One important thing the expert hostage-negotiator, Chris Voss, teaches in his book, Never Split the Difference, is to exercise empathy with whom we negotiate with. Mr. Voss advises we listen intently, ask questions, and mirror what the other party says as the latter cites whatever demands he or she puts on the table.
Easier said than done. What I’ve learned is that when it comes to listening, the hard part isn’t only keeping quiet and hearing what the other side is saying but also spending time to patiently understand what the other side is trying to convey.
Investing time to listen is hard because we don’t have much of it. True, we waste a lot of time, but we also have lots of things to do.
It’s not that the world is fast-paced, it’s that we demand a good deal from ourselves. We want to work hard to get that promotion. We want to do our hobbies. We want to cook good food and clean the clutter out of our living spaces. We want to fix our faces and work out our bodies to look good.
There are so many things we want to do such that the last things we think we need include negotiating with people who stand in our way or are disrupting our plans.
A tenant renting an office space my employer owns is two (2) months late in paying rent. Applying Chris Voss’ negotiating principles requires I show empathy, via listening, mirroring, and asking questions to fully understand my tenant’s side (and unravel any secret that might be useful for me to gain an advantage).
The trouble is the tenant tries to dominate the conversation by talking continuously and not letting me get a word in. I have to let him talk and talk and listen patiently. When the tenant pressures me for a favourable answer, I’d acknowledge what he says and attempt to state my position. But he’d cut me off and I’d be listening to him talk and talk again.
The tenant would try to close the conversation by asking me to agree to whatever he says, which in this case is accepting delay in his rent payment. I’d say no, but he still tries to win over the conversation.
In our last conversation, I lost my cool and told him I’ll lock up the office unit he’s renting. Because he has a web server in the office, he adamantly argued I can’t do that. I insisted angrily that I could and we ended up in a heated argument. So much for me applying empathy and following the advice of Chris Voss in negotiating successfully.
Investing time to listen is one thing that Chris Voss and other gurus don’t really stress in their teachings. Not that they neglect to mention it, I think they see it as obvious we should put time to do it. After all, any lesson we adapt and apply requires investment of some sort, right?
But is there an alternative? Is there a better way to save time when it comes to negotiating with people? The following are some of my ideas:
- IT’S A TIME MANAGEMENT THING
Having little time to invest in any activity I dedicated myself to do is a sign that my time management strategy is in shambles. In short, I need to schedule better. In my last conversation with that tenant, I scheduled myself to be at my office one afternoon so that I’d have time to listen to him. My mistake was I scheduled too little time. When the conversation ran beyond my budgeted time, I became impatient, I stopped listening, I interrupted the tenant, and we ended up arguing heatedly. The discussion ended with both of us feeling hostile.
- DO MY HOMEWORK
By scheduling the conversation with my tenant, I gave myself time to prepare. I organised the data such as how much my tenant owes and what terms and conditions of the tenant’s contract he was violating. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use the data to my advantage because I ended up losing my cool.
- BE READY WITH A STAND
Going into the conversation, I had a firm position. This would be the position I’d stick with no matter what the tenant would say. I’d be willing to work out any innovative ideas with the tenant as long as I get what I wanted in the final outcome. At the end of the heated argument, the tenant agreed to pay his rent by the end of the month, a deadline that I firmly set. But because we ended the talk with some hostility, I didn’t trust my tenant to meet the deadline.
- GET READY TO DO IT AGAIN BUT BETTER
The tenant didn’t pay at the end of the month as he promised but showed me proof he had the funds to remit for the back rent. Since the end of the month was a Friday, he asked if he can just please remit on Monday? I decided to give him that grace period since I wanted to reverse some of that hostility from the last conversation. But because the tenant has a poor track record, I’m anticipating that he will try to talk me again into giving him more leeway. He’d again try to dominate the discussion and get me to quickly see it to his way. I’d have to be ready with my stand (which is a flat “no” to any delay) but I’d need to schedule the conversation in which I’ll once again have to prepare my data and have ample time to listen.
- BE COOL
And of course, this time, I should keep my cool as well as my wits.
Negotiation, just like most subjects we learn about, is never really easy. Many gurus don’t really tell us that but it should be obvious to us. Investing our precious time is a price we pay when it comes to becoming good at something and that includes negotiation.
But because negotiation is a skill that involves listening to people, I’d likely be better off if I schedule enough time for the task, be well informed with the relevant data, be ready with an unwavering stand, realise that I may have more discussions afterward, and most of all, keep my cool.
It’s always best to negotiate than it is to fight.