“Talk is cheap!”

As the 120kg mountain of muscle wobbles past me at the gym I read the large letter text on his t-shirt: “Talk is cheap!”

For a second I ponder what I – as a negotiator – think about that. Is talk cheap? Well… yes and no. Talking can be very expensive, because while we talk we aren’t listening to the other party, and we may thus miss out on important cues for how to influence that person. This is one reason why silence coupled with listening skills is often touted as the cheapest concession you can make in negotiation.

On the other hand, having a conversation can be much cheaper than an exchange of force – as well as much more effective in getting parties what they want. So the expression “Talk is cheap”, like all insights in negotiation, is true in some circumstances. Our job as situational negotiators is to know when a particular insight is the most important insight.

But I doubt this is the message the muscle man at the gym had in mind when designing his own t-shirt. And as I looked around the gym I noticed more t-shirts with similar messages, such as: “Only the strong will survive”. It seemed important for these individuals to communicate to the world that muscle is the primary tool for getting what you want.

And if we substitute the more general word “power” for “muscles” then we’ll find that many negotiators think in exactly the same way. So what does power (or muscles) allow you to do? It allows you to dictate outcomes, and it allows you to force the other party to concede. That is very tempting, and often the main motivation for building power (or muscles).

But… and there are some big but(t)s (especially if you work those glutes… ahem…). One is that use of power introduces a whole slew of prohibitive risks. We cover these extensively in the book. Another drawback is that negotiating using power – quite ironically – introduces the potential outcome of submission.

Let’s clarify this using our gym example. If the only source of power is “muscles” or “strength”, then the strongest party in every negotiation will win and the weakest party will lose.

Now ponder this – how many people are the strongest person in the world? Oh, just the one? Ooopps… Does that mean everyone else who bases his or her negotiation strategy on power (or muscles) alone has to get used to the idea of “submission”? Mm-hm…

Accelerate to master negotiator in one hit

“What kind of person would you say that you are – specifically, how do you treat others?” When I ask my course participants I typically learn that they are respectful, caring, emotionally balanced, objective and rational individuals who value relationships and are very capable of seeing things form other people’s perspectives.

Then I ask the same group of participants if they have ever experienced road rage. A sea of hands gets raised… rather tentatively 🙂 I then ask the same participants to jot down the exact words they had used in their past road rage episodes. And if I’m having a particularly fun day in class – at my participant’s expense of course 😉 – I may ask one or two of the participants to re-enact their experience in front of everyone… verbatim!

This usually causes quite a bit of embarrassment and cognitive dissonance. On the one hand we view ourselves as “good towards others”, and yet we behave “horribly towards others” in certain situations. What’s the go?

Relationship is the go. They key distinguishing feature of your interactions with others in traffic is that the other party is anonymous, you are anonymous, and you expect to never interact with this person again. Everything you know and feel about this person is distorted by one… single… action. There is no past, present or future relationship. Specifically, you don’t expect this person to play any role in your future.

This concept translates directly to negotiation. When parties envisage a joint future – a future in which they will each derive value from working together – parties have a strong incentive to be on their best behavior. Incidentally, this paves the way for self-fulfilling prophecies – being on our best behavior ensures the highest likelihood that we will realize the mutually beneficial outcomes we set out to achieve in the first place.

But what happens the moment one or both parties decide that they wish to cease the relationship permanently and walk their separate ways? In an instant parties change from looking for solutions that work for both (or all), and revert to just looking out for themselves – numero uno. The other party immediately becomes unimportant. And we demonstrate this in the way we negotiate with him or her…

The strength of the relationship between parties has a predictable effect on how easy it will be to influence each other, how pleasant the process will be, and how much value can be unlocked or created. This is why I have developed one piece of homework for any aspiring negotiator who doesn’t have the patience to learn all the other insights. And here it is:

Identify the most difficult person in your life, who dislikes you the most, or is the least cooperative…. And make him or her like you.

That’s it. And if you succeed, then I will happily refer to you as a master negotiator, because you can apply the same proven rapport, trust and relationship building skills to improve every single interaction (negotiation!) you have with any person.

One simple tip for becoming more persuasive

Today I’ll give you one very simple insight for how to become much more persuasive, and that is to wait. “Wait for what Filip?” Well, wait for your message to persuade!

Let me explain. When I try to persuade you, you are likely to put up a number of barriers. Perhaps most noteworthy is that your defences will go into overdrive the moment you get even the slightest whiff that I’m trying to persuade you. How many of us like to be persuaded? Let’s just say I don’t think anyone has ever heard the sentence: “Hi I’m Michelle/Bob/Karen/Tim, I’m a Capricorn, and in my spare time I enjoy travel, long walks, hanging out with friends, and being persuaded”.

Once your guard is up it is often pointless for me to continue with my arguments. Chances are that you aren’t even listening because you are now preoccupied with crafting your counter-argument to persuade me. And if you are not listening then I might as well stop talking… and instead start listening to you!

Now, the logic in my argument was not necessarily bad, but the problem is that you aren’t taking it on board. From behind your defences everything I say will be muffled and tainted with the label “wrong”. But give it a few days… weeks… or even months. The idea will still be in your head, but you will start to lose track of where it came from. If you can’t find an external source then it must be your idea. Specifically, if it is a good idea, then it is definitely your idea! 😉

So to persuade you I give you just what the doctor ordered… I give you time… time to persuade yourself!

This approach will not work in every instance – particularly not if my arguments weren’t solid. But then my approach of bombarding you with even more such arguments would have failed as well.

But when this technique does work it produces an extremely attractive by-product, and that is commitment. Because you believe the idea is yours you won’t have the option of blaming anyone else if it fails. So your best option is to make it work.

Should you negotiate with your child?

“Absolutely” was the answer I gave to the coaching client who asked the question. But before I explain why that was my answer, let us fully understand what she meant by her question.

In this instance, my client took negotiation to mean a way of interacting where the child would have input into the rules that are imposed upon him or her. Effectively what my client wanted to know was whether she should give in to her child, and move the domestic political system a few steps away from dictatorship and towards a democracy.

But this is a narrow view of what negotiation entails. Rather than a process for reaching compromises, negotiation is a process for creating value and for removing unnecessary pollution in interactions. Thus the benefits of making any person in your family a more skilled negotiator will transfer to every area of your family’s interactions – whether they be about conflict, difficult teenage issues, vacation planning, domestic chores, or career choices.

So the answer to my client’s question was clearly in the affirmative – yes, negotiate with your child! This will give your child valuable practise, experience, and ultimately proficiency in the #1 skill for business and life. The most frequent feedback I get from managers and executives in courses is: “I wish I had learned these skills 20 years ago so that I could have used them in my life!”

Imagine instead equipping your child with these skills at age five…. Without having to pay hefty fees for professional negotiation training!

Another benefit of honing influencing skills early is that it would bypass several blocks that prevent many adults from achieving an exceptional level of negotiation performance. These blocks come in the form of limiting beliefs that prevent us from trying what really works because we have been conditioned to believe that it can’t work. It is as simple as that.

Now, some readers may feel apprehension with creating a little negotiation monster at home. This apprehension is fuelled by a fear that your little one will become too skilled at negotiating, and thus take over control at home.

That is what we call “fear of success” 🙂 and I have once suggestion for you:

IF you… with 25+ years head start in life… and with access to professional negotiation training and coaching… can’t negotiate better than a five, ten or fifteen year old child… then the problem is certainly not with your child’s skill level.