Skip to content

Communication Skills: Hang a Label™ on It

By |June 19, 2017

Labeling™ is a communication skill that enables us to identify the dynamics, emotions, and circumstances implied or verbalized by our counterpart.

By hanging a Label™ on the other side’s expressed or unexpressed sentiments, we prove we’re trying to understand their position, motivation, what they’re up against, and the challenges they face. 

When used correctly, Labels become one of the most powerful negotiation skills because they help us see things from our counterpart’s perspective, which is a critical component of Tactical Empathy®.  

What do Labels™ look like?

At a high level, Labels all take on a similar, noncommittal structure. For the most part, we encourage clients to use Labels that begin with these phrases:

  • It seems like…
  • It sounds like…
  • It looks like…

If your counterpart seems distracted and like they’re not paying attention, you might Label that behavior like this: It seems like you’ve got a lot on your mind.

“It” is generic.  If you want to sound more engaging and direct, Can replace
“It” with “You”

When is the right time to use a Label?

Anytime but, especially when you suspect there are ’unexpressed negative emotions or dynamics are present during a negotiation.  Usea Label to identify it.  When you Label a negative emotion, you diminish it: It seems like you don’t like being rushed. 

What about Labeling positive dynamics or emotions?  When you Label a  positive you reinforce it.  Positives are things you hear during the conversation that supports your position.  It is the most self-serving of all the Black Swans skills.  When you hear your counterpart say they are looking for someone they can trust over the long haul: It seems like establishing a quality, long-term relationship is important to you. 

For the best results, use Dynamic Silence™ after each Label to give your counterpart time and space to collect their thoughts. The last thing you want is to use an excellent Label and walk right over it by continuing to yap away.

Although Labels can be helpful in many situations, you shouldn’t lean on them all the time. Too much use of any of the Black Swan skills can be counterproductive.  Pick your spots.  

If you are certain about something in the data presented by the other side, drop the “seems, sounds, looks like” and go after it directly. For example, if your counterpart seems incredibly angry to the point that they might burst, you could say something like this: I know you want to stab in the eye with a pen.. If your counterpart has expressed concerns about how they think you play fast and loose with the numbers, you might say: I know you think I’m fudging the numbers in order to take advantage of you.

Failure to go after dynamics you know to be true runs the risk of your counterpart thinking you’re disconnected…not truly engaged during the interaction making meaningful dialogue impossible.

[INFOGRAPHIC] Download our infographic to learn the nine crucial negotiation  skills that will give you the edge over your counterpart »

What is an ego label?

When dealing with an Assertive negotiator type who has a ego, don’t be afraid to use Labels that placate their egos. You could say: It seems like people put you in front of this deal because you’re the only person in the organization capable of getting this done. Or even: It sounds like everybody is looking to you to bring this in under budget. 

In other words, don’t be afraid to feed big egos with glowing compliments. These pats on the back are a form of Tactical Empathy which encourages reciprocity.  It also puts them in a positive state and by extension increases their cognitive ability.  These ego-driven types are constantly searching for approval and validation—give it to them…just don’t go overboard. 

What happens if you Label something incorrectly?

In our experience, some of our clients are hesitant to use Labels because they’re worried they might Label the unspoken dynamics incorrectly.

But that’s silly. 

Labeling something incorrectly is still an effective negotiation tactic because, as the Laws of Negotiation Gravity™ tell us, the urge to correct someone is irresistible. 

So, when you Label something incorrectly—or Mislabel it—the other side will quickly tell you that you’re wrong, why you’re wrong and give you more truthful information.  You will go from wondering to knowing in the blink of an eye. 

Show up prepared with Labels.

Before heading into your next negotiation, write down a Summary™ of the situation up to that point, then consider the predictable positive and negative emotions the other side is likely to bring to the table.

Create a list of go-to Labels you plan to use during that conversation. If you need help, check out this list of 10 go-to Black Swan Labels

Now that you have a better idea of what Labels are and how to use them, continue your education by checking out The Black Swan Group’s Negotiation 9® (N9™) infographic and learning our core set of skills. 

The Black Swan Group Negotiation 9