reveal more information regarding their valuations. You might say, “It seems like you are hesitant about these options.” If the options are the issue, they will confirm it. If the options are not the issue, you might get a clarification such as, “I am not hesitant about the options. I am hesitant about the time needed to execute any of them.”


Listening to what is expressed by your counterpart and breaking down the components are what begins to slow time down for you without actually slowing the process down. Why? Because your brain is in high gear as you focus more of your faculties on the communication and consequently, slowly, gaining the upper hand.


As you prepare for your next interaction write down a summary of the situation as you know it to that point. Then consider the predictable positive and negative issues or passions your counterpart is likely to bring to the table.
Prepare 3-5 labels in advance to deal with them. Never let an emotion, dynamic, or position go by without hanging a label on it. People love to have others understand their circumstances.


See Derek and the rest of the Black Swan Team at our next negotiation event in Washington, DC on August 18th! Get your early bird ticket before they are gone!

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