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3 Things We've Learned About Negotiation During COVID-19

By |September 14, 2020

We’ve all learned many things due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past few months, we’ve even learned three new things about negotiation:

  1. You will be faced with three types of counterparts.
  2. Safety, trust, and need are the keys.
  3. The Accusation Audit™ is the game changer.

Keep reading to learn more about each of these ideas.Negotiation During COVID-19

The 3 Types of Counterparts You Will Face

At Black Swan, we teach about the three different negotiation styles you’ll run into: the Assertive, the Accommodator, and the Analyst. Regardless of which style is sitting across the table from you, they will generally be operating along one of these three lines.

  1. Someone who is truly backed into a corner. Their survival is in doubt, and your real decision here is whether or not you want to be with them on the other side. Ideally, you do.
  2. Someone who is taking the opportunity to renegotiate everything. They do this not because they have to, but because they can. In most cases, they have advisors who’ve instructed them to do this.
  3. A blend of both.

How do you begin the diagnosis? Start with a Mirror™. Follow with a Label™. Rinse, repeat.

Let’s explore some scenarios in which they have initiated the contact.

Type No. 1: The Person Backed into a Corner

Them: I’m calling to renegotiate our deal.

You: Renegotiate our deal?

Them: Yeah. If we don’t get a break on these terms, we’re going to have to stop what we’re doing with you.

It’s time to apply some pressure here. Their tone will be the clue; respond to that. Your tonality should be a calm, statement-of-fact understanding with a downward inflection.

You: It sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure.

Use Dynamic Silence™. Summarize their response and aim for a that’s right.

And if they don’t respond? After you’ve counted to 10 in your head—one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand—you follow up with another Label: It seems like I’ve left something out. 

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Type No. 2: The Opportunist

Them: I’m calling to renegotiate our deal.

You: Renegotiate our deal?

Them: Yes, we’re calling all our partners.

(Diagnosis: This probably isn’t terribly urgent. Respond to their tone.)

You: It seems like [slight pause] this isn’t a matter of life or death for you right now.

Your tonality, here, should be of genuine curiosity and inquisitive, with an upward inflection at the end. Once again, use Dynamic Silence. Summarize their response and get a that’s right.

If they don’t respond after 10 seconds, follow up with the same Label you’d use on someone backed into a corner.

Type No. 3: The Blend

Them: I’m calling to renegotiate our deal.

You: Renegotiate our deal?

Them: Yeah. If we don’t get a break on these terms, we’re going to have to stop doing business with you.

(Note: There’s not as much pressure here. Once again, their tone will be the clue, so respond to that.)

You: It sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure.

Your tonality should be a statement-of-fact understanding with a calm, downward inflection. This is the same Label we used in the first scenario. There’s a reason for that: This Label is so tremendously flexible—both as a Label and a mis-Label—that it should be on your go-to list of Labels. Now, use Dynamic Silence to get the other side to reveal more information.

Them: Yeah ... kind of. We’re moving some things around. We’re probably going to be OK, but there are some pressure areas.

If they don’t respond to your silence after 10 seconds, you know the drill: It seems like I’ve left something out.

Safety, Need, and Trust Are the Keys

Here’s why safety, need, and trust are the cornerstones of successful negotiations.


Like beauty, need is in the eye of the beholder. Human beings’ dominant decision-making influence factor is loss. We care more about not losing money than we do making it.

To be able to affect the other side’s focus on loss, you have to establish safety, trust, and rapport.

You can have great rapport with someone you don’t necessarily trust. And because of that, you can have rapport and still not have solid influence.

When you use The Black Swan Method™—which is outlined here and in much more depth in Never Split the Difference—you don’t have that problem.

Safety and Trust

These days, negotiations take place during turbulent times. Your counterparts feel threatened due to the uncertainty that’s plaguing the world.

For people to negotiate effectively with you (i.e., so that you can trust them), they need to feel safe with you and trust you. (You’ll recognize this as classic psychology from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)

If you’re initiating the call, you can hack (i.e., accelerate) this process with the Accusation Audit.

The Accusation Audit for Turbulent Times

This is an ongoing horror story. You probably feel numb to this by now. You may feel like a broken record and you’re probably sick of being on Zoom. You’d just like a little bit more human connection and you’re probably wondering whether COVID-19 is really that bad. You’d just like all of this to be over so you can get back to a normal life and not have to worry about your kids walking in during an important call.

How’s that for an Accusation Audit, in which you defuse the negatives harbored (or likely harbored) by the other side before they have a chance to vocalize them?

There are three times to drop an Accusation Audit on your counterpart:

  1. At the beginning of a call
  2. Just before an ask
  3. Just before delivering bad news

Don’t limit your Accusation Audit to what I’ve written above. Use it as a springboard to more thinking and more empathy. It’s food for thought.

Ready to Close More Deals During COVID-19?

All of these tools from The Black Swan Method will work wonders for you and the success of your deals and relationships.

Good luck. Keep your focus on daily incremental improvements, get your low-stakes practice reps in, and you’ll be delighted with your progress before you know it.

negotiating contracts