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Negotiation Blog - Probe
Can probing ever backfire in negotiations?
By Thomas Wood
One of the most revered practices in the world of negotiating is to “Probe.” Most professional negotiators will use the word “Probe” (or an equivalent term) as if it is sacred, and the answer to most negotiation roadblocks. Yet, does probing ever create hostility in your counterpart? Could it backfire? The answer is yes, it might.
Simply put, a Probe is a succinct and relevant open-ended question designed to elicit helpful information. Probe to understand your counterpart’s interest. Probe to turn their no into a yes. Probe when they are using a hardball tactic. Probe, Probe, Probe.
One way probing can backfire is when your counterpart is not used to your probing questions, and is not prepared for them. For example, you get a call from someone within your company asking you to do something for him or her. You just took our Best Negotiating Practices course, so now you see this request as an opportunity to negotiate, for a give and take. Previously you always just said yes or no, but not today; today you Probe.
You say something like, “Tell me more about why you need the report to you by 2:00?” How will he react? Your colleague’s initial reaction might not be so friendly. He is not used to your probing questions and might feel threatened by them, which will elicit a defensive reaction. Your colleague might say, “Why do you want to know? Why can’t you just get the report to me by 2:00?”
Your colleague might not be prepared to have a discussion and share information, as he does not see this as a negotiation. In this situation, you might want to consider giving your colleague time to think about your questions before he responds.
For example you might say something like, “I am not sure I can get it done by 2:00; I will call you back in a few minutes and let you know.” Then write down two or three probing questions, and call back and say, “I just have three questions I want to ask before I can say yes or no. Would you mind taking a few minutes and thinking about them and then get back to me? The reason I am asking them is because I need a little more information before I can switch priorities to do this for you.”
If you give your counterparts time to think about your questions, they might not feel so defensive. This will gradually become less necessary as they get used to your style of gathering information before you respond to a request. But initially it is a good idea to give your counterpart some time to adjust to your new negotiation style of probing.
Can you negotiate with someone who doesn’t seem to know how?
By Thomas Wood
What if someone you are dealing with seems unable or unwilling to negotiate? You sense that, for personal or cultural reasons, or because of inexperience, they don’t warm to, or recognize, your attempts to open negotiations. Do you give up?
This was the question that came over our Need Help Now web advice service, in which one of our workshop participants was was dealing with a new buyer at a key customer. Often we see a disinclination to negotiate from very smart technical people, such as scientists, technologists (techies, IT, programmers), and engineers. We also see it in the helping professions (researchers, nurses, doctors, laboratory technologists). It applies equally to someone who has resources you need, or authority to give you something you want (a promotion, a better assignment, an extension on a deadline). Your assessment of the “negotiation environment” tells you that despite your counterpart’s inexperience or unwillingness when it comes to negotiating, a collaborative negotiation would indeed yield a great outcome for both sides.
Let’s start with the absolute DON’Ts:
1. Don’t ask them to ‘negotiate’ with you. Such an approach runs the risk of raising red flags and making them nervous. If they feel intimidated, they will avoid further conversation. If they believe negotiating is akin to arguing or win/lose and they are conflict averse, they will either retreat or take a hardball stance.
2. Don’t make any offers (demands, proposals) until they do.
So what do you do?
When dealing with a novice or non-negotiator, try to transform the interaction into one where the other party feels like they are simply having a conversation. Remember, collaborative negotiation is at its heart a conversation, only with a goal of expanding value.
How to begin?
Model the characteristics of a collaborative negotiator:
- Build in more time for developing rapport and trust. Find a mutual interest, pay a true compliment, find common ground.
- Prepare more thoroughly. You may need to do some research to find out what your counterpart’s interests are so that you can ask questions that elicit them – he or she might not know the company's needs yet.
- Probe with care. As always, ask open-ended questions. Show genuine interest and listen carefully to the answers. Ask follow-up questions that make it clear you were listening. Discover their interests, needs and goals.
- Talk in term of WE. Focus on creating a cooperative discussion, using the word “we.” (“I think we agree the timetable is important; let’s talk about how we can make that happen.”)
- Paint a picture of a possible collaboration, proposing options and possibilities without commitment. Say “what would it look like if we….”
The idea is to uncover their interests and fears, to gain their trust, and help them see how you can arrive at a “win-win” solution. If you do that, you may find yourself developing a joint agenda and moving into bargaining without your uneasy counterpart ever realizing they are negotiating.
By Marianne Eby
Lying is not an easy subject to discuss.
How many lies did you tell today? None? How many times were you lied to today? Not sure? According to the latest research – people lie on average 3 times every 10 minutes, and most of us can't recognize a lie over 50% of the time. So what’s a negotiator to do when your counterpart is not going to announce that they are lying?
Everybody lies. You don’t believe this do you? Think about these everyday examples:
- Compliments that seem expected but are not sincere: "Nice hair cut” might get your boss to be easier on you in this afternoon’s staff meeting.
- You respond that you too are from Oklahoma City when in fact you are from Norman, Oklahoma where you lived from birth through high school. Maybe you tell this lie because it’s easier than describing where is Norman, or maybe you don’t want to be perceived as naive, or maybe you want to build an alliance and your business counterpart went to school in Oklahoma City so there is some advantage to you to be vague in declaring where you are from.
- Apologies that are necessary but resented by the speaker: "Sorry we are late” is appropriate to say, even though your colleague has been late on numerous occasions and you feel justified to be late this time.
- Providing agreement to appease someone : "Yes, that hotel was fine,” even though this customer put you up at a low end hotel where you heard the trucks on the highway all night, but you can’t afford to lose this customer so you aren’t going to complain.
Lying plays out regularly in negotiations just as it does in everyday conversation.
Imagine a building owner who says that for this deal to work, the buyer interested in the building needs to close the deal in 2 months. The prospective buyer in fact wants to close within 2 months, but rather than exposing this interest, the buyer exacts some concession from the owner in exchange for agreeing to close quickly. Is this lying? Or just good negotiating?
We are not in any way suggesting that anyone should tell factual lies in a negotiation - ever - or in any way commit fraud, which his illegal. (Fraud is a misrepresentation of material fact upon which someone justifiably relies to their detriment and suffers resulting damages, and the offense varies by jurisdictions worldwide.) If you are asked a question in a negotiation and you don't want to say the truth, you are obliged to find a way to not answer the question so that the other party knows the question remains unanswered.
But lying happens in negotiations without any factual lies being exchanged. Lying occurs regularly in a back-and-forth conversation where each party recognizes they would have to ask for candor on each and every topic to expect to get it. That's not practical in an intense negotiation, so negotiators understand that the other side is there to seek advantage, leaving little room for any justifiable reliance on your negotiation counterpart’s "negotiation lies."
Why not just negotiate in a straightforward and honest exchange?
Here are just a few examples of why it doesn't happen:
- If a seller reveals her bottom line, the other side would be foolish to offer any more than that.
- If a buyer discloses his must have issues up front, those concessions will be leveraged heavily to close the deal.
- Admit that you have total authority to finalize a deal and you will be pushed to decide and concede all issues on the spot.
- Open with terms of a deal you want, then that will become the starting point from which negotiations begin, assuring you get less than you wanted.
What strategies can you use to close a mutually beneficial deal given that Negotiators Lie?
There are many:
You are negotiating a lease for additional office space. The real estate agent tells you that if you don’t increase your offer by $10K by the end of the day, you’ll lose the space to another company. Is she bluffing or is the deadline real? Ask her lots of questions about the deadline and the competing offer: What time today? Why today and not tomorrow? Who told her this? Why does she believe it’s true? Could it be her source was bluffing? What exactly did they say? When did they tell her? If she was being straightforward, her answers will likely come easily. But if she was bluffing, she will have to go into cognitive overload to keep her story believable. While she is answering, assess how hard she is thinking in order to produce the answers, because even good lyers have to work hard mentally to keep their story coherent.
Propose ideas and options
What do you do when your negotiating counterpart says, “Take it or Leave it.” Do they mean it? Maybe. Is it a lie? Often. Should you test it? No, you should ignore pronouncements of “take it or leave it.” It’s up to you to float options – What if? How about? I wonder how we’d each feel if we can’t reach an agreement? Might another way work? Does your counterpart engage in discussion of these hypothetical options? If so, they didn't mean "take it or leave it" literally.
Use economically equivalent offers
Negotiators often add extra issues to the pot so that they can give in on the ones they don’t really care about and thereby seem cooperative, motivating you to concede on the issues that matters to them. If your counterpart insists that price, delivery time and contract length are all critical and can't be prioritized, offer 3 economically equivalent deals where one of these is addressed in each offer. The offer your counterpart chooses to discuss most will provide clues as to what issues really matter. Now Probe more to find out why that issues is so important.
Offer contingent concessions
Your counterpart insists something is true that you can’t verify: “We plan to build 3 plants next year so our capacity will be doubled by the time you need more product.” Agree to move volume from other suppliers as long as the plants go live by a date you are comfortable with. And put that contingency in writing.
Use Best Negotiating Practices(R)
Rather than spend your energy trying to determine if you are being lied to and navigating around lies, use Best Negotiating Practices that ensure mutually beneficial and sustainable agreements:
- Build relationships with your counterparts: Meet face-to-face when possible and get to know them as humans, not just negotiators
- Prepare: research, verify claims, plan questions
- Exchange: Probe with sincere and intense curiosity, test assumptions, build trust
- Bargain: Bargain with integrity by modeling truthfulness; explain resistance, trade value, admit mistakes and offer any needed apologies
- Listen, be observant and manage our emotions: Be in the moment of the conversation rather than thinking of your next explanation or offer. Emotional states make you more vulnerable -- angry at being taken advantage of, excited about the deal you about to get, depressed about previous losses -- all of these mental states make you more receptive to deceit. Notice clues to lying, but don't accuse - instead use the strategies identified above.
If you think you can spot a liar, then you won’t need these strategies (but at least check your reliance on tell tale myths for spotting liars at the door). And beware: According to the latest research and expert Leanne ten Brinke, you’d be overestimating your chances of successfully knowing a lie when you hear it. A good liar’s lie-revealing facial expression only lasts 1/15th of a second and takes an expert to recognize; body language can give clues but results in many false positives. And accusing a person of lying who didn’t in fact lie, will likely cause the honest person to become defensive – a clue we often misread as protecting a lie. False accusations usually destroy trust, which leads to more lying.
Keep it simple
Avoid lying in your negotiations as much as possible, even though it's a natural part of the game. Expect your negotiating counterpart to lie quite a bit. Don't get mad (it'll backfire); Use Best Negotiating Practices and defensive strategies to find the truth so you can make good decisions and reach a mutually beneficial and sustainable agreement.