Skip to content

Negotiation as Inception

By |April 21, 2015

Idea Light Bulb

Remember the movie Inception? Leonard DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a master thief who is tasked with planting an idea in CEO Robert Fischer’s mind. Cobb and his team build an elaborate three level dream in order for their inception to take place. What if you could plant an idea in someone’s head, without having to venture into their dreams? You can. It’s as simple as asking someone:

“Would it be a good idea if ...?”

An ex-significant other of mine used this on me many times. Whenever she wanted me to embrace an idea as my own, she would ask: “Would it be a good idea if ...?” I’d sit there and contemplate the idea wisely for a few moments and then insightfully say “Yes. Thank you for asking.” Meanwhile, I was really thinking, “I’m glad that you thought to ask me about this dilemma you were struggling with so that I could benefit you with my wisdom.” I have no idea how many times she did this to me before she finally admitted it.

So what makes “Would it be a good idea if…?” so good? Why does this work?

People love to give advice; I certainly do. They love to pronounce judgement on things. It strokes the ego and makes people feel smart, even superior.

Getting our own feelings out of the way is the key to any type of empathy. It’s generally an ongoing challenge for most people and it is a regular challenge for me. Ownership of ideas is one of those ego feelings. We are all much more enthusiastic about implementing ideas we have come up with and will work much harder for the success of our own ideas, or ideas that we feel strong ownership in.

These are great emotional intelligence ideas and one of the reasons for Daniel Goleman (attributed to be the creator of the term emotional intelligence) to have recently recognized a form of empathy he refers to as cognitive empathy. Goleman tells us that sociopaths are often the best at using cognitive empathy to manipulate us. Sociopaths can become so attuned to the emotional intelligence aspects of cognitive empathy because they often don’t let their own ego get in the own way of getting what they want. It’s not just sociopaths who should have all the fun.

That’s the beauty of “Would it be a good idea if….?” It sets up a platform for two or more individuals to make a collaborative effort around a singular idea. It makes your idea, our idea.

I found myself offering a colleague advice to use this recently. It’s one of the only closed-ended, yes-oriented questions at the beginning of a conversation that’s tolerable. As a general rule, yes-oriented closed ended questions are to be avoided. People often use these types of questions to string together arguments. There are some who believe in a concept referred to as a “yes momentum”. It’s as if somehow, we can get someone saying yes, they will create a momentum that will cause them to just continue saying it.

People use this yes momentum idea so much that most people are so conditioned to watch out for yes-oriented questions. As soon as someone starts asking one, an automatic defensiveness is created. It almost goes without saying, the creation of defensiveness is a bad thing for relationship building and good solid, deal-implementable negotiation.

The ex who taught me this was gifted with a great deal of emotional intelligence. I’m still grateful to her for that.

Make some rain!

New call-to-action