We all go into a negotiation wanting something. Even something as cut and dry as achieving a business KPI is fraught with emotion. I for one was given a huge KPI to achieve within the first year of my current CEO role. The fact that I achieved it in 6 months has less to do with the achievement of the KPI and more to do with the value I wanted stakeholders to associate with me. There is a mark of respect, an air of awe, for someone who can pull off what others said they couldn’t. The same goes for negotiation. Even if we want to achieve a business outcome from the agreement, and even if we don’t want to be seen conceding much to achieve that outcome, it is invariably more important to us is to be attributed with the success of achieving that agreement than the agreement itself. And that is the emotional response to a logical activity like negotiation.
We are all emotionally invested
Before you plead your innocence, perhaps it is good to understand the concept of the Substitution Effect; not the economic one but the psychological one. The Substitution Effect is one where a person substitutes the true intent for an action or decision, with one that is more easily understood. For example, many people in Singapore do not simply buy a car to move from point A to point B, even though that is what they say their intent is. Why? Because there are so many other ways to get from A to B and you don’t need to own a car specifically to do that. Hence, there is a greater underlying reason. The car is often seen as a status symbol, one which shows your position in society, your wealth. The more extravagant the car, the greater the status. And some people go to great lengths to distance themselves from others, hence a flashier car. But how would one admit that to others when they are asked why they wanted a car? Very hard to justify, right? Hence, they seek a substitute reason, one that is easier to defend and on the ears.
But let us not delude ourselves. Everyone is emotionally invested, be it in a decision or a negotiation. All of us want something for ourselves, even if we are representing our organisation. The key, therefore, to winning the negotiation, is to identify what our counterpart is looking for, and offering that to him.
Uncovering true intent
Obviously, if you can uncover your counterpart’s emotional triggers, you can hasten the negotiation to agreement. There are several ways you can do that but the following are three of the most widely used…
(1) Asking directly
The quickest and most direct way is to ask what the person is looking for by saying something like, “I know why your company wants this outcome, but what’s in it for you personally?” This question cuts to the chase and puts your counterpart squarely in the hot seat. It allows you to assess whether the person is truthful by his reaction and answer to the question. However, you cannot use this immediately at the onset of the negotiation. You would have to establish good personal rapport before you can use this technique effectively.
(2) The Five Why’s
This next technique is very helpful in uncovering what you don’t know. By asking why several times over, diving deep into the thinking and the intent, you will be able to surface just what the true intent is for the person’s actions and decisions. Take a look at this conversation between you and your friend:
You: So why is it important for you to buy a car?
Friend: Because I need to move from Point A to Point B
Y: Why is it important for you to Point A to Point B?
F: Because I need to fetch and deliver important guests.
Y: Why is it important for you to fetch and deliver important guests?
F: Because it is my job.
Y: I understand, but you didn’t answer my question. Why is it important for you to fetch and deliver important guests?
F: Because I want to be seen doing a good job
Y: Why is it important for you to be seen doing a good job?
F: Because then I will be able to get repeat customership
Y: Why is it important for you to get repeat customership?
F: Then I can have business continuity!
Y: Why is it important for you to get business continuity?
F: So that I can afford my next big car!!??!
Do you see how this technique works? By asking why is it important to you (and not just why is it important), we get the person to think about the decision vis-à-vis the other aspects of the situation, and articulate its importance. Then, by playing on the response of the previous question and drilling down on its important at each juncture, we move closer and closer to the real reason for the decision. Very often, that decision is more personal than professional; more emotional than logical.
Of course, this technique does not allow you to shape the thinking process, and takes it as it comes. You are unable to influence the thinking process, and introduce key points of consideration. Hence, you may like to consider this last technique…
(3) Yes, but…
Here, we do a hybrid of the two techniques. By understanding what’s in it for them and then asking them why it is important, we dive deeper. Yet, we also do not take the answer at face value and add “yes but…”
Consider how this works:
You: Tell me… what’s in it for you to get a new car?
Friend: Well… then I can fetch important guests from Point A to Point B
Y: Yes, but you can also do it with a taxi?
F: But a taxi is not so convenient
Y: Yes, but if you used Uber X, you will be able to provide them with convenience and luxury.
F: But that would not show that I am successful businessman.
Y: Yes, but are you interested to show yourself off or are you interested to get them from Point A to B?
From here, you can realise that your friend is looking more to show himself off as a successful businessman than to want to fetch clients from Point A to Point B.
Hence, with this process, you can uncover the true emotion(s) that drive the decision, allowing you to position your offer that will allow you to concede the least and agree on the most.
So how important is emotional congruence?
Each of the above techniques aims to uncover the emotional driver of our counterpart in a negotiation. How do we know there is one? Well, if one were not emotionally invested in a negotiation, he would not be able to elicit the best outcome from it. And if you see someone driving a hard bargain, you absolutely know there is an emotional connection. But why is it important? Shouldn’t the negotiation focus only on the business? Yes….and no! The outcome of the negotiation must always make business sense, for sure; and if the best sense is to walk away, then so be it. Yet, how would that sit with the emotional objective? How would you allow your counterpart to feel like this was the best thing for him that you both walked away? How would you allow him to align his emotional needs to the outcome?
You might be thinking, “Why is this MY responsibility?” Well, it is not. Except that if you don’t come across as his ally, if you don’t help him seek congruence between his emotional and logical goals, you might not be able to meet YOUR emotional goals. Ultimately, helping him achieve what he wants might help you achieve what YOU want.
So, the next time you are negotiating – be it for a raise, for a new condo, for a new car – learn to identify what your counterpart’s emotional objectives are, and help him achieve that. In so doing, you will also help you achieve yours!