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.
“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.”