Ask… then ask again!

The real world is very complex, and yet physicists can reduce complex interactions between objects into simple diagrams and formulas. Similarly, human interaction is tremendously complex – and in this domain it is the negotiator who will reduce what goes on into almost trivial simplicity. But don’t be fooled; these insights are still very powerful!

Let me illustrate. In the last few weeks I have had three very similar conversations. And while these have involved more complexity than I will capture here, I can actually summarise the key parts of each dialogue in just a few sentences.

See if you can spot the pattern (which I’ve hopefully made abundantly obvious!)

Dialogue 1:
Obstacle: “You can’t return the product for cash. You can only exchange it.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Yes.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Ok, ok, you can get your money back.”

Dialogue 2:
Obstacle: “We will will allocate just over half the funds you expected.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Yes.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Ok, you’ll get all the funds you expected.”

Dialogue 3:
Obstacle: “I’m sorry, but the price for our services is now three times higher than what you paid last year.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Yes.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Yes.”
Negotiator: “Really?”
Obstacle: “Ok, you can continue paying what you paid last year.”

I have of course cut out all the irrelevant noise. What is left is the following – a challenge. Not in a confrontational way. Not a counter proposal. Not even articulated as a specific question. Merely an indication that I’m not quite ready to accept what the other party is proposing. And in each of the scenarios this approach gave me exactly what I wanted.

There is a common saying in negotiations circles that goes like this: “if you don’t ask the answer is always no”. Based on these three mini-dialogues I would like to add: “…and if the answer is no – ask again!”

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Dealing with emotional people

“…and you’re a !&#$!@ and this lecture is a *#@!$ waste of time!”

The words coming out of this participant’s mouth are foul offensive to say the least. But yet all participants in the crisis negotiation seminar are laughing. In fact, lying there on the floor in front of everyone, even the student shouting these profanities could barely contain a big and welcoming smile.

I had told the student to tell me off to the best of his ability. And I told him to do so repeatedly while we changed his posture, our seating arrangement, and other aspects of the situation. As it turned out, lying there on his back made it quite difficult to keep the fight going. In contrast it was much easier for him to act aggressive two minutes earlier when we were face to face and two inches apart.

We ran this exercise in response to a participant asking the question: “How do you deal with emotional people?” When a person is in an emotional state, perhaps as a result of experiencing a crisis, he or she will have very little available attention for you or what you want. This typically makes it much harder for you to have the type of constructive dialogue that you probably prefer. Thus the key to dealing with an emotional person (or more accurately, a person who is in an emotional state) is to first influence that person to adopt a more rational frame of mind.

Many of the most powerful tools for achieving this are derived from crisis negotiation, and you will find several of these in our book, Negotiation Evolved.

Or you can keep doing what you do know. If you belong to the majority, then there is a pretty good chance that your favourite tool at present is to tell people to change their emotions: “Stop being so emotional”, “don’t be sad”, “watch your temper!” or “CALM DOWN!!”

…and you must really, really love this technique, because you keep at it even though there is no chance in hell that it will work 😉