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Black Swan Negotiation Skills Training: Mislabels

By |April 25, 2022

The Black Swan Group often recommends using Labels™ to describe emotions that are displayed, verbalized, or implied but not directly articulated. In this negotiation skills training post, we will explore Mislabels—the Label’s counterpart.

What Is a Mislabel?

man shaking hands with man during negotiation

A Mislabel is like a Label with one key difference: You are Labeling™ something incorrectly. This is a difficult skill for some clients because it makes them feel uncomfortable. After all, nobody wants to say the wrong thing. 

Truth be told, that’s the last thing anyone should be worried about. 


One of Black Swan’s Laws of Negotiation Gravity™ tells us that the desire to correct something is irresistible. As soon as you get something wrong, your counterpart will want to correct you because it makes them feel like they know something you don’t. 

How to Use Mislabels

When you use Mislabels, you’re going to be “corrected.” Your job is to take it in and not be offended. Your counterpart will correct you with the truth, allowing you to gather more information and uncover Black Swans to get the outcomes you want.

There are two ways to use Mislabels: on accident and on purpose. 

When you genuinely misread a situation and use a Mislabel on accident, your counterpart will be quick to correct you. If this is the case, stay curious and take the correction in stride.

On the flip side, you might use a Mislabel on purpose because your counterpart is keeping their cards close to their chest, and you need more information. For example, if you’re not getting anything out of your counterpart and they seem angry or upset, you might say something like this: It seems like you’re really happy.

You need to use the right tone of voice to make this work. In this example, you will want to say it jokingly. Your counterpart will know you’re joking and reveal more information: Happy? Hah! My boss is giving me a hard time, and we need to make a deal by the end of the month. I’m on the phone with five different vendors offering me the world, and I’m not sure who’s giving us the best deal. 

However, a joking tone doesn’t work in every scenario. In most situations, you want your tone of voice to signal deference and a curious mind. 

And be warned: If you use five Mislabels in a row, it could come across like you’re not paying attention, making your counterpart feel like they’re wasting their time.

How to Practice Using Mislabels

Recently, we taught a student about Mislabels, and he said he didn’t know if he could use them for fear of coming across as disingenuous. We encouraged him to get some low-stakes practice in, and he did. 

This individual went to a Chipotle around three in the afternoon. The place was empty. He went up to the counter and said to the worker: It seems like you’re busy right now. 

Her response? Nope, we’re not busy, but you should have seen us at lunch. And it’ll be even busier for the dinner rush after four. You came at the perfect time. 

Although the student can’t be certain, he believes the worker gave him more chicken because they had a great conversation!

If you want to practice using Mislabels, try them next time you go out for a meal. Or, if you’re like me, you can even use them on your two-year-old grandson! It seems like you don’t want any more snacks. His reaction is priceless. 

What Tools Work Well with Mislabels?

After you throw out a Mislabel, use Dynamic Silence™ to give your counterpart space to respond. Because we are so focused on filling dead air, most of us forget about how effective silence can be in uncovering additional information.

As my colleague Derek Gaunt often says, using Black Swan skills is like making soup. The skills are the seasoning. If you put the right amount of each ingredient in, it will taste great.

Ready to continue your negotiation skills training? Download our “Negotiation One Sheet” to prepare for your next engagement.

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