Photo credit: Thierry Raimbault
A friend of mine started an MBA program and shared his interest and wish to improve his negotiation skills. We shared ideas and I came across this excellent book called Never split the difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss. It taught me a lot about negotiation that I’d like to share his tips in this article.
Chris Voss was an FBI hostage negotiator, and he also worked as a cop. He founded The Black Swam Group and now teaches at Georgetown University as an adjunct professor. You can also check out his TED talk here.
Being a good negotiator can benefit you in multiple areas of life. You can use these techniques to bargain for a home or a new car. You can also use negotiation skills at a job interview for your salary or get a raise. Those skills are also useful when you’d like to talk a friend out of a situation and save them from poor decisions. Negotiation is thus extremely useful in everyday situations.
So, how do you start a negotiation meeting?
Listening is the most important skill in negotiating
When you negotiate something, there are few fundamental rules. Patience and respect towards your counterpart form the basis of the interaction. When you make a deal, don’t expect the other person to see or agree with your perspective right away. We all have different opinions and it’s important to remain respectful of the other person. It’s important to stay open-minded and not impose our views onto someone. The more we listen and seek to understand, the more we can understand the other person’s perspective. When you understand their mindset, you may also have access to their worries and fears, thus giving you an advantage to leverage the deal. Keep in mind that listening is better than talking, so quiet down the assumptions and voices in your head and pay attention to your counterparts’ needs.
Listening to the other person is more effective during a face-to-face interaction as opposed to communicating by email or text message. Although information can be transmitted more cheaply and rapidly through text, you’d get a lot more information about the person if you can see their body language and hear their voice tone. Paying attention to these details can reveal a lot about the counterpart’s mood and intentions. For example, if they’re escaping your gaze and scratching their head, they may have something to hide. If they cross their legs or arms, they may not feel ready for a trusting interaction with you. In this case, you’d have to adjust the conversation to reassure them and build trust.
Let the other side go first
Once you can get a face-to-face meeting with your counterpart, let them go first. There are few advantages to get the other person start the negotiation. It happens that your counterpart’s first offer could be higher than the number you had in mind. If you had gone first, they would have agreed on your price and no negotiation could occur. If they insist on making you go first, give them a range of price to present your ballpark. For example, say “at top places like ABC, people with similar positions get between X and Z.” Expect your counterpart to agree on the lower side of your given range, so make sure to have done your research.
Research your numbers and be precise
If you’re dealing with numbers, write down your target price. It is most effective if it is a precise, non-round odd number because it adds credibility and looks well-thought out. For example, use $20,839 rather than $20,000. Make sure you’re also aware of the best and worst possible scenario so you minimize surprises. Then set your first offer to 65% of your target price. Find out the numbers for the 85, 95 and 100% increments and use empathy to negotiate and get to your desired number.
The goal of establishing a deal is to work together but compromising doesn’t mean that it’s a successful deal. On the contrary, making a poor deal is a worse choice than no deal. Make sure to respectfully decline a deal that isn’t satisfying and advantageous for both parties, otherwise this might kill future interactions and future deals. Patience and meditation may help you find alternative solutions if you find yourself stuck, so take or request some time if possible.
Negotiate with non-cash alternatives and surprise with a gift
If you’re stuck with a stubborn person, you may ease them with a non-monetary gift. Choose something that they value and that you can easily accomplish without adding money. For example, if you have a blog or a podcast, offer them visibility and advertisement in exchange for a service. Another example: offer your employee more vacation time instead of increasing her salary. They may appreciate the open-minded solution.
Use mirrors, paraphrases and empathy
During your negotiation, people are more collaborative and eager to work with you when you mirror them. This means mimicking their gestures, going at their talking pace and paraphrasing their sentences. Mirroring is an effective method because it allows for two people to be in sync. They can connect better if they are on the same wavelength than if there are power struggles of push and pull. This gives the counterpart the feeling to be understood and somewhat validated. Wanting to feel understood is an innate feeling. We all want to belong and be part of a community because it promotes social bonding and survival, so we tend to crave this feeling.
People grossly fit into 3 categories: analyst, accommodator, and assertive. Analyst people love to do things right and well no matter how long it takes. They usually show less emotions and act based on logical decisions. Accommodators privilege the relationship over goals. They love to fill silence with chit chats. Assertive people are go-getters and love being right. They tend to talk more than listen, and they prefer to tell rather than ask. Find out your counterpart’s negotiating style and mirror it! Assertive types especially need to feel understood before listening to your arguments. Mirror them intensely before presenting your offer.
Paraphrasing your counterpart’s argument has a similar effect to mirroring. It shows that you’ve heard them. If you want to show them their argument is far-fetched, start with this sentence “I’m sorry, are you saying that…” then repeat what they said so they can hear the argument again and reconsider if it makes sense.
Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy means that you feel someone’s distress and pity them whereas empathy means that you can recognize and understand someone’s situation without agreeing with them. You can show empathy by listening and you can force empathy by humanizing and introduce yourself by your name. All of the sudden, your counterpart isn’t dealing with another opponent, but with another human with a name.
Get the other person to say “that’s right” and not “you’re right”
When someone is making a statement, however crazy it is, make sure they feel heard. Keep using mirroring and paraphrasing so their answer would be “that’s right!” However, if their answer is “yes, you’re right,” it’s a bad sign. It means they usually want you to go away. People want to communicate and feel like they matter, so hearing them out and making them feel understood is key.
Get them to say “no” and avoid saying “no”
Old negotiation tactics involved getting the counterpart to repeatedly say “yes.” However, it turns out that the opposite was a better strategy. When someone says “no,” they remain in their safe comfort zone and they feel protected. When you lead the conversation with questions, make sure that their answer would be a “no.” For example, ask “is now a bad time to talk?” instead of “do you have a minute?” People are more likely to give you time if you ask the former.
Lastly, avoid using the word “no.” Although, it’s a such simple two letter word, people do not enjoy hearing it. Use other formulations like “I’m so sorry, I can’t afford this” or “I don’t have the money, how am I supposed to pay for this?” People will be more incline to revise their proposition when you ask an open question and let me have the illusion of control. They feel safe and flattered to be in charge.
Give them a feeling of fairness
Negotiation can be uncomfortable for both parties. Our brain is wired to reject unfairness and get emotional (aka pissed off) about it. People often think that proposing a deal to someone may irritate them because both parties try to get the most out of it. Some people may think of their deals as “unfair” and feel guilty about it, thus not performing good deals.
When you want to establish a deal, think of the other part as a team member. Making a deal means collaborating, it’s not a competition to put the other one down or try to humiliate them. Often times, egos can also get in the way. Negotiation is mostly a process of discovery to uncover the other person’s desires and perceived losses, not a battle of arguments. So, put aside the competitive part for now and try to uncover the person’s intentions.
Find the deal-breaking issues and dig into their most desired wants and fears
In order to discover their true motivations and why they’re here, use your mirroring skills and open questions to unearth the precious information. Show empathy and understanding by labeling their feelings and fears. Use sentences such as “it seems like you’ve already tried these options and they didn’t work…” or “it sounds like you’re upset at the way our accountant dealt with the paperwork…” Using “you” or “I” makes it too personal. This should make the counterpart feel reassured that s/he is heard.
Then ask open questions such as “what about it doesn’t work for you?” or “what is the next challenge here?” Calibrated questions should incite the counterpart to reveal more about their situation. You can learn a lot about their constrains, their missing information, or their deadlines/timeline. However, they need to feel in trusted hands before revealing themselves.
People’s goals are usually deeper than money or business. They often seek to increase their self-esteem, status, freedom, autonomy and have other non-financial needs. Once you’ve uncovered their true desires, word your offer in a way that includes fulfilling those needs. Namely, if you discover a deadline or a financial constrain, word your offer in a way that can relieve them from their burden.
Find at least 3 black swans
Black swans are a metaphor in this book to represent the impossibilities people didn’t know existed. When we meet someone new, we can’t help our brain from thinking about what we know. In other words, we already come into the scene with biases and prejudices. Patterns are useful to relieve our brain from processing information over and over and make our cognitive skills more energy-efficient, but they can be dangerous.
Our assumptions can sometimes prevent us from noticing golden information from our counterpart. It’s important to not look for something we expect, but to stay open to impossibilities. Impossibilities aren’t impossibilities anymore when they’re known, so beware of what you do know and try to put aside what you assume is true. This way, you have room to discover unknown facts that can turn to be invaluable information for you.
In conclusion, negotiation skills are important in life. They can improve communication and help you reach your goals. When you negotiate, it’s important to treat your counterpart with respect and make them feel important. Listen carefully to their wording and pay attention to non-verbal communication. They can tell a lot about a person’s true intentions. In most cases, it’s advantageous to let the other person state their offer first so you can formulate yours accordingly. When negotiating with numbers, state precise, non-round odd numbers for more credibility and think about non-monetary alternatives.
During your negotiation, mirror your counterpart and paraphrase their sentences so you make them feel understood. Use empathy when you ask open ended questions to uncover their intentions, worries, fears, deadlines and other constrains. Get them to say “that’s right” to show that they are heard, and when you ask questions, make sure they answer “no” to give them a feeling of safety. This will build trust and you can figure out what they’re really worried about. After discovering their genuine intentions and hidden desires (often non-monetary), word your offer to relieve them from a burden or fulfill a need. Make sure you also remain open to unknown facts and undetected information as they can be priceless to your negotiation.