Communication and Negotiation Techniques When Dealing with a Board

    

When you deal with a board, you’re in a high-stakes negotiation. Whether your goal is buying a company, getting investment in a fund, or encouraging a pharmaceutical company to pivot from one drug to the next, there is a lot on the line, so you need to bring your A game to get the deal you’re after.

Next time you head into the boardroom, keep these communication and negotiation techniques in mind to increase the chances you achieve your desired outcome.

Communication and Negotiation Techniques When Dealing with a Board

1. Fear of Loss

If you’re familiar with Daniel Kahneman’s work—and prospect theory in particular—you know that a loss stings twice as much as a gain. In other words, losing $5 feels twice as bad as gaining $5.

It turns out that fear of loss can be quite the motivator. Next time you find yourself on the other side of a board, use the fear of loss to pose visioning questions, specifically about what the organization stands to lose by not changing its vision. 

To illustrate, you might be able to show them how much they would stand to lose in regards to earning future gains or avoiding future losses

Bottom line? Create a fear of loss to put the counterpart in their place. Make them feel that if they don’t change what they’re doing, they’ll regret it forever.

[INFOGRAPHIC] Are you making one of these Top 3 Negotiation Mistakes? Download »

2. No-Oriented Questions

As a general rule, you should never try to get people to say yes. This is especially true when you’re speaking to a board.

After all, people don’t end up on the board by accident. You have to remember you’re dealing with savvy people, and the yes path will set off alarm bells. 

When you speak to a board, use no-oriented questions. These questions are designed to make the other side feel protected—and not like they’re being coerced into saying yes. Once people feel protected, they can think through implementation and next steps.

Here are some examples to guide your thinking:

  • Are you against making this change?
  • Would it destroy what we’re trying to do?
  • Do we want to continue to sell a product that we don’t believe in?
  • Is it advantageous for us to continue to sell a declining medication?

3. Summary™

When you speak in front of a board, a Summary™ is one of the most important tools at your disposal. 

It’s easy to get the board to say these two words: You’re right. The trick is getting them to say the two magical words: That’s right.

As we learned from Never Split the Difference, you’re right isn’t an indication of buy-in or commitment—it’s dismissive. So you should always aim for that’s right. And when you summarize the other side’s position so thoroughly, there’s not much else they can say. 

Summarizing a group—in this case, the board—provides the perfect opportunity to discuss missed issues. In every group, there’s always at least one person who feels they haven’t been heard. When you summarize and rehash the conversation to see if everyone agrees, it opens the door for minor issues that haven’t been addressed.

Keep in mind that these issues aren’t necessarily ones that derail the deal. You’re just creating the space for everyone in the group to feel heard. 

If someone feels as though they haven’t been heard, there will be discourse in the future. Next time a big decision comes up and someone feels as though they are left out, they will be the one to tank the deal. Ensuring everyone is heard from the outset prevents that from happening.

Through this lens, Summaries serve two purposes. First, to ensure you and the board are in it together at the present moment, and second, to consider the ripple effects of cohesion. By summarizing the conversation, you’re building a tighter, more cohesive unit, leading to easier conversations down the road.

4. Accusation Audit™

If you have to deliver bad news to the board, you need to kick things off with an Accusation Audit™. Otherwise, the majority of the board will not respond well to whatever you have to say.

By jump-starting your pitch with an Accusation Audit, you can proactively defuse the negatives so they don’t come back to haunt you later in the discussion. 

To illustrate, let’s say you’re trying to get a pharma board to prioritize a new drug over a proven drug. You might launch the conversation with something like this: You’re going to think I’m crazy. You might even think that I am in over my head and have no idea what I’m talking about. My proposal is going to feel like we’re giving up several years of market share that we’ve worked so hard to earn.

If you don’t address these negatives upfront, you will regret it down the road.

How to Speak to Authority

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t adjust your strategy based on who you’re talking to. That said, there are some important considerations to keep in mind about the type of people you will likely deal with when you enter a boardroom.

Your approach should be based on the negotiator personality types of the people you’re speaking to. When we think of boards, most of us think of powerful corporate executives who are going to jump down our throats the minute we open our mouths. 

The reality is quite different. The Accommodators and Analysts on the board are perfectly happy to sit back in the shadows, keep their mouths shut, and stay out of the limelight. If you’re guiding the conversation in such a way that puts either of these types on center stage, they will not be happy with you. 

Assertives will be a bit different. They will want to be addressed in a way that gives them the option to take the floor and speak their mind, and it’s essential to feed that sense of power. 

Who Are You Going to Talk To?

Contrary to what you might think, you’re less likely to run into an Assertive in the boardroom. In our experience, we’ve found that Analysts and Accommodators get bumped up to the board faster than Assertives. This means more high-level executives will be Analysts and Accommodators.

Why is that?

It’s easy: Analysts and Accommodators don’t rock the boat. No organization wants to promote the most difficult, Assertive shark as the head of the company. As a result, the Assertives are less likely to be in the seats than the other types. 

Keep in mind that Analysts can initially come across as Assertives. After all, they have been surrounded by loud, passionate people their whole lives, so they’ve learned how to behave in the corporate world based on observation. They might tap into Assertive behavior to seem more powerful. 

Conquer Your Next Boardroom Meeting

Pitching to the board is never a walk in the park. By kicking things off with an Accusation Audit, leading with the fear of loss, shooting for no, summarizing the entire conversation, and understanding the types of people you’re dealing with, you can increase the chances you get the outcomes you’re shooting for.

Better yet, you can develop camaraderie with the board, making your job easier and easier over time.

To continue your learning, check out the top three negotiation mistakes people make to learn about what you should avoid.

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Brandon Voss

About The Author

Brandon Voss is the President of The Black Swan Group. Brandon has been instrumental in adapting the FBI’s hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In addition to training clients, Brandon has guest lectured at USC Marshall School of Business and Georgetown McDonough School of Business.