This blog was originally published on 10/26/2015 and updated on 8/27/2020.
“How do I know whether I’ve gotten everything I could have out of a deal?”
This is one of the most common questions people ask me. To be fair, it’s a great question—and one that nags all of us.
What if I told you that you can make sure you haven’t left anything on the table by following a simple three-step process that requires very little energy on your end?
Step No. 1: Create a Positive and Playful Environment
A few years ago, the great Tom Girardi—known as the top trial lawyer in California and of Erin Brokovich fame—told my negotiation class at the University of Southern California that the key to getting what you want in a negotiation is to be “nice and gentle.”
Tom knows that—in order to get what he wants—he needs to create an environment that immediately encourages the other side to lean in his direction.
This is another version of one of our rules around here: Never be mean to someone who could hurt you by doing nothing
In every negotiation, your ultimate goal is to find out whether the other side can help you even more than they already have. You’re looking for every inch of latitude they could possibly give you. At the same time, you need to see far enough ahead to understand how you want to leave them before your next interaction. When the conversation is over, you want to make sure your counterpart is in a positive place.
Research tells us that people don’t remember things as they happened. They remember the most intense moment of an encounter, and they also remember how things ended. As we say here at Black Swan, the last impression is the lasting impression. That’s why we have to orchestrate our interactions so we control the end—and can then ensure that the end is positive.
The flip side to this is that we also know that our brains work up to 31 percent more effectively when we’re in a positive frame of mind because, quite simply, we’re smarter when we’re in a positive frame of mind.
It doesn’t hurt us, then, to make our counterpart smarter, too. After all, we want them to come up with the best ideas that help us—and enjoy doing it!
Step No. 2: Produce Empathy
In any negotiation, your goal should be to produce empathy and make the other side sympathetic to you and your goals. So, kick off a conversation with an apology. Nothing gets someone’s attention faster. They’ll wonder what the heck you’re apologizing for.
Believe it or not, this approach has the phenomenal effect of totally breaking the other side’s train of thought (in a nice way) and putting them in a position to be riveted by the next few words you say.
Introduce yourself and reintroduce yourself. Get your name out there. Make yourself a person. If you’ve been dealing with someone for a while, it never hurts to put your name back in their mind again. It’s a good refresher. You might also want to sprinkle in some self-effacing humility, which is a form of empathy that elevates your counterpart in a way they appreciate. You’ll also want to use their name sparingly—but not too sparingly.
A few years ago, after giving a session on negotiation at an Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) conference in Denver, an attendee taught me a brilliant insight I hadn’t known before. He suggested that when your counterpart says that’s right, they are confirming that you’ve hit the empathy bull’s-eye.
When you’ve gotten the that’s right, you’re ready for the next step.
Step No. 3: Provoke the Response with a Killer LabelTM
It sounds like there’s nothing more you can do. It sounds like this is out of your hands. It sounds like you’re powerless here. It sounds like there’s nothing I can say to get you to make this deal.
When you’ve gotten your that’s right, it’s time to use Labels™ to get more information from your counterpart. Do not ask a question here. Say the Label gently then go silent, keeping a supportive and approachable look on your face.
Let them respond. If they do have latitude, this is the moment you’re going to find out. This is how you both figure out what’s what—and when you work to leave them in a positive frame of mind about the interaction. If they can’t do anything more, you’ve at least made a deposit in the karma bank, and you never know when that might pay a dividend in the future.
Never underestimate the power of Labels. People hate being powerless. I once had a customer service agent offer me a concession I hadn’t even considered in response to this: It sounds like you’re powerless here. And doing so made them feel that much better.
When you’ve got your concession, thank them for their generosity, leave them with a smile, and make it rain!