When you go into a negotiation that has a high probability of being combative, these are the strategies for overcoming those points of contention. In fact, most of the approach stems from ignoring your natural inclinations to right the wrongs, explain the why, and promise to make sure the other side won’t have to experience the irritation ever again.
The hardest part of swinging the tide in your favor when dealing with an aggressive situation is not going on the defensive. If you have ever found yourself saying “well that is because…”, “our system works that way due to…”, “Our industry dictates that the response to the problem is…” or any version where you explain the purpose or process of why something happened, you, in fact, are on the defensive.
Those times you go into a negotiation where you are fully expecting the other side to come out guns blazing. Either because that is their natural approach to negotiation or because you are aware of “bad blood” that may or may not have been caused by you. If you don’t plan to execute specific tactical empathy/EQ approaches, you are taking a long way around. Sometimes negotiations don’t even start off that way, you may be dealing with someone or a group that is seemingly cordial, and the communication takes a turn for the worse. You have to be able to adapt in the moment.
Everyone we meet in a negotiation has a plan of attack. If you go into an interaction thinking the other side has only one reason for being there, then you are painfully mistaken. Reasons for coming to the table are always more than what appears on the surface, even though financial gain may seem like the only motivator. There is always more to be had, even if that more is somehow tied to ego or pride. Many of you have already discovered a satisfied ego is often more important than a satisfied bank account. Consistently crossing that bridge has been the big hurdle.
If we take a real honest look at the reasons the other side would take a particular position, outside of how you feel, you can start to form individual statements connected to their reasoning. What Black Swan often refers to as “Making Your List.” Even if your only information going into an interaction is cold, you can start to draw lines between what they may want and why.
At one time or another, you have probably even experienced an ultimatum type offer. It may be something the other side says out of desperation. On the surface, it looks like they are trying to pin you into a corner to make a decision when at the core it's a sign of an attempt to get a deal done. Take it or leave it offers wouldn’t be proposed by a side that has already entirely made up their mind to walk away.
In Chris’s book “Never Split the Difference” we refer to this approach of beating them to their own justifications as an accusations audit. Crafted tactically you can summarize a position before they get a chance to say it. Not only indicating that you have a full understanding but consequently removing all the justification for cementing themselves over a specific position. A great example of this is Chris Voss's NPR interview on buying his car. To get his counterpart to continue to lower the price he continually stated how the truck he was buying was worth even more than what he was willing to pay for it, leaving the poor car salesmen on the other side of the table with nothing to justify why Chris should pay more for the truck. The reasoning for why the car should be sold for more than what Chris wanted to spend had already been said. Chris beat him to the punch.
When you are trying to influence a counterpart to make a decision that goes against the status quo or goes against a company standard. Prepare just to engage the silence and let them say the words that are going to move the conversation forward. You set up the silence with a summary of verbal statements that encompass the position they find themselves in. If you need to count in your head, like I do, to keep yourself in check feel free to do so. For those of you that just can't fight the urge to say something or for those that like to ask permission before stating something in a conversation, we will allow you to follow an accusation audit with "How should we proceed from here?" Then go completely silent.
When disarming an attack, we can remove all inhibitions that cause a counterpart to want to defend a position by beating them to their own justifications. This is especially difficult when we are direct and straightforward; it feels like we are beating around the bush. As a side note, when dealing with the types of people that tend to come off aggressively but feel they are just honest. A good label is “it sounds like you are trying to be honest.”
Universal for this day in age is communication that takes place through text (email, chat, etc.). A text message takes on an interpreted tone whether we like it or not. That tone is dictated by the current mood of the reader, which unfortunately we have no control over. In cases of text, not only do you need to add what we at Black Swan call "softeners," but also the accusations audit must be followed with a calibrated question (page 151 in Never Split the Difference). Stuart Diamond, author of “Getting More” and longtime negotiation professor at The Wharton School of Business, says after you write an email read it back out loud in the worst possible voice then go back and rewrite the email.
Now there is always a sequencing of events in negotiation, expecting to get a deal done in one or even two interactions is imperceptive. The shortest distance between two points when emotion is involved is almost never a straight line. Disarming the other side’s attack by stating why they would hold a position in the first place is a good place to start.
This is a counterintuitive way to inject reason into a conversation. So much so that there have been times you’ve said or thought “they just won’t listen to reason” or “they are unreasonable.” You need to start by considering your contribution to the unreasonableness. When you describe someone that way, it is probably because you are frustrated they won’t listen to you while you are busy explaining. It is hard to fathom why people would hear a great idea or the solution to all their problems and it doesn’t sink in.
On September 7 in Dallas, we are going to talk in depth about these approaches and share stories from the hostage, business, and personal experience. Both related to Black Swan and clients we have worked with up to this point that cut deals using these skills. It will give us a chance to share with a small group how we crafted the strategy for different industry interactions, from salary negotiations to acquisitions. Then with the scenario submissions from the participant group, that’s you, we will create exercises where we prepare “one sheet” for those submissions. Even if we don’t get to every scenario submission on the 18th, it will be used to propel you into your free hour of one to one coaching.
Would you be worse off if Black Swan helped you calibrate your negotiation strategy live?