At The Black Swan Group, we teach a number of tactics that people like you can use to get better outcomes in your personal and professional lives. In our experience, our clients get the most bang for their buck when they use several of our tactics in concert with one another.
To me, conversations between people are like stews. When you’re making a stew, you’re not going to use too much salt or too many carrots or too much meat. You’re going to parse out the ingredients, using just enough of each, because the stew is the cumulative taste of a perfect balance of all of them.
Negotiation is very much the same. It’s analogous to a symphony, too. The violin by itself is a beautiful-sounding instrument. But stick a violin alongside a mixture of other violins, violas, cellos, basses, and a woodwind section, and all of a sudden the music has more color and depth—much more flavor, if you will.
In other words, you should never be looking for a so-called knockout punch with the use of a single skill, such as a labeling™. Successful negotiation is the cumulative effect of several different skills with our skill set. To give you a better idea of what we’re talking about, let’s explore a hypothetical scenario in which we use three Black Swan skills in tandem to get the results we want.
Labels™, Mirrors™, and Dynamic Silence™
At our live events, we instruct attendees to take part in an exercise in which they are paired up with another individual and are only allowed to use three negotiation tools during the whole conversation:
- Labels, which are verbal observations of emotion that are displayed or implied (e.g., It seems as though the financials of the deal frustrate you).
- Mirrors, which are communication tactics in which you “reflect” what the other side said by that person said (e.g., when the other side says something like This is the best we can do, you say The best you can do?).
- Dynamic silence, which is the process of using silence to create an awkward space that the other side will then fill with more information.
Usually, this exercise is cumbersome and difficult for newcomers who insist that they’d never conduct a conversation using these skills and these skills alone. And to some extent, they’re correct. But when they tough it out and stick to using these three skills only, they end up gathering a ton of information.
Adding More Instruments to the Negotiation Symphony
Continuing the above exercise, we ask, what would happen if you were also allowed to summarize the other side’s statements? The summary is another one of the skills we teach. Essentially, the goal here is to capture your counterpart’s position so well that they have no choice but to respond with these two magical words: That’s right!
By adding this tool to the mix, the robustness of the conversation takes on a new dimension because you’re using more of these skills.
But where exactly do you put these skills to use? It all depends on the flow of the conversation. Generally speaking, you’ll want to use a label (e.g., It looks like ... It sounds like ... It feels like ... and It seems like ... ) every fourth turn in the conversation. You want to alternate your labels with a mirror and combine them all with falling silent and giving your counterpart the chance to say their piece.
There might come a time when your counterpart has spoken through a significant part of the conversation, and you want to make sure there are points that aren’t forgotten or lost in the shuffle. At this point, you may want to follow up a summary with another tactic: the calibrated question™.
A calibrated question is a question that begins with what or how or sometimes why that is used to stop the other side in their tracks and get them to think about the issue at hand on a deeper level. Think something like this: How am I supposed to do that? The other side can’t respond with a simple one- or two-word answer here; they’ll need to flesh out their retort.
Keep in mind that, for many of us, the desire to correct someone else is irresistible. So don’t feel like your summary needs to be perfect. If you get anything wrong or leave anything out, you’ll find out right away.
Ready to Conduct Your Negotiation Symphony?
When used in conjunction with one another, the negotiation skills we teach allow you to remain a vibrant and agile partner in the conversational dance. And you never even have to take the lead.
Here’s the best part: Just like a quarterback wouldn’t throw a screen pass for the first time in the Super Bowl, you don’t have to be in the boardroom trying to close a deal under heavy pressure to put these skills to the test.
It’s all about the low-stakes practice. Look for situations in which there’s no pressure for you to perform. Whether you’re picking up a cup of coffee or talking to someone from the cable company, use these skills. To a grumpy barista, you might combine a label and calibrated question and say something like this: Sounds like you’ve had a rough day at work. What was the cause of it?
The more you practice, the faster you’ll groove the neural pathway that makes these skills become second nature—almost like muscle memory. So seek out opportunities that let you put these tools to use when not much is hanging in the balance. It’s the easiest way to get the reps you need to shine when you eventually find yourself in the throes of a high-stakes battle.
Check out our free e-book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating Contracts™, to learn more about how you can use our negotiation skills together to win the best deals.