This is the latest in a series of occasional articles on “Negotiation Tips” from former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss
By Chris Voss
Life is filled with negotiations. Some are small negotiations, such as what TV show to watch or who should wash the dishes. Other negotiations are high-stakes, like major transactions or funding procurement. Learning the right skills, and practicing those skills, can improve your likelihood of success. Here are a few tried-and-true techniques for negotiations success.
- Prepare to Succeed
Preparation is key in negotiations. If you don’t rise to the occasion, then you will fall to your level of preparation. It never hurts to know who you’re talking to. However, it’s important to include in your preparation some time formulating your communication strategy. If you master the right communication style and employ tactical empathy, then you can build trust just as fast as mentioning a shared hobby or industry detail to establish common ground.
- Use Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to recognize their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It also means using emotional responses to build stronger and more trusting relationships, improve your conflict resolution abilities and, ultimately, improve your effectiveness as a negotiator. When it comes to negotiating a winning deal, we often view winning as achieving a set of criteria or a certain number of decimal points beside a dollar sign. However, in truth, the idea of winning is much more emotionally driven and not dependent on any predetermined set of criteria. Creating an agreement where both sides are better off doesn’t mean letting the other person “win” at your own expense. Rather, it means understanding the emotional drivers that are impacting your counterpart’s perspective and addressing them in your agreement. Using emotional intelligence to guide your negotiations will help you achieve what you set out to accomplish and to give you more flexibility to reach a beneficial agreement for both parties.
- Listen Using Tactical Empathy
When you become an adept listener it will boost your potential influence and your negotiation effectiveness. Listening will help you pick up on their emotional triggers and you’ll respond in the most ideal way. If a conversation suddenly becomes heated, naming your counterpart’s frustration and demonstrating that you’ve heard what they’ve said can help reset the conversation and rebalance their emotions.
- Listening Techniques.
So how do you demonstrate effective listening during negotiations? Consider these techniques, including “labeling,” “mirroring” and using “minimal encouragers.” “Labeling” involves recognizing an emotion or need that your counterpart has expressed and stating it to gain affirmation or clarification. For example, saying, “it sounds like you need x, y, and z” will help demonstrate that you’ve been listening and likely provoke a “that’s right” response. “Mirroring” means repeating the last few critical words that someone has said, thereby demonstrating that you’ve clearly understood them. “Minimal encouragers” refers to subtle verbal and nonverbal expressions of encouragement like eye contact, nodding, and short affirmations like “uh-huh,” or “sure.”
- Use Time to Your Advantage
It’s natural to want to reach a resolution as quickly as possible in negotiations, but it may not be best. You’ll have more opportunities to achieve the solution you’re seeking if you use time to your advantage and don’t rush or force an agreement. Since we all have different processing speeds, it’s best to understand how your counterpart processes information, which will help you set the right cadence for your negotiation and bring about a more desirable outcome. You can use time to your advantage by slowing the pace of the conversation, which will give you more time to understand your counterpart’s negotiation style and respond most effectively. Allow uncomfortable pauses. Silence encourages your counterpart to speak and provide more insight into their thought process. Using effective pauses and a tone that sounds serious can help get the other person talking. It also prevents you from over-explaining or appearing defensive.
- Understand the Power of Leverage
In a negotiation, having leverage means that you hold a perceived advantage that could give you the upper hand in achieving the agreement you desire. Leverage is a powerful feeling, which is one of the reasons why it is one of the four most emotional words in negotiation. In some negotiations, you may feel you have leverage. Maybe you’re in a position of authority or have access to more information or resources than the other person. Other times, the reverse is true or you may feel as though you have no leverage at all. Regardless of your position, your perception may or may not be the reality. You could be in a position of leverage and not realize it. Worse still, abusing perceived leverage could lead to broken engagements, poor implementation, or deals fraught with regrets. In every negotiation, you’ll either start from the point of leverage or you may need to acquire it. But even in negotiations that seem skewed in the other person’s favor, there’s always an opportunity to gain leverage (or at least make your counterpart think you have it). Here are some tips for gaining leverage.
— Gaining Leverage: Summarize the Facts of the Other Person
Identify facts, laws, policies, or other data that support and legitimize your counterpart’s position. When you demonstrate that you understand their position, you will increase the likelihood of a negotiated agreement. Human nature dictates that people love to have others understand their circumstances, dynamics, feelings and environment. A summary is a great way to do that.
— Gaining Leverage: Use Labels
Labels and calibrated questions are tools that can help you discover what your counterpart wants and needs. Using a label, such as, “it seems like you have a reason for saying that…” can help you identify the motivation behind your counterpart’s statement. These verbal observations can be particularly helpful for extracting information from individuals who dislike being questioned. They also encourage a natural, honest response from individuals who don’t like to negotiate.
— Gaining Leverage: Dealing with Inaccuracies
You can capitalize on uncertainties or incongruence in your counterpart’s statements by using “what” and “how” questions in order make a comparison of the issues at hand. Asking “how” questions and using a bit of deference will make your counterpart feel in control. Even when you’ve identified an inconsistency, it’s important to avoid interrupting or making accusations. Doing so may be tempting, but can quickly lead the negotiation toward an argument or impasse.
— Gaining Leverage: Slow Down
When you reduce your urgency, you’re sending signals to your counterpart that you’re not desperate to settle (or at least you’re less desperate than they are). So, take your time in the rapport building process. You know what your objective is and it will always be there. Don’t be in a hurry to get to it. The first part of your conversation should NOT about you, rather, it’s about them. You cannot rush demonstrating this. Delaying to save time may feel like taking the long route, but it’s often the fastest road to gaining trust-based influence.
— Gaining Leverage: Saying No
The power of “no” in the negotiation process cannot be overstated. Consider asking “no-oriented questions,” meaning inquiries that are designed to elicit a “no” response. Providing the counterpart with an opportunity to say “no” to something gives them protection. They feel safe because their autonomy is not threatened. “Yes” is a commitment. It’s an obligation, and generally speaking, we hate being obligated. This tactic is difficult but useful. In addition, there will come times when you need to say “no.”
“You’ll have more opportunities to achieve the solution you’re seeking if you use time to your advantage and don’t rush or force an agreement.”