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3 Communication and Negotiation Skills You Should Master

By |June 15, 2020

Whether your goal is closing more deals, enhancing personal relationships, or simply having better conversations, improving your communication and negotiation skills will help.

In an ideal world, you’d become familiar with all of the popular negotiation terms we teach at The Black Swan Group. But if time is of the essence, get started by sharpening these three skills first.communication and negotiation skills

1. Labels

Imagine you’ve just sat down at the table and you’re about to enter into a negotiation. The person on the other side appears distracted. They’re not giving you their full attention, and they’re only responding to you in one- or two-word rebuttals.

Using a label, you might say something like It seems as though you have something on your mind.

Simply put, a label is a negotiation technique that involves attaching words to emotions you suspect the other side is dealing with but not necessarily explicitly verbalizing. In most cases, labels begin with phrases like It seems like, It feels like, It looks like, or It sounds like. This way, you have an out if your label is incorrect: I didn’t say I believed that to be true, I just said it seemed like it might be.

We also use labels to gather information without having to ask questions. It makes the conversation more seamless. When you pepper the other side with questions, it often feels like an interrogation. So, instead of asking What are you losing sleep over? we say something like It sounds like you’re losing sleep over this!

Most people who negotiate hate the negative connotation that comes along with negotiating: the clashing of ideas. All of that goes away when you use labels to sound people out.

Labels are much more engaging than your typical question. Use labels to make your negotiation feel more like a conversation. It’s the best way to verbalize what’s left unsaid at the table. The better you get at labels, the easier it will be to dig up issues that are not on the surface—and uncover the information you need to figure out the best way forward.

Does your negotiation strategy fit their personality? Use this guide to  negotiate successfully with anyone »

2. No-Oriented Questions

We’ve all been there before. The phone rings, we answer, and some cheery fellow on the other end of the line says something like this: Hi there, are you interested in saving money on your car insurance?

Of course the answer is yes—who doesn’t want to pay less?

The problem with these yes-oriented questions—or questions designed to elicit a yes response—is that they make us feel nervous. On the flip side, saying no makes people feel protected.

This is why we teach our clients to use no-oriented questions—or questions designed to get the other side to respond with a simple no.

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to come up with no-oriented questions in the moment.. We are wired to be yes oriented because we want approval. We want people to tell us Yes, I agree!

But when someone asks us a yes-oriented question, we’re not always sure what we’re getting ourselves into. It makes us feel uneasy.

Chris Voss once used a no-oriented question to get Jack Welch, the legendary GE boss, to agree to come speak at a negotiation class he was teaching at USC at the time. Chris met Jack at a book signing, which was filled with people asking him questions designed to get him to say yes. Can we take a picture together? 

Knowing Jack Welch had been asked an untold number of yes-oriented questions that day—and over the course of his life—Chris asked a different question: Is it a ridiculous idea for you to come and speak to the negotiation course I teach at USC? It worked.

People have been asked yes questions their whole lives. Many of them have made it a habit to answer no to these questions automatically just to save everyone time.

Make a deliberate attempt to lead with no-oriented questions. It’ll help the other side feel protected and clear their thought process. They’ll feel in control, and their brain will go to problem-solving mode—putting a deal that is much closer to being within reach. 

Make them say no, and they’ll start thinking about solutions. That’s how you give them the illusion of control—making them “come up with” the solution you had in mind all along.

3. Accusations Audit

Our clients have had a ton of success with the accusations audit. This technique involves figuring out the negative sentiments that are likely to be harbored by the other side—and defusing them by acknowledging them from the outset. By doing so, you eliminate obstacles that might be holding your conversation back.

When conducting an accusations audit, you might say something like: This is probably going to seem like we are being greedy...and I know the current pandemic has turned your whole world upside down.  Resist the urge to say but or explain why they shouldn’t feel a certain way.  Those unnecessary additions step on your Accusations Audit by devaluing and invalidating the emotions of the counterpart.  It’s like saying “I know you see it this way but you really shouldn’t because I don’t.”  Not exactly the most encouraging phasing for building trust. 

People can’t think clearly if there are negative emotions in their minds. But by leading with an accusations audit, you clear the other side’s mind of clutter while addressing the elephant in the room and will grease the skids for collaboration. Your counterpart will understand that you’re seeing things from their perspective, which sets the stage for trust-based influence.

Now that you have a better understanding of three communication and negotiation skills that can help you get the outcomes you’re hoping for, it’s time to find out more about the person sitting across the table. Download our free guide, Three Negotiator Types, to learn more about how you can approach each different personality successfully.

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