Negotiation Blog

Importance of good moods during bargaining phase of negotiations

By Thomas Wood

I recently led a webinar where I shared a number of tips to gain a psychological edge in negotiations. One thing I really enjoy about webinars is the interaction. You can ask the group a question and everyone can write in their answers at the same time. You can hear from everyone quickly.

For example, I was speaking about the importance of putting your counterpart in a good mood before you start to negotiate. This is an overlooked, yet essential part of the initial exchange at the bargaining table. People in a bad mood say "no;" they don’t say "yes."  People in a bad mood are inflexible, and would rather get their teeth pulled at the dentist than make concessions. Yet, while someone would never walk into a negotiation without knowing what their MDO (most desirable outcome) is, they would start to negotiate with a counterpart who is in a bad mood, even though it is almost as important to get your counterpart in a good mood as it is to know your MDO.

In my experience, many people walk into a negotiation and they are so nervous themselves, that they don’t even notice the mood of their counterpart. Sometimes both parties are nervous and neither person is doing anything to help calm down and relax their counterpart, as they can’t even relax themselves.

What was refreshing and interesting in this webinar was to hear how people get their counterparts in a good mood. They used food, talking about their families, telling jokes and laughing about something light. When you hear these responses, it sounds so easy. You will get better trades when your negotiating counterpart is in a good mood. So why don’t we do this more often?

Negotiating Tip

When gathering information, ask more open questions (who, whose, what, when, which, why, and how).  They will be perceived as less threating and more collaborative while getting you more helpful information.


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Negotiation Blog

Check Your Negotiator Blind Spots

By Thomas Wood

Did you ever have a negotiation where you felt well prepared going in, but during the discussions you became frustrated? For most of us, frustration brings out our worst instincts and behaviors, ultimately leading to a poor outcome.

Here’s a quick quiz to help you see if you were held back by any of the common negotiator blind spots.

Answer Yes or No: 
  1. Are you good at picking your battles?
  2. Do you consider it a successful resolution if you get everything you or your company wants without making concessions?
  3. Do you think that usually the best solutions come from the options offered by you or the other parties at the start of the negotiation?
  4. Do you tire of listening to the other side’s version of events and perspective on their own needs, and prefer moving forward with the agenda?
  5. Do you value objectivity and pride yourself on sticking to the facts in your negotiations?
  6. Do you act in a certain way to ensure people know you are a strong negotiator?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the questions above, you may be suffering from one of the common negotiator blind spots. While teaching our negotiation workshops, we have found that participants often fall prey to these blind spots:

Battle Alert: He believes that it is important to pick his battles because negotiations are battles. He does not believe that a win-win outcome is actually possible, and thus approaches every interaction as a competition.

  • Attitude is everything in collaborative negotiations! Enter your next negotiation as a discussion, and you may find the battle never was.

Give nothing/get nothing: She figured out what was fair long before the two parties started talking. She wants to achieve her goal, and show that she is a strong negotiator by giving nothing away.

  • Negotiation is about getting, AND giving. Good negotiators come prepared to give concessions. You may get everything and give nothing, but don’t fool yourself. The party that feels "taken" will find a way to get it back.

There’s only one way to skin a cat: He has an idea of what will satisfy his counterpart, and has listened carefully to his counterpart’s idea. Both ideas were part of the opening offers. One of these ideas will win the day, or perhaps parts of each idea. Let’s decide and move on.

  • The best ideas result from discourse, not solo genius. Very rarely does our first idea prove to be the best. Take comfort in knowing that the 3rd crazy suggestion might lead to a novel approach that is more mutually satisfying to the parties.

Can you hear me listening?: She has listened so much that she tires of the other side talking. Her counterpart feels that he hasn’t been heard. Was she listening loudly enough?

  • Listening is not a silent or passive activity. It involves attitude, body language and follow-up that convince the other side you wanted to hear what they had to say. Sometimes, active listening – sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation and asking relevant follow-up questions – is the largest concession you will have to give.

Just the facts, ma’am: He prides himself on his objectivity. The numbers tell it all. We just have to stick to the facts and the negotiation will progress.

  • People, not institutions, negotiate. People have history – his-story. Some stories are personal (ego, mood, fears), and some stories arise from circumstances. Ask for your counterpart’s story, and tell yours. Stories engage, leading to more open discussion and mutually satisfying solutions.

Never let ‘em see you sweat: She feels intimidated by her counterpart’s experience or reputation. He’s known to get what he wants. She intends to show him from the start that she’s no pushover and is tough as nails.

  • Reciprocity is an ancient concept. You be bad and he be bad back. The best way to set the tone is to prove yourself as a worthy negotiator. Prove you did your homework. Prove you came to listen, learn, and give. Prove you can be creative. Prove you can be trusted. Your best leverage is your skill as a negotiator.

These natural inclinations and defenses can blind us from success in our negotiations. See clearly now.

Negotiating Tip

A weak partner is a dangerous partner. At minimum, find ways for all parties at the negotiating table to save face. 


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Negotiation Blog

Why did the negotiator cross the road?

By Marianne Eby

Negotiations are serious business, which is why it is important to understand, and build trust with, the other party. Great negotiators know that no matter how serious the interaction, laughter is often one of the quickest paths to trust; it can relieve tension, create a bond, improve everyone's moods, and foster the creativity you want for mutually beneficial agreements to emerge.

Researchers in many fields, from medicine to psychology to communications, are increasingly interested in the social power of humor and the physical and emotional benefits of laughter. Public speakers are trained to open presentations with jokes or funny anecdotes. Political candidates are now expected to demonstrate their sense of humor on the talk show circuit to improve their likeability. In 2010 Comedian John Stewart was voted the "most trusted man in America." His social power derives from the fact that he is knowledgeable and funny, which makes him seem more trustworthy.  

A sense of humor is useful during all phases of negotiation as well -- to signal confidence or shift power, to change the environment, to soften bad news, to avoid answering a question, to respond to a ridiculous offer, or to save face.

Telling a funny story or acceptable joke can also help you gauge whether the other party is on the same page with you. If the other side is not laughing, or even engaging in a joking conversation, pay attention: they are not where you hope they are. Not laughing in response to a humorous gesture is a sign of discomfort or disconnection.

So prepare with ice-breakers -- anecdotes or jokes that get a group to laugh before you begin bargaining.

Try these tips for opening an interaction with humor:

Tell a story on yourself: People love to laugh at absurd but real events. Carol Burnett famously said "comedy is tragedy plus time." A story you tell about yourself makes you more human.

Don't take yourself too seriously. Keep the humor light, and your expectations for laughter down. Nothing kills an attempt to develop rapport more than someone who can't laugh at him or herself. Mildly self-deprecating jokes imply trust.

Collect a few jokes that work for you. They're easy to find or to collect. Good storytellers and comedians prepare material in advance, to avoid hitting the wrong note, and to be ready to hit the right one.

What to avoid:

  • Stories and jokes about race, culture, gender, religion, politics, or hometowns
  • Offensive material
  • Sarcasm
  • Targeting something sensitive about them you discovered by being empathetic (don't overuse empathy!)
  • Stories or jokes that require long, complex setups, or special insider knowledge
  • Telling a joke if you are not good at it
  • Jokes that rely on an exact understanding of your language

Sometimes puns (ambiguous play on words with multiple meanings) can be fun – just make sure your humor is understood. Let’s say you’re in a tense negotiation and everyone is frustrated. You might say:

“Does any one feel the way I do? Trying to figure out a solution that satisfies us all is like getting ready for a root canal – it’s unnerving!”

Keep these guidelines in mind for successful humorous stories and jokes:

  • Make them modest, not ambitious
  • Keep them short -- avoid a long setup!
  • Try to be topical -- find a story or joke that's relevant to the negotiation at hand, a recent press story, your travel, etc.
  • Be yourself!

Be real. Leverage your own style and personality. Be willing to laugh. See how it changes your negotiation results!

Negotiating Tip

"In one of our concert grand pianos, 243 taut strings exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. It is proof that out of great tension may come great harmony."  Theodore E. Steinway


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