The more positive the narrative, the better your chance of success.

Research from positive psychology tells us the more positive our narrative, the better our results. The wisdom in positivity goes back much further, though. In an old Cherokee teaching, a grandfather tells his grandson that he has two wolves living inside him, fight viciously One that embodies everything evil within him – like envy, pride and ego. And one that embodies everything good – like joy, generosity and compassion. A similar fight, he says, goes on inside every person. When the grandson asks “Which will win?”, the grandfather answers, “The one you feed.”

Where we choose to focus our energy matters. Which wolf we choose to feed has an enormous impact on our sense of self-worth and our ability to negotiate with the world that surrounds us.

 

‘No’ is the starting point.

Believe it or not, when you begin to see ‘no’ as a piece of data in a conversation, then when you get an immediate ‘yes’ it doesn’t feel as gratifying anymore. ‘No’ gives you the opportunity to go deeper into a conversation and to know each other better. A slow good ‘no’ has a potential to give you way more valuable information than a quick bad ‘Yes’.

 

Be comfortable with silence.

As Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” The pleasers should take note. Pleasers tend not to let things just sit when they need to. When you jump in too soon, you don’t give yourself time to think through a response and you don’t give your counterpart time to let things settle. It takes a lot of confidence to just sit in silence, particularly for entrepreneurs who, one way or another, are always selling.

 

The more distant you are, the more uncomfortable silence can be.

When you’re sitting in the presence of your counterpart, there’s so much information you’re able to glean – about his posture, the tilt of his head, the subtle expressions on his face. But you may feel less comfortable with silence as physical distance grows. Most people don’t do well with silence on the phone. Email silence is the most distant and the most uncomfortable. Imagine you send a potential client a proposal and don’t hear back right away. You might go little nuts. Of course, not everyone will struggle with email silence. It’s hard to give purely prescriptive guidelines because it’s all too personal. You have to figure out what your weak spots are whether in email, in person or phone and work on shoring them up in the way that keeps your inner doubter at bay.

 

You don’t have to do it alone.

Many people consider the negotiation process something they have to take care of by themselves. You don’t have to be an accountant who knows financial details inside out or the attorney who can put together comprehensive contracts. We can seek professional support to prepare. We can talk to our friends and peer network to get ahead of the negotiation and run through our plan. We can even ask for a second opinion and different perspectives.

In general, the older we get, the more we get comfortable in accepting what we don’t know and asking for help. Your goal isn’t to be the smartest person in the room. Your goal is to be the one most open to learning so you can leave the room with more wisdom than when you came in.

“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinning what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.” – Abraham Lincoln

 

Build before you bargain.

If you don’t build connections and go straight into bargaining mode, you reach an impasse regarding your numbers, there’s nothing else to talk about. There’s no context. There’s no affiliation. Organizations that write grants for government jobs consistently say the hardest ones to write are those based only on pricing. If you’re not offering to do the job for the least amount, you’re out.

In contrast, consider what happens in a hot housing market. Buyers write personal notes to the sellers, often including a photo of themselves. Under the rules of game theory, the highest bidder would win, end of story. That still doesn’t happen and yet when offers are close, it makes a difference to remind people they’re doing business with a human being, not a number.

When you build rapport, you take time to learn about one another and it makes the process longer. It might even increase the duration by an entire sales cycle but now your counterpart has other pieces of information he can use to make a decision. That exchange pays dividends over your relationship.

 

Stay open to facts and figures.

Always stay in fact-finding mode instead of feeling beholden to a script.

Choose curiosity over certainty. As Leo Tolstoy wrote, “the most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already. But the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he’s firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what’s laid before him.”

Fact-finding involves asking questions, showing authentic interest in your counterpart and creating a natural rapport that puts both sides at ease. It takes time, but take the time you need. The more you uncover before initiating the actual negotiation, the more likely you’re to engage in a negotiation that’s thoughtful, consensus-driven and void of derailing surprises.

 

Open-ended questions are your best bets to understand the other side.

Open-ended questions help you establish an authentic connection, which is very different from thinking “Okay, I need to get through a few minutes of needless small tak and we can get down to business.” The better you become at fruitful small talk, the more you see it’s not frivolous at all. “Tell me about yourself.” It’s possibly the most powerful way to open any conversation. It doesn’t make presumptions the way “What do you do for work?” does, and it lets your counterpart begin the conversation in a way they want. Plus people like talking about themselves.

 

Ask to understand, not to manipulate.

You absolutely need to ask questions but your counterpart must not feel like they’re being manipulated. Your curiosity must be genuine. If you ask a question as basic as “Where do you go on vacation last summer?, you show your care to the listener. Don’t ask questions about a subject that’s not meaningful to you. As Dale Carnegie wrote:

“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That’s simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out. The other comes from the teeth out. One is unselfish. The other selfish. One is universally admired. The other universally condemned.”

 

Look at the table from multiple perspectives.

“Whenever two people meet there are six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other sees him and each man as he really is.” – William Janes

Imagine then, the power you would have if you didn’t insist the dress was black and blue but had the ability to see it as white and gold. You could make the entire argument for one perspective while also clearly seeing the other. With this power in hand, you enter another league of negotiator, one where you can more easily broker deals, resolve arguments and even usher in peace. With this power in hand, you can see new solutions and tap into generosity. Is it easy? Probably not. Is it worthy? Definitely.

 

Be willing to leave something on the table.

Harnessing the power of empathy means leaving something on the table. Because you try to understand what the other side is dealing with as best as you can, you know what they can sell and what they can’t. You make concessions. You give ground but more about problem solving. You give up something that’s less important to you in order to get something that’s more important to you. Making concessions well requires knowing your interests inside out as well as understanding your counterpart’s. 

Win-win doesn’t mean everyone gets their way. Rather, win-win means both parties leave the negotiation feeling better off than they were before they started talking. It may not mean they both got what they came  for but they’re now more likely to have met their most important interests while conceding things that were not as relevant.

 

To share, or not to share.

Think through and ask “What will happen if I share this?”, before every negotiation. More often than not, people tend to hide information that even if revealed wouldn’t hurt them and in fact can help them by buying them goodwill. They just think about things from a limited perspective, assuming the information held close gives them power, and that anything they share will be somehow used against them.

When it comes to information sharing, at least at first, give more information than you feel wholly comfortable. By overcorrecting those first natural, proactive inclinations, you’ll get to a place where you’re more comfortable and feel more in control of the process. Being less afraid will help you think more rationally about what you should share and what you shouldn’t.

 

The subtle art of deflection.

If there is information you know you don’t want to share, think carefully about how to deflect your counterpart if she asks for it. For instance, if they ask “What’s your bottom line? You can say, “I don’t want to spend more than…”, which is not the same as giving your bottom line. Research backs up the idea that if someone is an eloquent sidestepper, the listener doesn’t even notice that they’ve deflected the question. Deflecting unwelcome questions is not something that comes easily to everyone. It’s a learned skill.

Watch any politician being interviewed on a morning news show to see the deflection in action. Some can evade by sticking to their talking points in such a blatant way that you wonder why the interview is even there. Others soft-shoe around a firm answer with such deftness that you may have to watch it more than one time to recognize they haven’t answered the question at all.

 

Negotiating with a bully.

There’s no one way to negotiate with a bully. Do always bring open-mind and empathy to the process. The more you can understand where the bully is coming from, what her interests are and why she behaves the way she does, the more you understand how to handle her. For instance, if she bullies because she is insecure, part of your task will be to help her feel she’s done well even if you’ve come away having met all of your objectives. Do still try to disarm her because even if charisma doesn’t work, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.

Take the long view. A bully ultimately earns a reputation and people won’t want to negotiate with her or do business at all. People are much more likely to walk away if the person they’re negotiating with exhibits anger. Even if the bully looks like she won in the short term, as practically every Hollywood movie portrays, we know who triumphs in the end. 

Many voters admired President Trump for matching the bullying language of Kim Jong Un on the issue of nuclear weapon testing. In an oft-cited tweet from 2018, Trump wrote: North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated the ‘Nuclear button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it’s a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

For a time, it seemed that the North Koreans tamped down their nuclear testing. Trump and his supporters felt victorious. But as the book is written, North Korea has just test-fired short-range missiles and the showdown doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.

Some insist that the only way to dispatch a bully is to match him, tenor for tenor, shout for shout, punch for punch. But honestly, it’s not going to make him respect you. Knowing your leverage will. In the end, there’s no better way to deal with a bully than to know your own power. You can’t be boxed from side to side, or cowed, if you know where your feet are planted. You’ll be standing tall.


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Kyaw Wai Yan Tun

Hi, I'm Wai Yan. I love designing visuals and writing insightful articles online. I see it as my way of making the world a more beautiful and insightful place.