People instantly make assumptions about whatever words and body language they hear and observe. I’m talking about everyday conversations, as well as negotiation situations. It happens all the time.
I do this. You do this. It all happens at the nonconscious level first and then some parts of what the nonconscious captures mixes with past experiences and then squirts images into the prefrontal cortex (the mind) and might cause thinking to transpire. (Thought is a significant consideration of the squirts.)
The squirts are only scenes from memories or constructs of what the person might experience at some point based upon what was squirted.
Most of these squirts are never actually considered in consciousness.
The mind “sees the images” but never really thinks about any of them. It does, however, often generate feelings because of awareness interacting with the movie squirts.
Those images that attach to feelings become what people believe to be thoughts. They aren’t. They are simply two nonconscious interactions played out on the stage of the mind for a split second. They can be stored in memory as having really happened or become a memory, all without having ever thought about them beyond instant recognition.
Those images that were squirted into consciousness that weren’t attached to emotions are almost all forgotten. The number of squirts we never remember is in excess of 99%. They never become encoded thus people believe they never played on the movie screen of the brain.
When emotions are attached to squirts, they often generate assumptions which could be close to “right/wrong” or “true/false.” Ultimately those experiences are simply emotions attached to squirts. They don’t represent reality or anything important, but the person you are negotiating with will believe they are reality and they might just believe they have importance.
In almost all people, these considered emotionally-charged squirts become “assumptions.”
Those assumptions become perceptions of reality for the individual.
When you begin the negotiation process, you therefore have two people or groups of people going head to head with, at minimum, three “realities.”
- There is what actually happened in real life as filmed by a video camera. This reality, however, is rarely experienced by anyone. People are typically surprised by watching play backs years later. They rarely confess their surprise out loud because, of course, that would be the same as saying they are mentally defective because it’s on video. It’s hard to argue with a video recording.
- The assumptions that you have are potentially as fallacious as those the other party experiences. Developing analytical and critical in-the-moment thinking is not easy, and it is rare to observe.
One of my favorite television episodes of all time is “The Night the Roof Fell In,” from The Dick Van Dyke Show.
See it! …
Rob ends up storming out of the house, leaving essentially. He remembers quite clearly that he was a wonderful guy coming home from a brutal day at work. But Rob was going to be perfect for his wife Laura, bad day be darned. Her behavior generates her demand for him to leave and pushes him out the door.
Meanwhile, Laura remembers being wonderful to Rob after she has a terrible day with her son, Rich. Then evil Rob comes home from a brutal day at work. But Laura was going to be wonderful for her husband who eventually loses his mind and leaves shouting, “I may not come home.”
Neither version, of course, was real but simply how each person remembered their personal real life experience.
Watch the episode to see this neurobiological meeting neuropsychological phenomena playing out right before your very eyes.
You’ll never look at your own experience of reality in quite the same way again.
Over Confidence – the Achilles Heel of Negotiation
Assumptions are a big part of why people lose in negotiation. People believe themselves to be right, and someone else to be wrong and that generates overconfidence.
My son and I were playing chess last night. Three nights ago I was emotionally challenged and the squirts connecting to emotions were constantly being played out on the screen where I needed to formulate my chess strategy. Conscious theater space is VERY SMALL. It’s a very, very tiny theater. I believe my son beat me 5 consecutive games. In 4 games I simply “gave him” my queen by leaving her open for easy capture. That’s not analytical thinking at work, of course.
Last night when we played again he had a sense of certainty that he would handily beat me. I then beat him 4 games to 1. He experienced deep frustration in the first four games wondering what was “wrong with me.”
Nothing was wrong with him except…
a) his opponent was back in a non-distracted state of mind. Emotionally charged squirts cause car accidents, arguments, poor performance and a myriad of other challenges.
b) He was overconfident he would win. This is a mistake most people make. They believe that they interpret emotionally charged squirts as reality but that is an error. Overconfidence simply allows for easier defeat. He saw himself as beating me. He was so overconfident that he neglected analytical and critical thinking at many turns.
The assumptions he had going into the games that he had “in memory” that were salient (top of mind and important) were “this will be fun because I took Dad 5 – 0 the other night.”
You can be assured that just when you think you have validated emotionally charged squirts as “real” that they turn out to be anything but. These assumptions are deadly in negotiation.
You can repair this kind of thinking by…
You can repair this kind of thinking by… WIDENING THE FRAME.
He was so focused on one part of the board for so much of the game that he ignored many of my moves completely. I simply kept looking at where he was focusing of course. This helps reinforce assumptions the person currently has.
In chess, life and negotiation you always widen the frame to get a view of the forest, then you deal with problems as you distantly analyze the critical pieces of the game.
The assumptions are strongly influenced by
- Their current state of mind. Are they happy, sad, experiencing grief?
- Their past experience in similar situations. (In this case the negotiation setting) Did people take advantage of them? Were they treated fairly? How have past negotiations shaped the current negotiation?
- Their ability to regulate self control. Do they rationally and logically analyze each point at dispute or do they begin to swim in their emotions?
- Their beliefs about your intentions. Do they think you are out to get them or do they think you will be fair? What is your history with them in similar situations?
- Their beliefs about the intentions of people they’ve negotiated with in the past. They’ve communicated with a lot more people than just you. Who have they negotiated with in the past that took advantage of them? Who have they negotiated with that was fair?
- Their belief that their interpretations are correct and not simply interpretations, past or present. This is the most common “thinking error” that people make in negotiating. They believe that their perception, just like Rob and Laura’s above is real. Positive solutions don’t happen when they are built on misperception.
- Declarations they make (they say it, they believe it). You must make this assumption and pair that assumption with the possibility that the person might be open to change or concession so long as their perception of the situation is validated.
- Their instant opinions & feelings on the value of their (or your) idea, proposal, product, service. Those first squirts that become attached to feelings become “intuition.” Most people trust their intuition more than they trust you.
- Their certainty that they are correct and you are incorrect. People must prove they are right even if they don’t prove you are wrong. The need to be right slows negotiations down. People need to be right because it proves competency. In short-term relationships (buying a house/car) you can let most of what another person thinks in terms of being right go at just that point. In long-term relationships you don’t want to make the other person wrong. You simply don’t put who is right onto a chess board because someone will lose instead of gaining a win/win result.
With all of this going on below their level of conscious awareness, you stand nothing to gain by speaking first.
You really only want to listen.
This is true in almost all communicating outside of negotiation.
Here are the key facts that you will keep in mind or on a note card by you when you negotiate.
- People want to be heard for the purpose of being understood.
- People need to be heard to function rationally.
- People want to be right and thus want you to know what they know.
- People will do almost anything they can to “prove” that you are wrong and they right.
- People believe that what they own or possess is far more valuable than what you own or possess.
- People believe they are superior to average in almost any respect you can imagine.
How going against your human nature gives you a distinct advantage …
It’s human nature to want to be heard and understood. It’s also human nature to want to go first – but if you want to be a successful negotiator, you have to learn to quell that instinct. Letting the other person share their views first does a few things:
- It takes you out of the hot seat. When you start the conversation by saying, “Why don’t you tell me where you’re coming from/what I can do for you/how I can help you/what you want from this negotiation?”
- It lets you adjust your approach based on what the other person says. You may assume your customer wants a refund because she didn’t like the product, when in actuality the color or shade was wrong and she would like an exchange. If you head in with guns blazing, instantly ranting about your no-returns policy, not only have you alienated her, you look foolish and waste your energy.
- It sets the bar. In sales, it’s a common adage that the first person to name a price loses, because they’ve given away their hand. Letting the other person ask for what they want first shows what they’re thinking before you’ve had to concede a thing.
- It makes you look like the good guy. It IS polite to let the other person go first. You have to get over your Self and make it a habit to ALWAYS let the other person go first. You become more likeable if you step back.
Listening doesn’t mean you shut your mouth and wait until the other person is done talking, when you can spew your own thoughts and feelings and beliefs about why you are right and they are wrong. Instead, listening means you truly seek to understand their point of view, and what motivates them. That means:
- You listen reflexively, giving back at least bits of conversation that show you understand at many levels.
- You ask questions, making sure their viewpoint is clear.
- You don’t interrupt and finish their sentences.
- You don’t spend the time they’re talking, thinking about how wrong they are and what you’re going to say next in response.
- You don’t jump in to defend, argue, or convince.
Sometimes you may find that the other person just wants to be heard, and once they feel you’ve listened to them – truly listened – no further action is required. Your customer wants you to know he didn’t like the last service you gave for his gathering. Your husband wants you to know he’d rather go on a fishing trip than shopping in the city. You understand that, that’s enough.
If further discussion is required, the next principle will help you navigate sticky points with ease.
Be Positive, Stay Positive
We’ve all seen instances where an irate customer is berating the counter clerk at the airport, or venting her venom on the checkout cashier at the mini-mart. You look at these out-of-control people with a mixture of pity and embarrassment. But you also look at them and think, “Don’t they know they’re alienating the one person who can fix their problem?”
Think about it. You missed your flight and you’re not going to be able to make the big meeting in Houston. You approach the gate agent and choose one of two approaches:
- You start blustering and yelling, telling her you’re going to have her fired if she doesn’t get you on the next flight immediately, or
- You approach her calmly and politely, asking her for her assistance in meeting your goal.
Who would YOU be more likely to go out of your way to help?
Customer service people are often the lowest on the corporate totem pole. They typically aren’t particularly well-paid, they don’t have a lot of seniority, and they don’t have power. But one thing that they can control is how much they’re willing to go out of their way to help you out. Be rude and nasty, and they’re going to slam the virtual door in your face. Be kind and polite, and you just may find out that the rules are bent in your favor.
This is not to say there isn’t a time and a place for getting angry, or escalating the issue. But you need to be in control of yourself. If the person you’re negotiating with is actually fearing for his or her personal safety, they’re not only going to shut you down, they may call Security on you as well! Let’s see you make that flight to Chicago while you’re shut up in a TSA holding pen.
If you feel yourself losing control or spinning into anger, step away. Take five minutes. Use the restroom. Let the other person know your emotions are getting the best of you, and you’ll get back when you’ve calmed down a bit. If this sounds like you have to bite back your pride, so be it. It’s a lot easier on the ego to take a five minute break, rather than looking like a fool in front of a store full or airport full of people.
Keep reminding yourself of your ultimate outcome. The result you wish is not to make the other person back down or feel bad; but to get as much of your desired outcome as possible. View the other party as your ally, not your enemy until they give you certain evidence to the contrary.
Principle of negotiation that leads to success …
Your Turn – Steps to Negotiation Success
You may think that once the other person has had their chance to share their position, it’s your turn to spew. But how you share your position has a great deal of bearing on the conversation. Here are some tips for sharing your perspective:
- Don’t get defensive. You might be inclined to start out by telling the other person just how wrong they are. Stop! Defending your position or attacking them puts you on opposite teams. Ideally, we’re in search of a win-win, so find something, some point, no matter how small, about which you can agree. It becomes a starting point.
It could be as simple as, “I agree with you that Matthew and Mary have a later curfew. I’m willing to explore the topic with you.” This lets the other party know you heard them and you are searching for common ground.
- Ask for help. One technique is to ask the person to help you. “I’m having trouble with the way shifts are scheduled for next week; can you help me understand?” brings the issue to the table without making the other person the enemy. Get them on your side. People, particularly those in customer service, like to help when they can. Make them feel useful and powerful.
- Ask for what you want. Make your request clear so there’s no question what you see as the desired. “I’d like it if you could reverse the charges this month and help me figure out how to lower my overall bill,” for example, is a much more powerful statement than, “I got charged for 100 texts this month.” What you want is clear in the first request; the second leaves nowhere for the other person to go. They could easily reply with, “So?” You will need to give them more information before they can do anything, so why not make your request clear?
- Shut up. One of the worst things you can do in negotiating is to negotiate against yourself. Once you’ve made a request, be quiet. Let the other person respond. If you keep talking, you will keep conceding, often unnecessarily. In order to calm the urge to talk, some salespeople tell themselves that every word they speak costs them money. Often, that’s true!
Knowing how to properly phrase your own request is critical to successful negotiating. Being able to share your thoughts and feelings without alienating the other person will help you maintain a position of strength and not give away unnecessary concessions.
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