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The Art of Negotiation

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How to Negotiate (And Win) Even When Odds Are Against You?

Have you ever tried to prove your point to someone? In most negotiations, you keep on explaining why your opinion is the right and the only way to approach the problem. But somehow, the harder you try to explain things, the more disinterested the other person becomes. In your mind, you know what the other guy is trying to say. And you do understand him. But still, he is unable to see things your way.

Still, that guy (your boss) doesn’t think you can get a raise… Still, that guy (dealer) is not ready to sell his car at a reasonable price. Or even your kids are not ready to go to bed at 9 p.m

So what’s the sticking point here? Does using aggression really help in negotiation, or you need something else? Like Questions.

After all, nothing is more frustrating in the world than having a feeling that you’re talking to someone who isn’t listening…

A few days ago I started reading a book that I bought way back during the starting of lockdown. But I got busy with my exams and thus I had a bit of catching up to do. But I did hear many interviews of the author Chris Voss and learned many concepts from him. I was so impressed that reread the book 2 more times.

And that’s what this article is all about. It’s a preview of “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As if Your Life Depends Upon It” by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

It’s important to mention both of these authors as Voss is an ex-FBI negotiator with a ton of negotiating experience in dealing with kidnappers, bank robbers, and terrorists. While, Raz is a prolific writer, and thus the book is so easy to read. As the thing with most informational books is that they are so tedious to read and harder to comprehend and learn.

But in this book, you’re going to learn how to win without breaking the other person’s heart.

No, it’s not that win-win thing. Not in any way.
You negotiate with a specific goal in mind and you get that. You win!!!. But somehow the other person doesn’t feel he has lost.

How’s that possible?
Probably you want to ditch reading this and start reading the book by yourself.
But hang on… This article distills the most important points which makes all difference. So instead of wading through the whole book, you can easily get the core concepts to use right now. And then you can have a look at the book as well.

Sounds Good? Well, then read on…
Here’s the summary of what we are going to cover in this article.

Three Problems In Your Negotiation Approach

  1. Going Too Fast-Learn to Slow Things Down
  2. The Power of Labelling- Don’t Feel The Pain, Name It.
  3. Calibrated Questions: Get Others To Play With The Cards You Deal

Going Too Fast- Learn to Slow Down & Listen

Most of the time we think of negotiation as a wrestling match where the goal is to exhaust the other guy into submission. And hope for the best and never back down. Most of the time, we pretend to listen to other side while actually tolerating him just because we have no other option.

This needs to be changed.

Negotiation doesn’t mean browbeating or grinding someone down. It simply means playing the emotional game that human society is made up for.

Negotiation starts with the basic understanding that people want to be heard. And active listening is the cheapest, yet most effective way to make them feel that.

But wait… I already know this. And I do listen to the other side. But the problem is they don’t listen to me…

Well, if this question pops up in your mind…then shut up. It automatically proves that you are not listening to me. And have already started making assumptions without reading the whole article.

Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is an active one.
In serious cases, like hostage negotiation, Do you know how many people tend to attend the phone calls?
Well, the answer is not less than 5. All of them making and sharing notes with each other. You may balk at this notion and think, “Do they really need that many people to hear someone out”?

If it still hasn’t got around your head… let me put it bluntly for you….

Listening is not Easy

Most of the time, we got distracted. Or even worse get engaged in selective listening. Hearing only what our mind wants to hear, acting on a cognitive bias of consistency rather than truth. And if you’re one of those guys for whom negotiation is a battle of arguments, Then it’s the voice in your head that constantly overwhelms you. There are many times, where both parties are saying this same thing. When they’re not talking, they think about their next argument instead of hearing the other side.

Here is simple solution to this problem- instead of making your argument or instead of doing thinking at all in early stages— make your sole focus on listening to other side.. Just listen and make notes.

Goal is to know what other guy needs (emotionally, physically or else.) Get them feeling safe to talk more and more.

When both sides want to play tug of war, everybody thinks that there is no solution

But the skilled negotiators (like my 6-year-old nephew, Krishna, for example) knows that’s not true. I will be so upset with him, not giving my phone to play and threatening to punish him instead. He instantly switches from “crying mode” to “Listening” He says: If I do this, that and others, can I have it? And suddenly you’re negotiating the terms and conditions with these tiny negotiators. Since they know that their condition is hopeless, they listen and try to turn things in their favor.

And that’s what you need to do too. If you want to go anywhere, let alone winning the negotiation

Listen. Slow down and listen. However, this is just the first step of winning the negotiation. Although listening alone will put you in an advantageous position, but you also need to make other guys aware that you understand their position. And How you do that? You say the name of their pain.

The Power of Labelling- Don’t Feel The Pain, Name It.

Have you ever attended any Morning Assembly meetings in Your School

Where all students get together to pray and then wait for the principal to speak for goddamned 20 minutes. And he would always go like, “Good morning Students. What a fine morning it is… Well Mr. Smarty Pants, I did not wake at 5 in the morning, skipped breakfast, and came running losing my breath just to stand under the scorching sun and discuss the weather with you.
And neither is the guy you’re negotiating with. Of course, you don’t have to be all work-minded, but it’s best to make the guy on the other side of the table believe that you are on his side.

Generally, individuals are so obsessed with the problems that they fail to notice that how they take over the discussion. Well if he is so adamant in proving his point, then let him have it. At least the negotiation will move further instead of being stuck on the same thing.

And labeling is the way to achieve that. For example…

I got a nasty surprise this week.

Where I got a message from my university that I failed to pay my fee on time and have to repay it along with the 10% fine. Although I had paid it on the last day of the deadline. However, nothing prepared me for what came next. They told me that they didn’t even get the money in the first place what to speak of getting it late.

It was frustrating not only for me but for them as well. On the very day when I called them, the officials were raising their hands like they want to say, ‘don’t blame us for this mess’. But still, they had to go through records, verify my credentials and then mail me again the admission letter.

That’s why I labelled this situation as “frustrating”. I told them, “this is a frustrating situation for you isn’t it?”

Think about this line for a minute and specifically label…

Generally one would say something like: I don’t know. This is your mistake. I don’t have the money. I have to explain this to my parents and they will also be so upset. And on and on…

no, nO, NO, NOOOO!!!….this won’t take you very far.

Instead use labelling. What kind of situation you’re in? Is it frustrating? or is it too boring and time taking? or is it just too messy?

Whatever the situation is, identify and label it to know what the other side is feeling.

And this is what the book suggests…

Identify the emotion. Then say it aloud succeeding one of the following terms…

  • It looks like…
  • Well, It seems like…
  • It sounds like…

These exact words are important. Their Hindi synonyms would be….लगता है

You can’t go around saying, “So you’re saying… I’m hearing that….”

So you're saying from Cathy Newman.... Negotiation blunder
Image Source: Interview of Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman

The instant you say this directly (by using ‘I’ or ‘You’) you try to dominate the discussion.. again by talking about yourself or what you think. This can also be fatal if the other side got hurt and think that you’re trying to put blame on them. But, “It seems like…” is a kind of neutral that makes the other person feel that you’re trying to understand his situation.

When I told the person that “It looks like a frustrating job that has been pawned off to you”. He immediately replied to my point, explaining his personal problems and why can’t he deal with this right now. Thus, I cut him slack for that, and in return, he waived my fine. Just because I labeled his emotion, he believed that I am on his side. Thus, he reciprocated accordingly in return.

Labelling Example. Negotiation tip no. 2
Image: Provided by Author

One more thing…

After labeling the emotion, be quiet.
Absolutely quiet
still, quiet…..1, 2, 3, 4,……10 keep counting or not but…

Let them reply

And the moment they will reply, you’ll have the information you need to move the negotiation forward. Now, things will seem to move forward. And certainly, you have not lost any control. No one will exploit you for being empathetic. Nonetheless, not only you resolve the deadlock in the negotiation, but you have also got the other side to see you as a partner.

Which takes us to final point of this article….the calibrated questions

But what if you misunderstood the emotion or the other guy disagrees?

Wondering what will happen if the other party disagrees with your assessment of their emotions.? For example: Suppose you say, “It looks like you’re hesitant about the price?” and they say no, they are ready to pay the amount. You can simply reply, “I am not saying that it’s like that. I am just saying it seems like that. It is very rare, though, that the other party will go on the attack for not understanding. Rather, they will try to explain things in more detail.

Calibrated Questions: Get Others To Play With The Cards You Deal

The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel they are in control but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored wherever they turn

Robert Greene; The 48 Laws of Power.

In the first step, we slowed down and listened. Then we attempted to make the other side trust us and tell us the real obstacles in closing the deal. But, the last part is the one which gets you the most information you need.
Remember, the negotiation isn’t about hammering your decision onto others. Rather than it’s about extracting the knowledge out of them and using that same knowledge to make an offer, they can’t refuse.

Godfather quote on negotiation.
Image Source: Godfather.

Successful negotiation involves the counterpart do the work for you and suggest solutions themselves. The more you know, the more you can maneuver to get what you need. And what’s a better way to get information than asking questions. However, there are certain wrong questions that can ruin the whole deal.

Let’s avoid those and figure out what questions to ask…

A lot can be said on this… but the basic purpose of calibrate question is to remove the hostility from your statements….

For example: “You can’t leave” will transform to “What will you get by leaving?”

The author calls it ‘open-ended questions’. He argues that instead of asking yes or no questions, open-ended questions shift the pressure on the counterpart. Since you’re just asking for help, you give the other party illusion of control. Thus consequently, he exhausts himself trying to solving the problems presented by you for you.

Here are few simple rules you can use while asking calibrated questions;

  • Don’t use ‘can’, “is”, “do”, “is” or “does”. As these are mostly yes-no questions.
  • Instead start with, “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why” & “how”. As these words will make the other guy stop and think.

So convert your all of questions into WH family forms…
For ex- “Do you like this design?” to “How does this look to you?” Even the harsher statements like, “Why would do that?” can convert into, “What made you do that?”

And to conclude the article, here is one more thing you need to remember… No matter what techniques you’ve got, you need to regulate and control your emotions, especially if you want to have any chance of closing the deal. Even if you feel assaulted (verbally) don’t counter-attack. Slow down, breathe, figure out what ticks the other guy and use that against him.

Now go out there and negotiate the shit out of them… but only after listening.

That’s it for today. Till then.

Your man…
Abhishek Mishra

Further reading: Here's how these 2 words helped me to improve my negotiation skills and also taught me a life lesson

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