COVID-19 Pandemic: How to Deal with Everything Being Renegotiated

    

If you haven’t been in renegotiation yet, you will be before the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The Black Swan Method™ was born out of crisis negotiations. Here are four steps (with specific dialogue) for how to deal with everything that’s being renegotiated in the midst of this economic crisis.

Negotiation during COVID-19 (1)

Step 1: The Late-Night FM DJ Voice

This needs to become your default voice. Smooth, calm, soothing, downward-inflecting.  

Why are negotiations with terrorists, kidnappers, hostage takers and barricaded people calmer than business negotiations? (A crazy idea if you think about it.) Because of this voice.

This voice will hit the mirror neurons in your counterpart’s brain. It triggers a neurochemical reaction that calms their brain (and yours). It creates an involuntary response of calm clearheadedness.  

Pretty much everyone today feels like they’re in survival mode. Survival is short-term thinking and by definition negative/pessimistic. The crazy thing is, survival thinking undermines success thinking.  

Everyone who is in survival mode is acting like a barricaded person: defensive and backed into a corner. Clear, success-oriented thinking has been shoved to the back of, if not completely out of, your head. 

All of your conversations right now are likely difficult conversations. To succeed under these circumstances, you have to help people make the switch out of a defensive mindset. Use the late-night FM DJ voice to get ahead of the negative emotions.  

This is why calm is contagious.

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Step 2: Establish Connection with Your Opening

Actually establish a connection, establish actual rapport. 

Start with a situationally insightful, intelligent guess: 

“I’ll bet things are crazy over there today. I’ll bet this is all pretty overwhelming.”

No hostage negotiator ever started off by saying, “How are you today?” That would seem to the barricaded person to be either incredibly oblivious or incredibly insensitive.  

“YOU DON’T KNOW?!” they would think. “Are you REALLY that unaware, or is it that you just don’t actually care?”

“How are you today?” is a very well-intended but largely ineffective way to establish a connection. 

Step 3: Labeling

Label what you hear (and let the circumstances prepare you for what you are likely to hear).

  • “It sounds like you guys are in survival mode.”
  • “It sounds like you guys probably feel backed into a corner.”
  • “It probably feels like things are changing from one minute to the next.”
  • “It sounds like you guys have thought through quite a few options.”

Survival is currently the issue. It’s the elephant in the room. You don’t make the elephant in the room go away by ignoring it. You don’t make it go away by denying it. You deal with it by recognizing it—and it becomes less fearsome.

There isn’t a single coping mechanism on Earth that doesn’t begin by simply recognizing the problem. None of them start by denying or ignoring the challenges or what’s at stake. 

“It sounds like you guys want to survive all of this” should be on your list of “go-to labels” that you will likely follow up with (if you hear an indicator of it).

And when you really can’t understand where they are coming from, “It sounds like you have a reason for saying that” will always be a great response. 

Step 4: Thought-Shaping Questions 

Create a paradigm shift with a Thought-Shaping Question™. Vision drives decision.

Calibrated, targeted use of the word “How?” is a Thought-Shaping Question™. In a deferential tone of voice, we want to shape their thinking around collaboration. And not just surviving, but thriving in the future. 

“How do we work our way through this so that we don’t destroy each other and we put ourselves in a position to pick up the pieces and work together when this is over?”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs taught us that before people can consider thriving, they have to get over being worried about surviving.

You want to shape your counterpart’s thinking around not just surviving, but thriving in the future. 

Using the late-night FM DJ voice and deference is the key.

You don’t want your tone of voice to trigger their defenses and destroy the rapport you’ve built.  

It’s also only 2 millimeters away from a condescending tone of voice (which would be damaging).   

Remember: Your inner voice will betray your outer voice. Keep a supportive, calm mindset and it will come out in your voice the way you want it to. You can watch your voice’s positive impact (or feel it if you’re on the phone).

Think to yourself, “We’ll get through this together, I’m on your side.” 

Why this paradigm shift?

In survival mode, your vision has blinders on it.  

A deferential “How?” triggers what Daniel Kahneman would call “slow thinking,” or in-depth, stop-you-in-your-tracks thinking. It is designed to activate deep contemplation. 

This question will spark collaboration, which is the essential element to surviving the present quagmire and coming out of it stronger and smarter.

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About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.