There’s a difference between negotiating at the same time and negotiating as a team. If you’re laser-focused on getting your turn to speak and nailing your part in a negotiation, you’re leaving money on the table. In fact, if you’re consumed with your next move, you’re setting yourself to fall short. Below, we’ve laid out four tips for improving your team’s communication and effectiveness in a negotiation.
1. Brainstorm and Prepare Using a 5-4-3-2-1 Model
The quick hack? Use the 5-4-3-2-1 model. Your team should prep as follows: brainstorm five negative labels, four positive labels, three “how” questions, two “what” questions, and one “no-oriented” question.
Negative labels (not to be confused with insults) are meant to diffuse negative emotions the other side is harboring in a proactive way. Negative emotions create barriers to agreement. Leading with a negative label can help you disarm an attack or pre-empt it entirely. For example, consider the response: “It sounds like miscommunication is frustrating.” However obvious this may seem, this label calls out the perceived negative (frustration) and dissipates the barriers it creates without assigning responsibility.
Every negative label has a flip-side positive label. The above example could be flipped into: “It sounds like good communication is something that means a lot to you.” Brainstorming a variety of negative and positive labels with your team before a negotiation will help you anticipate setbacks and respond to your counterpart’s questions and concerns more effectively in the moment.
As you brainstorm labels, come up with specific “how,” “what,” and “no-oriented” (intended to solicit a “no” response) questions. Coming prepared with these questions will help you direct the conversation, better understand your counterpart’s needs, and earn collective buy-in from all members of their team.
2. Designate Clear Roles
The best way to support your team during a negotiation is to designate clear roles. If you’re working as a two-person team, one person should be the talker and the other person should be the designated listener. That doesn’t mean that the listener can’t talk and the talker can’t listen—here’s how it should work:
If you’re the talker, your job is to lead the conversation and pause occasionally and effectively to give your listener time to jump in. When you’re leading a negotiation, your brain is both listening to what’s being said and determining what to say next. In contrast, a listener’s job is to identify certain emotional cues and respond with an appropriate label, mirror, or question at the right moment to support the talker and buy them time to think. Because a listener is focused solely on identifying circumstantial and emotional cues, they will pick up on things that the talker misses. An effective listener is the best wingman and can instantly change the tone of a negotiation.
If your team is larger than two people, that means you can have more specialized listeners. This is often the case for negotiations that take place over the phone, where bigger groups can communicate with one another without being seen by the other team. On a bigger team, one listener may be focused strictly on identifying problems, another may be focused on listening for emotional drives, and yet another may be focused on implied positives. If you’re operating with a larger team, assign these roles and focus areas before you begin the negotiation process.
3. Grow Comfortable with Effective Pauses
It’s impossible for your team to be effective if you’re all talking over one another. In a group setting, there’s a natural impulse to want your voice to be heard and to speak with a certain frequency. To work effectively as a team, you need to let go of this drive altogether. If everyone on your team becomes comfortable with effective pauses and understands the negotiation strategy, you’ll create more natural opportunities to support one another.
4. Practice Together at Every Opportunity
The Black Swan Group lives by the rule that you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of preparation. This is especially true when it comes to functioning as a team. There are countless everyday opportunities to practice good team communication skills. Whether it’s during a lunch break or over coffee, practice operating and communicating as a team. View every conversation as an opportunity to practice your listening skills, grow comfortable with effective silence and pauses, and hone your communication strategy as a group. Doing so will help you understand each of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses and allow your performance to rise to your highest level or preparation, which will be a very high level indeed!