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.

Proof that influence is counterintuitive

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

I consistently tell people that we (as in “human beings”) are all bad at negotiation.

But why do I keep trying to bring everyone (including myself!) down? Doesn’t this statement risk causing disagreement, resistance or friction? And if so, wouldn’t that constitute bad negotiation behaviour on my part? Absolutely! That is a very valid point; skilled negotiators rarely cause disagreement, and only do so if it serves a specific purpose.

Fortunately, in this case it does serve a purpose. The purpose is to help people realize that effective negotiation behaviour is counterintuitive. We typically do not adopt new and counterintuitive behaviour without first experiencing a shock to our system. In lectures that shock is called the AHA! moment, where participants suddenly realize that something they have been doing for the last 20-50 years causes rather than resolves problems between themselves and others.

Unfortunately you and I don’t have the opportunity to share a lecture theatre, so how else can I create this AHA! moment for you? How about I give you a piece of carefully designed homework?

…and I just lost 50% of my readers 😉

For the rest of you, the homework is as follows: The next time you in an angry state write an email response someone else, I want you to try the following:

  1. Create a new email.
  2. Write your response.
  3. Don’t send the email, instead save it as a draft.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 ten times.
  5. Then compare version 10 with version 1.

My prediction is that version 1 will be comparatively more focused on you, how you feel, the problem you perceive, why you are right, and the selective evidence that supports your arguments. Writing this email will make you feel better. But sending this email will make you feel something else; most likely regret.

In contrast, version 10 will have more focus on both parties, commonalities, and how the process can move forward towards agreement and outcomes. Version 10 will also have less inflammatory language, accusations, projections, transference, and other forms of pollution that predictably cause negotiations to derail. Sending this version of the email is more likely to get you your desired outcome.

So how does this prove that influence is counterintuitive? Well, you just proved it to yourself! I haven’t seen your ten versions, but I know that you will agree that version 10 is more influential than version 1. I suspect that you will even agree that your first response, i.e. your intuitive response, would have done a terrible job of helping you get your desired outcome.

Now, when writing emails we can afford 10 attempts to improve on our initial, intuitive response. But how many attempts do we get in our face-to-face interactions..? Oh, that’s right, just the one… Ouch!

If only there was something we could do to improve that unrehearsed first version of our face-to-face interaction with others… What if there was a book that we could read? A book that could serve as our companion on a life long journey towards outstanding negotiation performance…? 😉