Negotiate, Collaborate: 6

by Christopher Lovejoy on February 23, 2020

In preparation for any negotiation, it’s always prudent to identify your best case scenario “for the win,” one that is optimistic yet reasonable, clearly written down and discussed, prior to entering the exchange phase to confirm or uncover what your counterpart actually needs.

Here’s an example to illustrate how this preparation might play out …

Suppose you have a dozen used (and not so used) books to sell.

From your own research, you already know that most used books sell for anywhere from $0 and $5; in this day and age, you also know that popular books are shunned by book buyers, as well as books that are marked or scuffed, and books whose pages have yellowed with age.

The book buyers you’ve dealt with offer a standard $2 per book, but on, you know that you can more accurately appraise the value of your books by doing online searches that give summaries of how much the book is worth across many bookseller platforms.

Your dozen used (and not so used) books meet the criteria for purchase, and so you can reasonably expect to receive, at a minimum, $24 for the whole lot, and so you adjust your expectation upward to $36, or even $48, as your anchor when it comes time to do the bargaining.

I know how quaint all of this sounds, but I nevertheless find it interesting (and instructive) to take a safe, sane, and sound step back from the increasingly global cultural obsession with navigating myriad cloudscapes of digital bits and bytes masquerading as the reality of creation.

This summary in preparation for a negotiation is important for a few reasons: not only does it bring your monetary target into focus, it gives you data you can use to let the book buyer know you’ve done your research and can be taken seriously, making it easier to get a “that’s right” near the end of the conversational exchange prior to getting a proposal by which to bargain.

In the initial exchange, a positive and playful voice with smiling eyes is key. You need to be genuine about this; you cannot fake it. Observe beforehand: will the book buyer be receptive? Maybe receptivity is absent; if so, you might be willing to walk away before you engage.

A quick assessment like this one can apply to anyone anywhere for any reason.

If you observe from afar that it’s a good time to engage the book buyer, approach, smile, introduce, say hello, my name is … how’s business? selling a lot of books lately? I’m sorry, what did you say your name was? Be playful, be positive; your outer voice betrays your inner voice.

Beyond the preliminaries, engage the book buyer with gentle yet probing hypotheticals as s/he examines the books. If the buyer takes a keen interest in a particular book, offer this: “it seems like this book is valuable to you” or “it seems like you value the cover art on this one.”

If the buyer quickly dismisses a book for no apparent reason, offer this: “it seems that you don’t like this one.” If the buyer is conflicted with a particular book, hesitatingly pushing it away and appearing reluctant to take it, offer this: it seems like you’re reluctant to let this one go.”

If the buyer confirms your thinking, and you want more info, mirror the response:

Buyer: I’m hesitating with this one because I know the author is popular, but this particular book is not one of her best.”

You (with a mirror): “not one of her best?”

Buyer: “She wrote this many years ago when she was first starting out, but has since written more popular books.”

You: “I wasn’t aware of that; thanks for telling me; it seems like you really know your stuff.”

Buyer: “I know enough about this author and this book; maybe I’ll get lucky with this one (takes the book back).”

In my experience, book buyers are extremely knowledgeable. You would be hard-pressed to put anything past them. Luckily, it’s not hard for them to make the initial proposal, starting with the standard $2 per book. Here, you need to be prepared to counter this low-ball offer:

You: “I’m aware that used book buyers offer a standard $2 per book, and so I did some research on and I found out that these books (pointing to your books) are actually worth somewhere between $3 and $4 per book.” Stop, and listen with dynamic silence.

Buyer (suitably impressed by nodding and smiling): “It seems you’ve done your homework.”

You (nodding and smiling back): “I like to be prepared for standard offers.”

Buyer (laughing): “What do you propose?”

You: “Let’s put pricing aside for a moment. What could you give me that would make me wanna give away these books for free?”

Buyer: “I might give you back the equivalent of $36 worth of used books.”

You: “What if you knocked that down to $24 and added $24 of cash to your offer?”

Buyer: “I can see you’re trying to bend my reality.”

You: “It seems you’re worried you might not get a good deal.”

Buyer: “That thought did cross my mind.”

You: “What’s the core issue here?”

Buyer: “I need sufficient markup to make this worthwhile.”

You: “Sufficient markup?”

Buyer: “It’s standard for me to aim for at least a 200% markup above my offers.”

You: “I see, and so if you buy this book (pointing) for $2, then you expect to sell it for at least $6?”

Buyer: “That’s right.”

You (waiting patiently for more)

Buyer: “I’m willing to give you $12 cash plus $24 worth of credit.”

You: “That’s a generous offer, but I prefer cash over credit, although credit is worth my while, too.”

Buyer: “How about $18 cash plus $18 worth of credit?”

You: “We both know these books are in great condition; they also look good on the shelf ~ not too bulky, not too worn; and given the fact that you’re willing to take them now, they’re also not so popular that they’re a dime a dozen and hard to sell. Am I missing anything here?”

Buyer: “Alright then, $24 cash plus $18 worth of credit.”

You: “I hear you saying $24 cash plus $18 worth of credit.”

Buyer: “That’s as much as I can offer you at this time.”

You: “At this time?”

Buyer (laughing): “used books aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes these days.”

You: “I hear you, my friend; you have yourself a deal, thank you.”

This fictional dialogue essentializes and idealizes more than a few techniques of negotiation. Research on international negotiation indicates that nine of them apply across all cultures around the world, spanning all races and religions. Interestingly, this ubiquity reportedly meets with one odd yet notable exception: those who have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

I say “notable” because humans rely on what is known as “mirror neurons” to navigate their social relations, which, for whatever reason, seem to be wired differently in the brains of those diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia: a genuinely friendly smile is misconstrued as manipulative, or even worse, a warm, friendly presence is misconstrued as malignant skulking or stalking.

True story: I once entered an Indigo bookstore and walked around casually, minding my own business, checking out various books in different sections, only to be approached by security with a paranoid and suspicious rebuke. I now know how to deal with this kind of situation, and you will too by the time you finish reading this post, but at the time it happened, I was clueless.

Without mirror neurons, there would be no way for humans to sympathize or empathize with each other, no way for humans to bond and trust with one another, no way for humans to cooperate and collaborate, and no meaningful way for human beings to relate, date, and mate.

In the midst of hostage situations, negotiators rely on mirror neurons to employ a code of correct conduct known as tactical empathy, which is the ability to recognize and vocalize the perspective of another, to understand the feelings and mindset of another, but more than this, to hear what is behind the feelings to exert a positive influence in all of the moments that follow.

Tactical empathy is more than just showing you understand the other side; it’s making sure “they know that you know that they know that you understand.” When you effectively deploy tactical empathy, the other side will view you as less of an adversary and more of a partner.

Applied to everyday social situations and interactions, tactical empathy sounds like overkill, but it comes highly recommended in the face any social interaction where you believe it would benefit you in the event that you feel ignored, dismissed, avoided, bypassed, or attacked.

Sometimes it’s best to “let it go and move on,” but other times, for the sake of your own sense of agency, autonomy, and authority, it’s best to call it out with tried and true approaches that yield amicable interactions and relations by giving others the illusion of safety and control.

Two potent approaches come to mind: (1) the accusation audit; and (2) “Go for No.”

The first approach involves taking a quick audit of what your counterpart might say against you, and instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, you call it out proactively, clearing away any lingering emotional obstacles. So, for example, in response to being viewed and treated with suspicion in a store by security, one might say “You might think I’m just lurking, but I’m actually browsing.”

Hint: I’m something of a polymath by nature and have a wide range of interests. Mea culpa.

Here, it helps to smile and use a light, positive, proactive, and playful tone of voice. A preliminary accusation audit is especially useful prior to asking for a favor or prior to delivering bad news. Anything that might make you say: “I don’t want you to think …” should be on your list.

The second approach, “Go for No,” poses no-oriented questions to elicit answers of “no,” answers that give your counterparts the illusion of safety and control. To extend the previous example about store security, one might ask, after pausing for effect: “have you given up on people browsing?” Again, a positive, proactive, and playful tone of voice comes highly recommended.

Here are a few other question stems that “Go for No:” Are you against …? Do you disagree with …? Is it such a bad idea for you to …? All of these question-stems trigger a response of “No” in the amygdala of the brain, one that feels safe and protective to those so triggered.

Of course, these approaches can backfire, in which case you’ll need to fall back on the tried and true techniques of tactical empathy: labels (in the form of hypotheticals), dynamic silence, mirrors, paraphrasing, summaries, calibrated questions, “I” messages, minimal encouragers, and the Rule of Three. These assume that the mirror neurons in your counterpart are functional.

I’ve touched on most of these techniques in previous posts. Minimal encouragers are simply expressions that keep the conversation going in the direction of confirming and uncovering the counterpart’s perspective: “I see,” “uh-uh,” “yes, of course,” “for sure,” “absolutely.” The Rule of Three is simply getting three versions of “yes” to secure a commitment in the wake of a deal.

If you feel so inclined, go back to the book buyer dialogue and see which techniques you can identify, while giving some thought to how you might apply some of them to your everyday life. I invite you to do so in light of getting to know the structure of negotiation, as follows:

prepare … [exchange, bargain, conclude] … execute

Aim: give X to Y in exchange for Z by exchanging information and/or striking a bargain

Stage 1 (Prepare): (1) potential value?; (2) mutual interest?; (3) facts that facilitate an exchange of value?

Stage 2 (Exchange): (1) what additional value might I add or find?; (2) what interests are relevant and significant to having an exchange of value?; and (3) how might I validate my counterpart at this stage to foster trust and rapport prior to the next stage (striking a bargain)?

Stage 3 (Bargain): discern and distribute value; address interests while making and managing concessions

Stage 4 (Conclude): capture value and confirm that interests have been met with an agreement or contract

Stage 5 (Execute): expand value; address changing interests; assess short- or long-term value of relations

You can rely on this snapshot to set your aim and keep track of where you are.

Remember, too, that you always have the option not to negotiate. I know that, for some negotiators, their number one rule of negotiation is “don’t negotiate,” meaning “don’t negotiate where it’s not possible, desirable, or necessary to negotiate.” I think you know what I mean.

In posts to come, I’ll be keen to explore what I call the ultimate negotiation.

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