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How To Disarm the Attack

By |February 06, 2017

Bomb.pngThere comes a time in almost every negotiation where we may get a counterpart that is trying to influence our decisions by making an ultimatum type offer (take X or this bad thing is going to happen to you).  Sometimes it may be something they say out of desperation, other times  they were going to hit you with it one way or another.  At the end of the day, everyone we meet in a negotiation has a plan of attack.  Even if you're only information going into an interaction is a cold read, you can start to draw lines between what they may want and why.  Usually the reasons for coming to the table that are more than what appears on the surface.  If you go into an interaction thinking the other side has only one reason for being there than you are sorely mistaken.  There are always things going on in the other side's position, the way they operate as a team or company that has brought them to the table.  If we take a real honest look at the reasons they would take a certain position, we can start to form a statement summary that defines their approach, consequently removing all the reasoning for cementing themselves over a certain point.

In the Chris’s book “Never Split the Difference” we refer to this approach as an accusations audit, but as we have evolved the idea as a team and truly it is much more than that.  The accusations audit by it’s name implies that the other side has only negative things to back up their attack or justification, clearly they could have positive reasons as well.  Crafted tactically you can summarize that position before they even get a chance to say it.  Not only indicating that you have a full understanding but you have now removed all their tools from the toolbox.  A great example of that is Chris Voss's NPR interview on buying his car. To get his counterpart to continue to lower the price he continually stated how the truck he was buying was worth even more than what he was willing to pay for it, leaving the poor car salesmen on the other side of the table with nothing to say to justify why he should in fact pay more for the truck. It had already been said.  Chris beat him to the punch.

Applying this to another example in business, when you are trying to influence a counterpart to make a decision that goes against the status quo or apparently goes against company standard.  You need to start the conversation by saying "This has to seem harsh, us asking you to violate a company standard/tradition.  You have these things in place because you need to draw lines somewhere.  Taking a solid look at what we want puts you in an awkward position."  And then go completely silent.  Prepare to just engage the silence and let them say the words that are going to move the conversation forward.  If you need to count one thousands in your head like I do to keep myself in check, feel free to do so. For those of you that just can't fight the urge to say something or for those that like to ask permission before stating something in a conversation, we will allow you to follow an accusation audit like the one above with "How should we proceed from here?" Then go completely silent.

If we can disarm an attack, we can remove all inhibitions that cause a counterpart to want to defend it.  We had a former student that renegotiated an increase on the lease for his apartment by saying to the landlord company, "I don't understand why they wouldn't charge more for an apartment that had all the amenities this location has (subway, theatre, close to a major metropolitan area)".  The end result was a final decision that caused him to pay less for a 12-month lease than he was previously paying for a 10-month lease.  We had another client save several thousands by beginning the conversation with "You are here to make the best decision for your company.  An ideal situation for you is when they show the bottom line at the end of the year they will be able to say that this thing rose directly due to the decisions you made."

One thing that is also universal in this day in age is communication that takes place through text (email, chat, etc.).  Text also takes on a tone whether we like it or not.  It is a bit mind boggling at times.  When words are read, and even times when they are written by a counterpart, there is a tone that is heard or implied.  In cases of text not only do you need to add what we at Black Swan call "softeners",  in addition also following the accusations audit with a calibrated question (page 151 in Never Split the Difference).  Stuart Diamond, author of “Getting More” and longtime negotiation professor at The Wharton School of Business tells us that after we write an email read it back to ourselves in the worst possible voice, imagining that's how the other side will hear it.  Then go back and write the email again.  

Now there is always a sequencing of events, and the shortest distance between two points in a negotiation is almost never a straight line.  Disarming the other side’s attack by stating why they would do it in the first place is a good place to start.