Chris Voss is an author, speaker, and businessman. But prior to that, he was an FBI agent for 24 years, most of that time working as a hostage negotiator. While doing that work, he noticed that the skills needed to negotiate with kidnappers and terrorists weren’t all that different from the skills business people need to negotiate with bankers, suppliers, purchasing agents, and the like. In fact, he points out that all of us are involved in negotiations every day. Anytime a conversation begins with “I need . . . “ or “I want . . . “, a negotiation is underway. We negotiate with our employees about compensation or about deadlines for projects they are working on. We negotiate with friends about where we’ll meet for dinner. We negotiate with hotel clerks about upgrading our rooms. We negotiate with our kids about what they can watch on television and when they need to be in bed. The list goes on and on. So in a very real way, the art of negotiation is a life skill . . . one that will serve us well if we learn it and practice it. If you want a few tips on how to conduct a successful negotiation, please continue reading below.
“The whole concept of negotiating is intimidating to many people.”
~ Leigh Steinberg, American sports agent
Steinberg is right. Many people see negotiating as a zero-sum game . . . you can only win if the other guy loses. And some negotiators play it that way. However, the best negotiators . . . the most professional negotiators . . . are looking for a win-win result. They expect to walk away from the negotiation with something they want, but they also expect the other guy to walk away with something of value. And there’s a good reason for that. If you leave a negotiation with everyone feeling that it was done fairly and honorably, the next time you sit across the table from one another (and there probably will be a next time), the negotiation will go more smoothly because now there’s an element of trust between you. On the other hand, if you really stick it to your opponent, the next time you meet, he will do his best to return the favor.
Here are some tips from Chris Voss on how to be a better negotiator.
- The amygdala is that part of our brain that controls our emotional responses, and 75% of it is dedicated to negative thought. Back in our caveman days, skepticism about things happening around us is what kept us alive. Now, while we don’t have to worry about becoming lunch for some wild animal anymore, our brain is still equipped with a lot of defensive, negative thought. So we tend to approach a negotiation with caution, suspicious that the other side wants to take advantage of us and will somehow maneuver us into a bad deal. To combat this, look for ways to get the negotiation onto a positive track by demonstrating that your intentions are honorable and that you’re not trying to take advantage of anybody. Look for signs that the other side is reciprocating by trying to demonstrate their good intentions. That’s not to say that either side is going to give away the store, only that the negotiators will act in good faith and try to strike a deal that is fair and equitable to both sides.
- Repeat key words and phrases used by the other side. This does a couple of things. First, it demonstrates that you’re listening, paying attention. Second, it gets any misunderstandings on the table earlier rather than later. It gives the other side a chance to say, “No, that’s not what we meant. What we meant was . . . “ It doesn’t mean you agree with what the other side was saying, only that you heard and understood what they were saying correctly.
- Avoid using the word, “Why?” It puts people in a defensive position requiring them to explain and justify their position. Instead, ask clarifying questions to get at “Why?” without actually using the word.
- At stake in every negotiation is time. You don’t want to get bogged down in a negotiation that wastes a lot of time and never goes anywhere. Learn to avoid what Voss calls, “Fake deals.” He’s talking about “deals” that the other side has no intention of ever concluding. They may be asking you for a competitive bid to use as leverage against their current vendor, or they may be looking for intelligence about your industry, or they may just want to pick your brain and get a little free consulting.
- Don’t burn bridges. Sometimes, you may become involved in a negotiation that it taking too long or is going in a direction you don’t want to go. How do you extricate yourself from the situation without ruining relationships? Voss suggests the language below.
“You’re not going to like this, but this isn’t working for me. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t do this anymore. And my problem here has been that I like you . . . I’ve always liked you. The stuff we’ve done together successfully has been phenomenal, and I would like nothing better, at some point in the future, than to get back to doing those things together. But for right now, in order to preserve the memories of the good things we’ve done, I’m out . . . now.”
The language leaves no doubt that he’s finished with the current situation, but does it in a way that values the relationship, and holds the door open for future collaborations. Pretty slick.