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Succeeding in negotiations through emotional congruence

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