Be The Coolest Customer In Even The Hottest Negotiation

By Robert Lentz
Business Management Daily.

Of all the anecdotes webinar speakers I’ve seen have used to illustrate their lessons, Daniel Shapiro’s tale of a crazed kidnapper’s panicked dialogue with the police might be the ultimate show-stopper.

With a life in the balance, hostage negotiators realized they were getting nowhere. The perpetrator’s distorted reality made him irrational and time was running out. After regrouping, the authorities realized they had to verbally express appreciation for the madman’s deranged viewpoint, cutting through his storm of emotions to reach the flicker of rationality within them.

The lesson? Trying to become a “hyper-rational robot” during stressful negotiations isn’t a realistic strategy, as the founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program told webinar attendees in May. Instead of trying to smother emotions, you should address the opposing side’s five core concerns as the deal-making process begins:

It’s vital to state an understanding, and even empathy for, the opposing viewpoint. Daniel spoke of marriage studies that could predict with 90 percent accuracy which couples remained together and which eventually broke apart. The studies were based on a simple observation of what happened when a man and wife were asked to discuss a recent conflict between them for 15 minutes. The predictable tensions that ensued revealed to researchers that couples who voiced five appreciative comments (ex: “I see that,” “I hear you,” “I understand that”) for every negative or combative one were the ones far more likely to remain strong. The negative barbs weren’t the concern at all; the far more damaging thing was the failure to meet that 5:1 ratio.

Give others the sense that their decisions are being made free of imposition. Even a completely agreeable course of action will meet with high emotions and resistance if you coerce someone into it. “You can spend weeks or months putting together the perfect contract proposal that meets your and the opposing sides’ interests better than you ever dreamed of,” Daniel told the audience, “but if you walk into that room, put it down on the table, and say ‘Take it or leave it …'”

Suppose you feel you’re being excluded in a meeting, whether you sense it’s because of your lack of experience, your title or even your gender. The same part of your brain that feels physical pain feels rejection too; the sense of disconnect can be just as powerful as a punch to the stomach. Your affiliation with the people in the room, and the content of what they’re saying, is gone.

To demonstrate how a sense of affiliation is created in a negotiation, Daniel recalled a dangerous boundary dispute between Ecuador and Peru. When it came time for the heads of state to meet in hopes of a settlement, Peru was the mighty gorilla in terms of economic strength and seemed to hold all the cards. Harvard’s Negotiation Project first advised the less experienced politician to openly ask his counterpart for advice rather than lead off the traditional way, by affirming his position. A suggestion was also made to get a photo of the two leaders showing them sitting side by side with pads of paper and pens in hand. Why? So the newspapers would show the world two men who were actively working with one another, forging the perception of a bond, as if they were less rivals than executives hashing out a cooperative project.

Imagine two people in an office with two chairs, one of which is broken and far too low to the ground. Not a good situation for working out a disagreement. Even without such a disparity, we naturally bring in our own desire to feel on higher ground than the adversary.

But “as we compete over status, we lose the benefit of affiliation,” Daniel said, so create level ground by emphasizing areas of particular status in both yourself and the other party. Acknowledge that your expertise or experience might not equal theirs, for example, or be completely frank about what you have to lose, but then assert that you’re also bringing something invaluable to the table.

Entering a negotiation, we tend to play pre-established roles that we’re used to, or that are expected of us. Examples of these roles are: talker, colleague, advocate, compromiser, advisor, victim. You have the power to shake things up, though, by saying, “Let me be the devil’s advocate here,” or “Try approaching this for now as if we’re collaborators on a paper,” or “Let’s be nothing but brainstormers for the next half hour.” Invite someone into a role they weren’t quite expecting and viewpoints are expanded, imaginations are stirred, understanding is achieved.
Robert Lentz writes for Business Management Daily, which has been providing sound business news, insight and advice since 1937.

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