13 February, 2019

How to negotiate like your life depends on it

How to negotiate like your life depends on it

That forceful style of negotiation you see on the movies should stay there. In the Army, they taught us that the best negotiators were creative problem-solvers and that’s exactly true for business.

When I first entered the New Zealand Army at age 18 I didn’t have a clue what negotiation was and I certainly didn’t feel like a natural at it. Fast forward to now and my negotiating skills have seen me through countless military situations and led me to build a growing six-figure business, SheMaps.

The key thing I want you to take out of this is that I was taught. I was taught the art of negotiation by military leaders, until I became one myself. I was taught how to read situations, to know when and what to say, and how to say it

I wasn’t born a natural at negotiation and I firmly believe that you don’t need to be. Anyone can be taught it - of course, like any art form it takes practice but that’s what this set of rules is for. Read these, absorb them, apply them in negotiation situations and you’ll notice a difference immediately. Yes, they’re military tactics, but ultimately they’re habit-forming tactics that anyone can learn.

1. Understand what the other party wants

Refrain from talking. It can be tempting to speak to show confidence and take control of a situation but human nature is a complex beast. Heard of bravado? People can sniff it out a mile away. The people who actually show the most confidence are the ones who listen, who don’t dominate the negotiation because they don’t need to. They’re good at what they do and the first step in this is understanding what the other party needs. Listen to what people are saying (and what they’re not saying). Watch what they’re trying to convey (and not convey).

2. Mirror words

By now you might have heard that mirroring body language means you like someone but it’s actually a bit more complex than tha. Mirroring, when used subtly, can be a powerful negotiating force. In a study published back in 2008 and highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, when participants didn’t mirror body language during the negotiation, they reached a settlement only 12.5% of the time. The more you mirror, the more you find a solution. To foster this kind of trust and collaboration, focus on things like speed. Is the other person talking particularly slowly or fast? Match their pace. Pick up on a few key words they’re using to explain their position and use them to explain yours. Avoid going over the top and repeating whole phrases - trust is lost when it feels too contrived.

3. Work out patterns

My work in the military has taken me from Vanuatu, to Lebanon, to Afghanistan, working with locals and allied troops. It’s amazing how universal human patterns are. Broken down, people usually fall into these styles, which you should pay attention to:

  1. Competitive - we all know this one, it’s what put people off negotiations. Uncooperative and combative.
  2. Compromising - this person is laidback, unaggressive and cooperative. Sounds ideal but sometimes their solutions might not be at the level you want.
  3. Accommodating - again, this person seems fantastic to deal with. Make sure they can do what they’re promising as they can over-promise, even though it might come from a good place.
  4. Collaborating - the collaborator is solutions-focussed, open and creative. Two collaborators together are unstoppable. A collaborator can feel quite full-on to others!
  5. Avoiding - this is the person who is truly gifted at not taking responsibility.

Some styles are better than others, but try to be aware of your behaviour and theirs and where it fits in a pattern. Then you can better adapt your behaviour while still keeping your eye on the prize.

4. Understanding is not an agreement

How many times have you thought someone was on the same page as you, a partner, a friend, a colleague, and the total opposite has been true? The less you know someone, the more careful you have to be about this. Words and concepts hold different meanings for different people. Be clear about what you are agreeing on, be specific with how you affirm.

5. Is now a bad time to talk? Let people say ‘no’

A ‘no’ from the person you’re negotiating with is not a negative. Let people say ‘no’ early on in the conversation and often. ‘No’ helps people through the shift of change, it makes them feel comfortable and safe. It might, in fact, mean that they just don’t understand something completely, they need to talk to someone else, or they need more information. A ‘no’ could mean you just need to delve a bit deeper.

6. Don't compromise - Make a high value trade

This one involves preparation. You don’t go to a house auction without knowing what your budget is. Don’t go into a negotiation without knowing exactly what is and isn’t of value to your business. A negotiation is a situation where each person gets something in exchange for giving something. In a military situation, compromising until you’ve undervalued what you’ll receive is weakness. And weakness is dangerous.

7. Black swans - What’s the card that’s being held from me?

Black swans are the metaphor for when things of massive consequence happen and you didn’t predict them, but the signs were there. We don’t predict them, though, because they lie outside of our previous experience or regular expectation. In negotiation, these are the unknown unknowns and they’re damn hard to spot. If something doesn’t like in what you expect, then you need to let go of your expectations. Let what you know guide you but avoid coming to conclusions based off this - you’re not considering the unknown in this equation. Ask lots of questions, be insatiably curious, listen intently. These are some of the ways you can crack the black swans.

8. Do you want me to fail?

It seems like it’s a ridiculous question but it’s a powerful one. It makes someone’s mind stop in their tracks and critically think to answer. No, they don’t want you to fail, they know that’s not what a negotiation is about. It causes defences to drop and for them to consider what they’re saying.

Follow these 8 steps and be sure to rinse and repeat. Like I said at the start, this is all about training and habit-forming. Repetition is crucial!

© 2018 Paul Mead

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