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!”

Overcoming negativity, resistance and objections

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

So you are trying to influence someone. You are pretty certain that you have come up with an option or a solution that is in the other party’s interest (and of course, also in your interest!). Maybe this is to get her to enrol in a course, sell his motorbike, take a vacation or accept your business proposal. But for some reason he or she is on a repetitive loop of insisting on problems with your solution.

Whether you just want to help, or you want to influence out of self interest, this pattern of negativity can be frustrating to deal with.

Building on my previous blog entry, where I said negotiation and motivation rely on the same insights, we can recognise that we are either motivated to move towards a goal, or away from some undesirable outcome. How did we try to influence our friend above? That’s right, we sought to create an attractive goal for him or her to move towards.

So how about we change tact and instead help the other party understand why he or she at least wants to move away from the status quo. This can be achieved by merely letting the other party think through and verbalise to us how the future might pan out if he or she doesn’t take our desired action.

“I understand that you have hesitation with aspects of the option that I suggested. Can I just ask, how would you weigh the risks and responsibilities of taking action against the risks and responsibilities of not taking action…?”

Here the other party can realise for him/herself that he/she can’t get his/her desired career without attending that course, or might get seriously injured on their motorbike, might get more depressed or stressed from not taking a break from work, or will miss out on the tremendous value that your business proposal would enable.

Once we get the other party to accept that the present path they are on is undesirable, then they will realize that they have to change. This is p o w e r f u l. At this point their thinking changes from looking at problems with our suggestions, to actually looking for solutions themselves. And as I mention in my bookif the other party is looking for solutions – let them!

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.