Negotiate as if your life depended on it

Like the Baader Meinhoff Phenomenon, when I read a book about something, I start to see everything as related to that book. I recently read the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, and this book is no exception. I highly recommend it, and it’s fun to use its tips in personal and professional life. I have started to see how so much of my life is a continual negotiation. 

Similar to Getting More, another negotiation book I like,  it focuses on the emotional factors that influence a negotiation. Unlike getting more, it has some unique and useful tactics that have emerged from the rough and tumble world of FBI international hostage negotiation. Reading the book, I realized my type is an accomodator, so I can apply the tips specifically for my type.

Here are some nuggets I took from it…

First, most negotiating advice is wrong. In Fisher and Ury’s famous Getting to Yes which was the seminal book from the 80’s Harvard Negotiation Project world, the goal is to remove emotion from the negotiating table. You look for the “win win” solution, insist on objective criteria, focus on interests, not positions. I used this process myself, I liked it because it was a methodical problem solving approach, and worked with logical problems and logical people. However, if there were underlying issues of values, emotions, respect, fairness, gender discrimination it tended not to work super well. I never realized why.

After reading this book, I realized it is because it assumed we can get people to act rationally. In a hostage negotiation situation, they most definitely are not. And as Tversky and Kahneman uncovered in their seminal work of behavioral economics Thinking Fast and Slow, people behave irrationally all the time. For example, people will pay more to prevent a loss than to achieve a similar gain. I always buy every insurance certificate in the Game of Life, even though I know the chances I’ll come out ahead by my auto and fire insurance is low. I like to avoid losses.

So, rather than try to protect us from the Freuidian Id (our instinctive self), smart negotiators use emotions to achieve a good outcome. This may sound manipulative. In some ways it is. As Voss says, how many of us know that $1.99 is a scam, and yet how many things in the world are priced at $2.00? We still allow ourselves to be “taken” by this deal all the time. And yet, the far worse scenario is that you don’t negotiate, buyers and sellers don’t make an exchange, the real estate deal isn’t done, the hostage ends up dead, the relationship is broken, the war is started. So negotiation is important.

And yet, if you take a stance that the other side as the enemy rather the situation – it can help uncover unexpected solutions to a difficult negotiation impass. For example, my son wants 30 minutes of iPad time in the morning. We have 15 minutes to leave for school. I mirror “you want 15 more minutes of iPad time”. Yes, because I don’t get a lot of time at night. I label “It seems like you really value iPad time”. Yes. I ask, “how am I supposed to do that” (calibrated questions). He suggests, what if I get all ready and I can do it on the bike. I say OK, that’s coming off your time at night. He says OK. 

So, if you are empathetic, use mirroring, get the other side to share what they really need, vs what they are asking for – you can come up with a creative way to get their needs met (get respect, money, 30 minutes of screen time) and get your needs met (not pay too much for a hostage, let the other side save face, get to work on time). It’s not a “soft” strategy. Much like Sun Tzu’s art of war, it’s about how to be smart about managing conflict without having to use your power overtly. Sort of a Judo of business negotiation. 

Here are the specific tips.

  • Use a Late Night FM DJ Voice – low with downward inflections for things that are not up for debate. e.g. We’re going to school at 7:00 am. I added an orange to your lunch. 
  • Use Mirroring – repeat the last three words the person said. It’s oddly mechanical, but it almost always works. 
  • Use pauses – after naming an offer, be silent. 
  • Use Tactical Empathy – Label the emotions of the other person
  • e.g. “It seems like you don’t like agile very much”
    • Empathy is being able to identify the point of view of your counterpart, and then speak that point of view aloud
    • Make a commitment to understanding their world
    • It’s not agreeing with it
  • That’s Right!
    • Look for a “that’s right”. Especially with Assertive people, this will open the door to a great deal.
    • Avoid “You’re right” – they will never follow through on you being right
    • Your goals is really to get them to solve their own problem
    • Avoid “yes” – the guy across the table will find a way to weasel out of the deal later
  • Use calibrated questions to say “no
    • How am I supposed to do that?
  • Look for black swans – these are unknown unknowns that give you leverage in a negotiation – these can only be discovered in face to face interactions. 
  • Leverage – what gives you power in a negotiation
    • Negative: Do it or I take something away you love (your reputation, your family, etc) – plays on loss aversion
      • “To get real leverage, you have to convince them they have something to lose if you don’t do a deal”
    • Positive: Do it and I’ll give you something you want (a car, a phone, a house, a raise)
    • Normative: Do it and it will support one of your values (religious, identity) e.g. if they use Christian language, label “this seems like an issue of stewardship for you”
  • Bargaining
    • Get them to name a price first
    • Then talk persistently about non-cash offers
    • Ackerman Method – plays on the psychology of making the other side feel like they are getting every last drop.
      • Start by offering 65% of your target price (you can do it by mentioning a range, or referring to an extreme anchor) e.g. “At Harvard they charge $2500 a day per student”.
      • Using lots of calibrated questions, get them to  85%
      • Then to 95%
      • Then finally, 100% (but offer in non-round numbers – $105.17 vs $110 – makes you seem very analytical, and that they have squeezed every last drop from you
      • Offer a gift, something that inspires reciprocity
  • Noncash offers
    • Ask yourself “What could they give that would almost get us to do it for free?”
  • Prepare a negotiation one-sheet
    • If you panic, you fall to your highest level of preparation
    • Here is the Black Swan group’s “one sheet” (this is Chris Voss’s consultancy)
    • This is what they give their hostage negotiation clients to prepare. 
    • I also have one that I use from “Getting More”, I’ll share that in another post
  • Fair is a four-letter F word
    • Use it positively (that’s fair)
    • Avoid using it negatively, e.g. “that’s not a fair offer” because it puts the other side on the defensive
    • If someone offers you an unfair offer
    • People do all sorts of irrational things to achieve fairness, look at Iran and it’s self defeating quest to enrich uranium, it’s lost billions in oil revenues – but if India and China can do it, they reason, why can’t Iran?
    • If someone lobs the “we’ve given you a fair offer”, you can either say “Fair?” then a long pause, or “It seems like you are ready to provide the evidence that supports that”.
    • Try using it early on in a negotiation “I want to make sure we’re treating you fairly at all times, if at any point you feel I’m treating you unfairly, please let me know and we’ll address it.” This sets you up as a fair negotiator, above board, a reputation you want.
  • Beware of “yes”
    • There are three kinds of yes’s
      • Yes – I hear you
      • Yes – Counterfeit – I am saying yes but later will find a reason to back out
      • Yes – Commitment – The real deal, they will change their behavior, and follow through on the agreement
    • To get to the real “yes” Don’t 
  • Learn to love “no”
    • No is the start of the negotiation
    • Try to evoke a “no” in order to make the other person feel in control, 
    • To restart a negotiation, no can be more powerful than a yes “it seems like you’ve given up on this project” (you are mislabelling a reality to get them to say no, so you can start the negotiation again)
  • Pay attention to those who will influence the deal, those who aren’t there
    • Many deals are killed by people not present at the negotiation
    • Even when you don’t know who they are, you can ask calibrated questions to address these “behind the table deal killers”
      • How does this affect the rest of your team?
      • How onboard are people not on this call?
      • What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?
  • There are three kinds of negotiators and depending on what type you are dealing with, specific tools work better for them
    • Analyst:
      • See themselves as realistic, prepared, smart
      • Want to collect facts and information
      • They hate surprises
      • Their goal is to reach the optimal solution
      • See silence as an opportunity to think
      • Tools: Use labels, use data to explain reasons, don’t ad-lib, use data comparisons to disagree
    • Assertive
      • See themselves as honest, logical, direct
      • May appear harsh, aggressive, emotional to others
      • Cares about being heard
      • See silence as an opportunity to talk more.
      • Tools to use: Calibrated questions, mirroring, summaries labels, get them to say “that’s right”
    • Accommodative
      • See themselves as personable, conversational, relationship-focused
      • Others see them as friendly, too talkative
      • They are likely to give something up first 
      • May overpromise, give something they can’t deliver
      • Interpret silence as anger
      • Likely to withhold objections now to preserve the relationship
      • Tools: use what and how questions focused on implementation

So, how to start with these. I recommend starting by using calibrated questions. Try to get the other side to solve your problem for you, without saying no. Let me know how it works for you!

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