Special Forces teams would often be inserted deep in foreign territory. The twelve man team would then work with the native forces, training them and eventually leading them in combat ops. We couldn’t force our will on them. We had to convince them to help us help them.
Later in my career, I set up exercises throughout Europe. I had to go and convince a local government to allow us to us their facilities for a training exercise. I couldn’t force them to give or do anything for us. They had to want to. Using proper negotiation skills were the key.
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. Usually, we look at these out-of-control people with a mixture of pity and embarrassment. But I 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 a ton of 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 Houston while you’re shut up in a holding pen.
Just Step Away
If you feel yourself losing control or spinning into anger, step away. Let the other person know your emotions are getting the best of you, and you’ll get back in touch 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 goal, too. Your goal is not to make the other person back down or feel bad; your goal is to get as much of your desired outcome as possible. View the other party as your ally, not your enemy.
Find Out What They Want
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 outcome of 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; we’re in search of a win-win, so find something – some point, no matter how small – about which you can agree.
- It could be as simple as, “I agree with you that Sally and Regina 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.
Just Ask for Help
Ask for help. One fantastic 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 outcome. “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 key 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.
Getting What You Want and Need
Negotiations take place all throughout our lives, from interactions with our family to interactions with our friends, co-workers, clients and bosses. While it is possible to use brute force, loud voices and the intimidation factor to try to get what you want, there are more successful – and less frightening – methods.
Negotiation is a skill, just like water skiing, pistol shooting, speaking French, or woodworking. The more you practice, the better you’ll be. It can seem overwhelming at first, but pick one skill or principle each week to focus on. After being involved in a negotiation, review how it went. What worked? What didn’t? What can you try differently the next time?
Over time, you’ll see your negotiation skills slowly and steadily building, until soon you’ll be the one people turn to to negotiate for them.
P.S. Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you learned. I read them all…