“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…

Being right is not important, but it can be dangerous

(This is a repost from Filip’s original blog)

Negotiation is often discussed in the context of business transactions. And in that context the approach that most of us follow intuitively centers around trying to win by getting the biggest chunk of (what we perceive to be) the available value. (This may be a good time to ready my previous blog on: Why we don’t know what we want.)

But most of our negotiations are not large monetary transactions with similarly groomed executives in high-rise boardrooms. They are simply interactions with others. These interactions may have little to do with money, and everything to do with something much more important to us; being right! Actually, simply being right is not enough – we want the other party to concede that we are right and that they are wrong.

This is a predictable pattern of behaviour. Negotiators love predictability because it gives us greater control of the negotiation. Specifically, if we realize that it is hugely important for the other party to feel that they are right, then we may simply let them be right.

E.g., if I propose a solution to something, e.g. gun control in a previous blog, then I’m not married to the specific recommendation. What I do care about is an outcome that works for everyone, regardless of who came up with that outcome. So if the other party I negotiate with doesn’t like my idea then I simply invite them to help me out: “If you didn’t like my proposal, then how do you recommend we improve it so that it does a better job of catering to all stakeholders’ needs?”

As long as the solution the other party comes up with is better for all, then the only drawback of this approach is that I don’t get credit for the outcome. Unfortunately, this is one major reason why “the skilled negotiator” is such a rare breed – because few of us are prepared to give up credit and recognition! (As described in my upcoming book, having a sensitive ego and being a skilled negotiator are not compatible.) 

Ok, so letting the other party believe that they are right can be beneficial. But can it ever be dangerous? Unfortunately, yes.

If parties don’t look for outcomes that work for all, but rather pursue self-serving outcomes at the expense of others, then suddenly believing that one is right becomes a very dangerous ingredient. Some of the worst atrocities in history have occurred as a direct result of one or more parties justifying their (often greedy, unethical, illegal or inhumane) actions with self-serving beliefs such as “We are the good guys”, “We are right”, or “God is on our side”. In these circumstances, logic and rational thinking effectively get switched off, and we need different tools to resolve the situation than those covered today.