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Your negotiation journey – part six

Asking questions might seem like a no-brainer but anyone who has ever done an interview knows that asking the right questions is not that easy. However, it is an important skill for a number of situations and not just interviewing or negotiating. So let’s find out more about technique six of the negotiation journey.

The art of questioning

Just a short read through the history of punctuation will get you to understand how questions have become such an important part of our communication. The question mark symbol has its own history that can be read here. When you think about it, the question mark somewhat resembles a human ear.. While this may be simply random, it reminds you what questions are in negotiations – an opportunity to listen.

Questions are the best way to get your counterpart to speak, but different questions will get you different answers. Here are a few types of questions and how you can use them for best results:

Closed-ended questions

This type of question seeks a specific and short response from the counterpart. The response’s scope is narrow and thus should be used in very specific cases:

Jim Camp also refers to these questions as verb-led questions. In his words,

“There are only two reasons to ask such a question: if you already know the answer, or if you’re near the very end of the negotiation and you have to really bore in.” 

“Who”, “when”, “where”, and “what” are often used for closed-ended questions. Thus, in your negotiation process concentrate the usage of this type of question towards the end, when it is about planning the next steps and you have received all the information you need.

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are an invitation to speak, so the discussion partner wants you to become active. This type of question should be used at the beginning of the conversation. It enables to:

For experienced negotiators, open-ended questions can be seen as counter-productive. Why? If left too broad, the question will let the conversation partner take the lead over the discussion. You don’t want to be stuck listening to someone’s long monologue. The secret ingredient to an effective open-ended question is a rapid realization question, namely one that can narrow the discussion’s scope. 

Here is a short example:

Calibrated questions are the best kept secret… until now

Questions are also a useful tool to respond to unrealistic expectations from the counterpart. While this thematic is discussed in depth by Chris Voss in Never Split the Difference, what I can recommend here is to simply turn the table when faced with unrealistic requests.

How am I supposed to do that?

Asking the counterpart to elaborate on how you should lower the price below your reserved price, or accept an increase in the listing fee will help you uncover valuable information.

Questions are at the center of negotiation. Using them wisely will lead you to uncover the real interests or needs of your counterpart. valuable information will enable you to understand what is needed and thus adjust your offering to meet the expressed expectations. 

Ideally, by now you know how to behave at the negotiation table, from establishing yourself as a host to asking the right questions. However, you are not the only one at the negotiation table so in the next part of the series find out how to deal with aggression.

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About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.

Your negotiation journey – part five

If you’ve been following along with our negotiation journey series you have learned some of the basics of negotiation and four techniques that will help you come out of negotiation successfully. So what is the fifth technique? I first read about it in the bestseller – Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and I dove deeper into this approach with Jim Camp’s Start with No. So with no surprises, the fifth technique is:

Start with “no”

Why no?

No is a negotiation starter, it’s beginning state. Both parties have yet to agree on something, anything. Seasoned negotiators seek the negative from their counterparts very early in the negotiation process. As Chris Voss writes, “Saying “no” gives the speaker the feeling of safety, security, and control.”  Why? Here is a simple example. 

Read these two questions and ask yourself, which one makes you feel more comfortable:

While very similar, these two questions trigger different emotions in the respondent. In the first case, if they say “yes” they will feel like surrendering to the person asking the question. In the second case, by saying “no” the respondent feels in control.

Surrender the perceived feeling of control

As professionals who have been trained to manage complex situations, the feeling of control is something your counterpart seeks every hour of every day. Give them opportunities to exit the negotiation table. By doing so, you will not appear as needy. The sense of control which you surrender to your counterpart pays dividends. We all are more generous with our time/resources in a position of total control. By surrendering the perceived control, you are planning your next move, you are ready for any situation. You will not act surprised by your counterpart’s response. Your emotions will be in check and this will make the interaction more enjoyable for both parties.

Leverage “no” if the negotiation is stalling

It has happened to all of us. We invest time and energy in a negotiation. Everything seemed to be going smoothly and suddenly your counterpart becomes vague, the time in-between responses extends. What shall you do? The answer is simple, address the elephant in the room. Here’s an example that you can use and has proven to be effective.

Hi John, it seems to me that your interest in the project has declined. My last two emails did not get a response from your company. Have you given up on our collaboration project? Please let me know so that I can plan ahead. Kind regards, Constantin”

Don’t be afraid of saying no

Igor Ryzov puts it very simply:

“A great number of unprofitable contracts and loss-making deals come about for two reasons: the negotiator is afraid of saying “no” and the negotiator is afraid of getting a ”no”.

Whenever you receive a proposal or request, ask yourself a few questions

  1. What do they actually want from me, by making me this tempting offer or asking me to do this service? Does this conflict with my own interests?
  2. Will, it (what they are offering me,) benefit me?
  3. Would it be worthwhile for me to accept such terms?

If the proposal isn’t worthwhile, just say “no”.” Now that you have put your counterpart in the comfortable shoes of perceived control, it is time to start asking questions. 

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About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.

Your negotiation journey – part four

Whether you sit at the negotiation table or you are preparing your next negotiation, there is one attitude, one mindset that will make all the difference. Since I’ve been applying and coaching it, the negotiations feel smoother, I am less in a position of need, and frankly, the results are simply better. The origin of this attitude in the literature is disputed. Whether the Russians or Americans reported it first does not really matter. The attitude matters. Play the host and you will be better. Always. 

Hosting a crucial negotiation technique

Igor Ryzov, whose resources have a great influence on our nine-part series, describes precisely what hosting a negotiation means. Here is why it is so important to be the one who is listening: 

“The first roles assigned in any negotiation are those of the “host” and the “the guest”. The “host” is the one who asks questions; the “guest” is the one who answers them. The negotiator listens. Then they ask questions. In doing so, they can steer the conversation as their own interest dictates. Negotiators who find themselves listened to and asked questions will often take the bait and talk more; offer more.”

Can I really play the host?

You might be asking: Well how can I play the host when I’m the one asking for someone’s time, money, network, customer base etc. The key to remember here is that you are not asking the other side for a favor.  We are in the business of delivering value to our customers, to our partners, and to society as a whole. The perceived value you bring to the table is the reason why the other party is even willing to sit at the negotiation table with you. They perceive value from talking to you, so don’t disappoint them and don’t sell yourself short! 

How to know if you are the host 

You are in control of the time – if your counterpart has no time for you, reschedule,  even if you traveled. Your time has value. Own it!

You have shielded yourself from need and fear – you are coming to the negotiation table with an open mind. It is OK if your counterpart does not need your service or product at your price level. 

You are patient and listening – you are talking calmly and not rushing the conversation. You listen to what your counterpart has to say. They are carrying valuable information with them. 

Your counterpart is revealing information, not you. Take your time while distilling information. Before conceding additional value, you ask for a counter-offer. 

How to be the host

Be confident and believe your cause – remember your value and stand by it

Adopt a comfortable position –  remember that comfortable does not equal overconfident 

Be polite – a true host remains calm and polite in all situations, especially when it gets heated

Ask questions – questioning techniques shift the focus to your counterpart

Take time in answering questions – do not rush and ask for additional time  if you are uncertain 

Stay in control of what you’re saying – as the old saying goes: it’s better to be the master of one’s silence, than a prisoner of one’s words 

Remember that becoming the host is also part of the negotiation, not an inherent position. It is crucial that you establish the position as early as possible. If you feel you’re being asked more questions than strictly necessary, know that with every question asked you are being drawn further from your goal. Break this chain and seize back the initiative through counter-questions. After answering a question, always ask your opponent a counter-question.

When the negotiators spend too much time answering questions, not only are they giving information away but most importantly as they are focused on the first awareness level, and Black Swans* missed. Do you understand now, why job interviews are scripted by the employer and not the candidate? Now that you know why being the host is so crucial, get ready to start with no!

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About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.

*Black swans are key information that helps unlock negotiation. 

Your negotiation journey – part three

A negotiation is not a one-time event. Stop thinking about that moment, at the negotiation table where everything is decided. Negotiations are a continuous process. They begin much earlier than you think and end much later than you would ever imagine. The negotiation tree helps you prepare for the what-ifs. What if they say yes immediately, what if they say no, or even worse what if they say maybe. Having gone through your negotiation tree, puts you one move ahead of your counterpart, putting you in control of the negotiation. 

The negotiation tree

What is a negotiation tree?

The negotiation tree is a concept derived from the decision tree. The Harvard Business Review already mentioned the power of decision trees in the sixties. John F. Magee, a Harvard operations researcher, described the function of the decision tree as  a tool that can clarify for management […] the choices, risks, objectives, monetary gains, and information needs involved in an investment problem.” A negotiation tree has the same function: it outlines different scenarios and helps you plan your next negotiation actions accordingly.

Why a negotiation tree?

You will read in part four of this series that acting as the host while negotiating is one of the keys to success. A good host is not in a position of need, i.e. someone who has few alternatives and is prepared for the responses of his counterpart. After having built your polygon of interests, the negotiation tree tells you to prepare for each potential reaction. Being prepared will keep you in control of your emotions and you will have your next move ready no matter the situation.

How to prepare your own negotiation tree?

There are different ways to prepare for a negotiation using a decision tree. I enjoy the one proposed by Igor Ryzov which you can find in this free template. Alternatively, you could also link your sales design or sales funnel to the techniques we are covering in this series. Determine the potential reactions based on your sales funnel. Let’s take cold emailing potential clients as an example. The negotiation tree shall help you react to their potential responses. Here is a short example:

In summary, the negotiation tree is a methodology to plan your next moves and be prepared for your counterpart’s reactions. This will not only support you in becoming the host of the negotiation., but will also enable you to raise your awareness level while negotiating. As mentioned in the first article, heightened awareness is the prerequisite for hosting negotiations.  Playing the host is the next technique we will be covering so check out this article to find out more. 

About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.

Your negotiation journey – part two

Do you want to know why many of us fail whilst negotiating? The answer is simple. But let’s focus first on one of the key challenges faced in negotiation. Be clear on what is in it for you! And it goes beyond a low price for buyers and a high price for sellers. Be it at a job interview, at the negotiation table with a buyer, or even at home with our partners, being clear on what we want to accomplish is simply A MUST. One simple tool will help you make your interests crystal clear: the polygon of interests*. 

The polygon of what?

The tool makes you evaluate the multiple interests you have in finding an agreement. As agreeing on one sole interest leaves little room for interaction. It increases friction around the interest at stake, usually price.  A polygon of interests enables us to see multiple interests. It shows where both parties can give and take on multiple fronts. A strong polygon showcases all your interests in reaching an agreement. Each side of the polygon provides an opportunity for your counterpart to create value for you and reciprocally. 

Building a polygon of interests in three steps

  1.  Define your interests 

Firstly, if your negotiation is only about price – you are bargaining. More on that in part nine of this series, where we will be talking about the Ackerman technique.  Now if your negotiation spectrum is broader, clarifying your interests will be what will define your negotiation success.  A rule of thumb is to use between five and seven interests that you have in reaching an agreement with a counterpart. Each interest is represented by a face of the polygon. The more faces your polygon has, the more flexible your position will be, and thus your ability to reach an agreement will be greater. 

  1. Set the key metrics for each interest 

Now that the interests have been set, there are three positions that you should determine for each of them: initial position, red line/reserved position, and mid-range position. The initial position is your best-case scenario. It is supported by facts and can be justified at any time. Your red line is your last offer. Below this threshold, the position becomes a bad position or a bad deal for you. Do not accept bad deals! Finally, the mid-range position is very helpful while seeking a concession. A best practice in setting your mid-range position is to have it closer to your red line rather than your initial position. Find out more about the rationale behind this trick in the ninth skill – the Ackermann technique. 

  1.  Start high, lower in a controlled progression

Now that you have set your interests and placed all positions, you can start the negotiation. In the first round, you do not need to state all of them. But when you do, always start at the initial position. Why? This position is fact-based and justified. If the position is perceived too high by your negotiating partner, you can lower one of your positions and ask for a counterpart from your partner. The impact of this technique on your negotiation will be immediately perceivable. While some of your positions will gravitate towards the mid-range or even reach the red line, you could even get out more than your initial position on certain interests. The outcome is simple, if you lower a position towards a red line, you will be able to receive more on other important positions. 

In summary, the polygon of interests creates currencies for both parties to offset conflicting interests at the negotiation table. The currencies increase your likelihood of finding an agreement. Use this template to build your first polygon of interests and look beyond price for your next agreement. So now you know why we often fail in negotiations. It is because we do not know well enough what we want. 

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About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.

Your negotiation journey – part one

Back in 2019 when my entrepreneurial journey started, I came to a realization about my negotiating failures. Without going into details about my shortcomings (let’s just say I had my fair share early), they all shared one common aspect.

But before I let you in on what made me lose so much time at the negotiation table, it is time to introduce you to ALiN. ALiN is a multifaceted tool. It helps you prepare for your negotiations and consider where to spend your awareness budget. It is an effective approach to sort negotiation tricks and techniques. Finally, it helps you sort the (too) abundant literature. 

Raise your awareness level

If there is anyone secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view – Henry Ford

Awareness levels?

What are awareness levels and why do they matter? Answering the former is easier than the latter. There are three types of awareness levels during any negotiation : (1) the personal, (2) the interpersonal, or (3) the context. I’ve used this graph in the past to explain this concept :

The Awarness Levels in Negotiation model by snipers.sale 2021

Why does it matter? In this series, we emphasize that negotiation is not about you. As Chris Voss puts it,

Negotiate in their world. [Persuasion] is about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea.”

In other words, a good negotiator does not focus on sounding smart. A good negotiator focuses on making their counterpart feel smart in choosing the negotiator’s solution. 

Which level should you consider in certain situations?

Level one – personal preparation

The first level is all about the self, so this is the time to focus on your own ideas. Preparing your polygon of interests or decision trees requires introspection. While it is impossible not to be at this level during actual negotiation, you should never spend more than ten percent of the time in your own thoughts/speaking about yourself. I use techniques such as – silence, short sentences, and questions to keep me out of it as much as possible. 

Level two – interpersonal communication

On the second level the focus shifts to your counterpart. You listen and observe how they behave. Silence and calibrated questions should be used to uncover their position and their perspective. You are diving into your counterpart’s world, and navigating the unknown is an art. It is about making them comfortable enough to reveal information that requires empathy. The trick is to not fall into interrogation mode. Rather lead your negotiation partner to uncover their pain points. While on the second level you are opening the door for them to share what they really need from you. How much time should you spend in their world during an interaction? About thirty percent. Dedicate this time to what your counterpart has to say. 

Level three – negotiation context

In the third and final level, your focus shifts to the negotiation context. While in the second level you are focusing on what your counterpart is communicating, the third level is about identifying all critical contextual clues. Non-verbal communication is a source of information. What is the body language, the appearance of your counterpart, their reactions, etc. You also need here to uncover what is the negotiation context of your counterpart. What are they not telling you? Who makes the decision, what is their BATNA, when do they need an agreement? 

How much time should you invest in the observation level? As much as you can. Including preparation time, you can count up to sixty percent of the time you should dedicate to the negotiation’s context. Be subtle, take notes, and use questions to avoid the risk of talking too much.

So what?

Going back to my initial failures. The root cause of my initial failures may seem too obvious by now. I did not spend enough time listening to my counterpart and analyzing the negotiation context. My focus was centered around one person… And it was the wrong one! Myself. As if the negotiation was about me, how smart I sounded, and how I could convince the other party.

Applying ALiN to your negotiation refocuses your awareness to the elements that matter, your counterpart, and the negotiation context. Spending your negotiation awareness budget wisely is one of the keys to a successful negotiation. The right awareness level allows you to play the host and lead the conversation. Ultimately you become a better negotiator and achieve better results. 

This post is part of “your negotiation journey series”. The next eight steps of the series will be published every second Monday starting September 13th. 

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About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.