Negotiate, Collaborate: 4

by Christopher Lovejoy on February 21, 2020

I must admit from the outset that I am not a professional negotiator. That is to say, I do not profess to be one with a view towards monetary gain. I do, however, have a keen interest in plumbing the depths of negotiation to see what it can tell me about my relationship with life.

It seems that life offers anyone who is willing to listen the opportunity to learn and grow, expand and express, evolve and ascend. Life in this world, as far as I can see, is not unlike a container, a bridge, and a mirror by which to practice and perfect negotiating magic of all kinds.

Would you disagree? Take a moment to feel into this admittedly uncommon notion.

Life, then, is my counterpart to my likes and dislikes, urges and impulses, preferences and pretenses. When an image in the mirror of my life presents me with something I do not particularly like, I feel naturally resistant because it seems like it’s giving me more than I can handle.

Here, recall that life includes unwelcome encounters as much as it does unwelcome experiences.

But what if I cede the illusion of control to my life? What if I listen intently to the messages of my life? What if instead I arrive at the required understanding to move onward and upward, and my life responds with an open door to good fortune alongside a whisper of “that’s right”?

The plaint, “how am I supposed to do this?,” then becomes an open eager “okay, so what’s next?”

In Negotiate, Collaborate, I introduced negotiation as a common activity that most people do daily, often without thinking about it; I did a quick accusation audit of negotiation itself (must it be combative? no; must it be manipulative? no); and I offered a working definition of negotiate.

In Negotiate, Collaborate: 2, I outlined and defined the five stages that a negotiation typically follows in a circular manner, with the bookends of this predictable process (preparation and execution) occupying opposite ends of negotiation proper (exchange, bargain, and conclude).

In Negotiate, Collaborate: 3, I introduced some tips and techniques on how to negotiate with just about anyone, especially in light of the ever incessant needs to feel safe and in control of a process that endeavors constantly to give counterparts the illusion of safety and control.

In this post, I delve more deeply into why understanding is so likeable, even in the midst of disagreement, in light of the fact that humans are irresistibly drawn to those who have a knack for being perceptive of their needs, and can demonstrate understanding of their perspectives.

In other words, by listening intently and applying some very practical yet powerful techniques and turns of phrase, one can arrive at the ever elusive “that’s right” from a counterpart, with this confidence: “I now know what you need and I understand where you’re coming from.”

Contrary to what you may have heard, the quickest, most effective way to gain someone’s trust and approval is not by treating them the way you would want to be treated, but by treating them the way they want to be treated, while keeping your biases and preferences at bay.

Good listeners know who they are. At the start of any negotiation, they take the time to assess the basic character of their counterparts: are they tending towards assertive, analytical, or accommodating? Careful observation has shown that assertives and analysts often struggle to find common ground; accommodators struggle to move forward with other accommodators.

Think of yourself for a moment in view of a stranger approaching you from a distance; in such a scenario, would you generally feel the urge to fight, fend, or friend? Would you generally feel inclined to (a) approach and assert, (b) avoid and analyze, or (c) allow and accommodate?

The very best negotiators ~ in life or love, at work or play ~ mix and match analysis, assertion, and accommodation to gather and extract as much information as possible with few if any assumptions about what the other is thinking or feeling, needing or wanting. They also formulate hypotheses that are tested in negotiations to reveal any surprises, pleasant and unpleasant.

In starting the negotiation proper, effective negotiators have conversations, for as long as they take, to uncover and confirm what the other actually needs, giving away the illusion of control to make sure the other feels safe and secure enough to speak openly to the issue at hand. The focus of this exchange is the position of need and what is begging to be said about it.

Tone, pace, and voice are crucial to having this vital conversation.

A positive and playful voice is the go-to voice for the competent negotiator; someone with an easygoing, good-natured voice is more relaxed and can smile while talking, putting people at ease as/when they mirror this positivity internally, enabling them to think better and faster.

Thinking better and faster reinforces a sense of safety and control.

For competent negotiators to become exceptionally good at what they do, however, they must be able to infuse “positive and playful” with “empathetic and sincere,” or vice versa, and to do this with ease of access to two other voices used selectively, as required or desired.

A calm and slow voice is used selectively to make a point, inflecting downward. A calm and slow voice tends towards generating an aura of trustworthiness, and without triggering defensive postures or measures from the other party. The voice of authority is calm … and slow. This voice is especially useful and helpful for diffusing or defusing blows of negativity and reactivity.

Again, the point here is to test hypotheses about emotions and behaviors ~ not make assumptions. This approach is vital because you want the other side to do what the other side cannot help but do ~ correct you or clarify you ~ and in so doing, reveal more information to you.

A few quick examples: inflecting downward, say it calm and slow: It looks like … you’re ready to explode over this … It sounds like … you’re under a whole lot of pressure. It feels like … you’re happy with how things are going so far. It seems like … you’re feeling good about this.

No assumptions, just hypotheticals submitted respectfully for correction or clarification. You won’t know just how powerful this is until you put it into practice. Not only will it help you to keep your distance from highly charged emotions, it will take your capacity to converse with just about anyone to a whole new level with “it looks like … it sounds like … it feels like … it seems like …”

A direct and assertive voice is used rarely by exceptional negotiators to good or great effect, in those places and at those times when they know that it’s “appropriate to the moment,” typically further into the negotiation after a feeling of trustworthiness has been established.

In resetting tone, pace, and voice throughout any negotiation, consummate negotiators (a) discuss terms; (b) pass through, around, and over obstacles; (c) confer with the intent of coming to terms or reaching agreements; and (d) realize mutually beneficial results or outcomes.

Negotiations can be personal, in life or love, or professional, at work or play, in situations both mundane and critical, initiated in response to confronting two kinds of problems between two or more parties: those raised for consideration or solution and those in need of resolution.

A negotiation need not be a battle of wills or a fight to the death. With the right attitude and the right skills, a negotiation can just as easily be a calm and comfortable way to navigate a problematic situation or set of circumstances towards a mutually beneficial solution or resolution.

Calm and comfortable, that is, if you’re an exceptionally skilled and seasoned negotiator, but do not let this qualification deter you in the least. For any would-be master negotiator in life or love, at work or play, “calm, comfortable, and consummate” is the ultimate negotiating ideal.

Such an ideal is uncompromisingly nice, held in place without holding your tongue, suppressing your emotions, letting things slide, or making sacrifices you wish you hadn’t made. In becoming other-centred, you can remain sincere, and smile at the most appropriate moments.

In light of this ideal, new school negotiations are structured in ways that maximize flexibility and adaptability. They feel very different from old school negotiations. At the heart of contemporary collaboration is negotiation; at the heart of contemporary negotiation is active listening.

Experienced negotiators generally recognize that, in every negotiation, three to five pieces of information are waiting to be discovered with a tried and true process known as Active Listening ~ pieces of the puzzle that, were they to be uncovered, would … “change everything.”

Active Listening, including empathetic listening (labels, as above) and reflective listening (mirrors, see below), is a potent, creative force that serves to build a unique throughway for the entire negotiation, from start to finish, with the aim of mindfully, skillfully, and artfully using a set of precision tools, techniques, and turns of phrase to uncover the vital pieces of the puzzle.

To reiterate quickly, parties to a negotiation need to feel safe and secure, to feel in control of the negotiating process. Those who can listen, and listen intently, will be the ones who can demonstrate a sincere desire to understand with appropriate empathy. Not only this, but the ones who can listen will be the ones who can carry the net of safety and control for both parties.

Coupled with observing discrepancies between words (7% of the communication), tone of voice (38%), and body language (55%), Active Listening allows the other party to speak first and, with calibrated questions, guide and encourage the other party to do much of the work.

In summary: on the way to a bargain, a conscious negotiator will understand the need for safety and control, will know enough to listen intently to demonstrate empathy with a sincere desire to understand what the other side is going through, to forgo assumptions to test hypotheses, to gather as much information as possible, and to discover what the other side actually needs.

The sole focus is on the other side’s version of what has gone waiting to be shared. In addition to tone, pace, and voice, a negotiator will also use the Mirror Effect to reflect what is being said by repeating one or more critical words of what was just said to help others connect their thoughts and feelings, and … to help them connect with their thoughts and feelings.

A couple of brief examples …

Inflecting upward: “one or more?” (could you say more about that?); inflecting downward: “one or more” (please go on). These effects affirm safety and control for the counterpart, insinuating similarity with the counterpart, so as to strengthen the bond of trust with the counterpart.

When two or more people are in a positive frame of mind, they’re more likely to think quickly, to collaborate and resolve issues. The inherent beauty and wonder of such positivity clears the way for mental agility to be exercised by both parties, resulting in a better conversation.

The Mirror Effect is effective because human beings generally fear what is different and find comfort in what is familiar; it encourages both parties to empathize and bond with each other, keep both parties talking, buy both parties more time, and/or eventually reveal strategies.

The Magic Mirror even has real-world applications and benefits beyond formal negotiation.

A study by psychologist Richard Wiseman on two groups of waiters found that the average tip of waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than of those who used positive reinforcement alone: “I want my soup served piping hot, please.” “I’m sorry, piping hot?” “Yes, please.”

The Mirror Process follows five simple yet effective steps to uncover what the other side actually needs: (1) use the voice of authority: “nice and slow, see;” (2) preface with the softener, “I’m sorry …,” to earn the benefit of the doubt; (3) use The Mirror to good effect (as above); (4) call on the power of silence (up to four seconds for The Mirror to work its magic); (5) rinse and repeat.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Concerns can sometimes seem complicated; emotions can sometimes run high; trust can sometimes be difficult to come by; intervening, interfering voices in the head can make it hard to concentrate on what the other party is saying. Effective preparation alone, on the way to striking a bargain, requires more than a fair bit of training and practice.

In other words, “constant small-stakes practice for consistent high-stakes results.”

Put in the practice, but remain ever mindful of the option to “release,” as follows …

Release: see the perfection where the seeming imperfection seems to be. The key to serenity: letting go of the feeling of wanting to change it, it being anything within the scope of personal experience that you do not like and want to be different than what it is, including events from the past. If you stay open to the elegance of this solution, it has the power to set you free

~ adapted from a quote by Lester Levenson (The Sedona Method)

By itself, this method works wonders; combined with negotiation, however, it can work miracles, especially in the initial stages on the way to striking a bargain with confidence and without compromise, and when I say “without compromise,” I mean “without any mediocre results.”

The ultimate goal of the preparation to strike a bargain is to actively seek out the surprises, if any. This means using the exchange to test hypotheses, not make assumptions, and to gather and extract as much information as possible, without preparing a counter argument.

Uncover what your counterpart actually needs (is it time? money? validation? confirmation? admiration?). In helping your counterpart to feel safe, you’re helping your counterpart to open up and talk your ear off. Your primary focus throughout is your counterpart’s point of view.

That is, of course, if you can bear to hear it without obvious protest, especially under pressure, in spite of the many pretenses, prejudices, presumptions, and preferences that you might, wittingly or unwittingly, knowingly or not, hold dear to your heart or close to your chest.

Your aim here is to be a negotiating collaborator, not a negotiating competitor; the adversarial model need not apply. That is to say, you’re looking, not for the ever compromising “yes, you’re right,” but for the ever uncompromising “that’s right.” In other words, “you’ve nailed it.” This, incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, is a good time to listen for a proposal.

The professional can make a smooth transition from “exchange” to “bargain” by listening intently, by validating feelings and concerns, all the while building trust to understand what the other party requires so that the other party can feel free to eventually discuss what is desired.

Professional negotiators aim impeccably to bridge the gap between “exchange” and “bargain” by eliciting these two magic words: “that’s right.” They perform this magic trick with a variety of techniques that apply cross-culturally, to everyone everywhere, with just one exception.

Attempting to speed up the process at this point is a mistake that many newbie negotiators make. If the negotiator is in too much of a hurry to get to the actual bargain, it can have the other party feeling like they’re not being heard, which can only serve to undermine trust and rapport.

Once rapport has been established, once the actual need of the other party has been openly articulated and revealed, the negotiator is then ready to enter the next stage of negotiation ~ striking a bargain ~ preferably by waiting for a proposal in the wake of a … “that’s right.”

So tell me, how comfortable are you with bearing confusion and suspicion? How comfortable are you with toggling between certainty and uncertainty, clarity and obscurity? That is, how comfortable are you with helping someone preserve the illusion of safety and control?


never be so sure of what you want
until you know you can get something better

~ the number 1 rule of any negotiation

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