By Chris Voss
Former FBI hostage negotiator
In its simplest terms, effective negotiating occurs when you’re using good communications techniques. And, good communications follows effective information gathering. So, to be a better negotiator and communicator, decide with every conversation to make people feel so comfortable talking to you that they tell you things they normally wouldn’t tell other people. People will do amazing things for you if they like you and trust you.
However, sometimes with negotiations, the information that you’re gathering is nothing short of conflict. Sometimes in negotiations, you find yourself fending off an attack. Have you ever been in a difficult conversation where the other person appears intent on pulling you into an argument or trading personal attacks? Of course, we all have.
When we are under attack, our natural tendency is to attack back and defend ourselves. When people criticize you, you want to criticize back. When people insult you, you want to insult them back. This is especially true when the attack appears out of nowhere, or it’s irrational or personal. Attacks typically evoke emotion, and emotion can constrict our cognitive ability. So, as a result, our “fight” or “flight” instinct kicks in.
If we choose to fight or defend ourselves, and if we respond in an argumentative, sarcastic or hostile tone, then the relationship is damaged. So, the next time you’re faced with an attack, try not to react. Instead, let me recommend that you respond with either “I” messages or “No” questions. “I” messages and “No” questions are outstanding fire-fighting techniques when you are under attack. Let me explain.
By using “I” messages in an non-provocative or unprovoked way, we are expressing how we feel when the other person does or says certain things. “I” messages identify a problem or issue without assigning blame. It is a face-saving technique that makes it easier to confront behavior that is counterproductive without being accusatory. For instance, you might say, “We have been talking for several hours, and when you insult me, I feel frustrated because it makes it difficult for me to focus on what you are saying.” Persistent, uncooperative behavior can jeopardize the ability to accomplish anything.
In similar manner, “No” questions also can be effective when personally attacked, especially when confronted by a “yeller.” A “yeller” by definition is yelling because they want to be heard and, for whatever reason, they believe they are not being heard. So, when confronted by the “yeller”, simply ask them, “Do you want me NOT to hear what you are saying?” Of course, the answer will be, no. Then, follow-up by saying, “When you yell at me like that, I feel,” and then continue with an “I” message. Another effective “No” questions would be: “Would it be ridiculous for me to ask…?” or, “Do you not want us to resolve this?” When you use this technique, you are showing empathy and it can get you a positive response.
Also, related to good communications techniques for effective negotiations, there are two common habits that can render your negotiations efforts useless. Avoid these and you will increase your chances of negotiations success. Here are the two bad communication habits:
#1. You speak first.
Why is this wrong? Because people are dying to tell you what’s on their mind and it makes them feel extremely good to do so. Also, because letting others go first is more effective. Once heard out, then they are enormously open to be persuaded. Also, because the secret to gaining an upper hand in negotiations is to give the other side the illusion of control. Get them talking. Tell them they’re in charge. Ask lots of “what” and “how” questions. You’ll be stunned at what they’ll reveal to you.
#2. You answer questions when asked.
Why is this wrong? Because most people ask the wrong question and their context is inaccurate. Also, since you want to give the illusion of control, instead, reply by saying, “What makes you ask?” or, “It seems like you’ve got a good reason for asking” or, “Is there a reason I shouldn’t know? (then, shut-up and listen).
The goal is to end the conversation on a positive note because the last impression is the lasting impression. Make your parting shot a positive one with such lines as, “I’m dedicated to your success,” “I want you to succeed,” “In 10 years, I want us to look back on an enormously successful relationship.” Let your final comment echo in their mind. Make it a good one and you will prosper.