4 Things to Expect in A Negotiation

If you knew what the people on the opposite side of the table thought you’d surely get everything you wanted. Unfortunately, you don’t have a crystal ball or a time machine and haven’t fully developed your psychic abilities just yet. Hence the reason for a communication process and varying amounts of preparation based on circumstance and of course time.


No matter your side, there are 4 things you can count on in just about every negotiation you will be in:

  1. They will be worried whether or not you agree
  2. The other side will be deliberately hiding things from you
  3. There will be people your counterpart(s) talk to away from the table that will influence their decisions
  4. The other side wants to get value from what they agree to


Go into every interaction expecting these issues to be present. Your job is to find the answer to each one of these. When we take a broad look at negotiation through the lens of basic human reaction, you can, in fact, predict what you will face next. When they are worried about whether you will agree, are you their first choice and their afraid they might have to look elsewhere if you say no?  If they are holding things back from you, the road to finding those black swans probably doesn’t start with laying out how you see things. Start shaping your approach to help you get a glimpse into what the conversations with people away from the table look like. When they go to speak to their team or boss, how can you make sure they are prepared to be best advocate?  One thing that is for sure about human nature, if the perceived value exceeds cost it doesn’t matter how much someone spends.


At the end of the book Never Split the Difference there is an example of our prep process. It is focused on how you will use your linguistic skills to create trust and in fact have a significant impact on how your counterpart makes decisions. One thing it doesn’t do is lay out a system for you to make your point. In fact when trying to get the other side to listen to you is when things go most awry or at the very least don’t have the impact you hoped. This is likely because you have quickly gone into bargaining whether you realize it or not. As soon as you have asked for anything at all, you have turned on the bargaining switch. The trigger may have been something as simple as you asking for them to listen to your point of view.


When we take a step back from being caught up in our wants and needs, we can start to see clear paths to the use of tactical empathy. Now again as a reminder, this does not mean you agree or sympathize, you're just very good at “predicting” and vocalizing their opinion. Following that with a confrontational way of getting them to think about why they should change their opinion, without the confrontation, allows them to be flexible in their decision making. Maybe pride is the emotion that stops them from active problem solving or having the buy-in you need.


If your reading this you are probably already convinced that emotions play a major role in how people react and choose, or at least you’ve considered it on some level. Now the trick is not so much trying to turn that emotional switch off but embracing it and using it as a tool. One of the things we talk endlessly about in the book and Black Swan sessions is “ignore human nature at you own peril.” People are going to react certain ways whether we like it or not. Do you think it is impossible to get out in front of some of those reactions? Sometimes the hardest part is staying out in front of our own reactions, especially when we feel like we have no leverage or are being treated unfairly.


Look at your strategy to negotiation as a mechanism to get the other side to think out loud in front of you. Our prep model just shows you a way to start to sequence some of that execution. Looking for ways to provoke the counterpart to share things with you will put you in a proactive frame of mind. Bargaining, explanation, and reciprocity dynamics are reactionary responses and should be avoided. Look to see the cause of emotional response to value before it actually occurs.