Most of us have an innate desire to be heard but how are we when it comes to listening to the other side, especially a hostile other side? If you are having difficulties in business negotiations, you can borrow a leaf out of Chris Voss’ book, an ex-FBI hostage negotiator.
Chris knows too well what it is like to negotiate with someone who is aggressive and demanding their own way. Through high-stakes negotiations, Chris has learned basic principles that can be applied to various scenarios in business, from simple conflicts to pressure cooker negotiations with stakeholders. Here we will unpack effective negotiating tactics and strategies that can be applied to the marketplace so you are pleased with the outcome.
1. ‘No’ is not the end of the conversation, it’s just the beginning
You need to establish trust and competence
Are you trying hard to win over clients, so they say yes quickly to your offer? Have you found that pushing sales onto people doesn’t actually result in many wins? While it may not surprise you that an aggressive sales pitch doesn’t actually convert many leads, it may come as a shock that when a potential client says ‘no’ that doesn’t actually mean the end of the conversation. According to Chris Voss, everything we’ve been taught about negotiation is wrong- it’s not getting people to say yes it is getting them to say no.
Chris identifies that there’s actually a lot more space between yes and no that most of us realise. If we give the time for the other side to think after they have said ‘no’ we are in a better position to negotiate a favourable outcome. Chris notes:
Most people don’t like to give an immediate ‘yes’ to anything because they want to know what they are committing to in the first instance. When we give someone the space to initially say ‘no’ they can think more effectively as they are in a positive frame of mind. Once people feel protected and safe they are more likely to work with you.
2. First and last impressions count
Tone of voice and authenticity is key
How long do you think it takes to establish a first impression? According to Forbes it takes only 7 seconds for someone to make a solid assessment of you! Whether you are a hostage negotiator at the scene of a crisis or a business owner looking to make a good first impression with a potential big client, you are both faced with a similar challenge- establishing a positive connection.
Chris Voss stresses one of the most important aspects to making a good impression is the tone of your voice. If you smile when you are speaking (even if it’s a phone conversation), you will automatically be able to reach the person you are speaking to and put them in a better mood. When people are feeling happier, their brains are able to function work 31% more effectively and will be more likely to collaborate with you.
What if you don’t hit it off immediately? Well it’s not game over in the negotiation process says Chris. Actually the last impression is often what people remember as well as the most emotionally charged moment of the conversation. This is also sobering news, because even if you make a good first impression, you must ensure you close with a good impression for your negotiation to go well. Be careful not to feel like you need to get in the last word or try to control your counterpart, as this can be a real turn-off. Avoid motherhood statements and at all times be genuine as most people can see through inauthenticity pretty quickly. As Chris highlights:
Honesty and being positive goes a long way in negotiations. If you are clear and your counterpart is assured that you are seeking to work on an end result that will make both of you better off, you are a step closer to closing in on a favourable outcome.
3. Develop Tactical Empathy
Let the other side feel heard
How do you listen well so you can connect with people who disagree with you? How can you demonstrate to the other party that you understand the other person’s mindset and feelings?
We all have a limbic system regardless of our gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background. This complex set of nerves and networks in the brain, controls emotions and motivation. Chris Voss continues:
To be a good negotiator you need to become more than just another sales person. You need to demonstrate to your potential customer or client that you understand them. This can be helped by not denying or disagreeing with what the other person says but rather making every effort to hear the other side.
Most people who are in a difficult position are thinking “How are you going to help me? Do you have any idea of what I’m faced with?” Tactical empathy is demonstrated by taking an inventory of the person you are talking to and then describing back to them what they have shared. Chris summarises this approach as “Seeking first to understand in order to be understood.”
You only need to repeat the last one to three words of what your counterpart has shared to make an impact. This communication technique helps connect people’s thoughts and they often feel less inhibited to explain and expand on their previous train of thought.
4. Buy time with the person
We need to keep the conversation going
Have you ever had a rushed business conversation where you needed more time for a better outcome? Most business owners would have faced a situation where they need more time with a supplier or big client to negotiate an agreeable price on a good and service. Unfortunately if someone is not wanting to speak with you, they can be very resistant to sharing information. They may try to rush the conversation to finish it off quickly. A skilled negotiator knows how to slow the conversation down. Chris Voss highlights that again, we need to learn the skills of tactical empathy when negotiating. He suggests:
Keep it calm and keep the negotiations slow to build rapport and trust with your counterpart. If you get them to say ‘yes’ to something even if it is only a small thing, you are in the right direction for making a final agreement which is favourable.
5. Emotions are intertwined in all of our decisions
Decision-making is an emotional process.
Have you ever walked away from a business deal feeling hard done by? Maybe during past negotiations you found the other side was too pushy and so you decided to stop negotiations altogether?
Negotiating is an emotional process and you should always be mindful of requests you make in light of what the other party has suggested. There are some words that when said during a negotiation can reveal a lot about how the other party is thinking or feeling. As an example, the word ‘fair’ can trigger all sorts of responses in people.
Chris notes that most people have an instinctive feeling about a fair price and can emotionally be quite connected to this idea. It’s not a good sign during a negotiation if either party says “I just want what’s fair.” If this sentiment is expressed, you know that the person has felt that the other side has been too aggressive and they have been treated unfairly.
If a customer agrees to a market price they think is too high or a supplier agrees to an offer that is too low, you can expect a poor outcome in the outcome. They will either drag their feet, not make deadlines or they won’t pay attention to details when it comes to delivering on their side. This is not what you want and so as a negotiator, you need to always be ensuring that the other party feels like you are hearing their requests clearly as implementation will go much better if the agreement works well for both of you.
About Chris Voss
Chris Voss is the CEO of the Black Swan Group and is the Author of “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It”.
Chris has developed a unique program that applies negotiating techniques to the business world based on his many years of experience in international crisis and high-stakes negotiations.