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How to Get Secrets – A Black Belt Negotiation Skill


Top Secret Stamp.pngThe key to any negotiation is getting the other side talking.  That’s one of the purposes of small talk.  To establish rapport. To get the conversation going.  To get them talking about the things they’d love to trust you with, but are hesitant to. To get them to spill the beans.

How do you accelerate that process? Remember, the other side has things they are just dying to say, if only given the chance.  Labels and even (surprisingly) mis-labels.

And why mis-labels? Because the desire to correct, to be in the know, to be smarter than you, is a deep desire indeed.

Why questions are the problem.

We know we need information.  The problem is the mere act of asking questions, sometimes even calibrated questions, sends a signal the information gathering process has begun. Defensiveness is triggered by the words: “Does” “Can” “Is” “Would” “Do” (the beginnings of closed-ended questions seeking confirmation – driving for a “Yes”).

Yet even sometimes the words “What” and “How” (which are our  “go-to” for calibrated questions) might hit the hypersensitive emotional trip-wires of some analytical types.

A Black Belt Skill

A Black Swan black-belt skill is the ability to quickly pivot to the use of labels, and mis-labels, for gathering information.  Or even begin there entirely.

After a recent training in the Midwest, a CEO confided to me that labels at a dinner got a top executive in another company to “sing like a canary”.   The CEO got the executive to blurt out that only about 20% of the company’s locations were profitable.

We taught labels that day in training. We sent everyone out at the end of the day to just practice labels with whoever they ran into that evening: waitresses, hotel clerks, dinner companions.

Practice, practice, practice.

During a lunch break at a training on the East Coast, one of our attendees threw a casual label at the waitress.  (You could tell by the look he gave us when he did it he was just trying to be funny.  Sort of like “Watch me label the waitress and see her ignore it.”)

She was a young lady who had some visible tattoos and a couple of facial piercings. (Easy to stereotype, right?) Our lunch companion simply said “It seems like you know what you’re doing”.

In about 3 seconds she was talking about how she had learned waitressing from her mother.  It was clear from her tone of voice that she was very close to her mother and the memories made her feel really good.  Our “labeler” had a surprised, even awkward, look on his face at how quickly the personal information was being shared.

The Mis-label

“What if I’m wrong?” You might say.  “What if I don’t hit it right?”

Sometimes that's even better!  It’s actually got a name. The “mis-label”. Some of our clients fall so much in love with this, it’s almost all they want to do. (Brass required – but believe me, success grows it.)

One of the favorite stories from “Never Split The Difference” is of an awesome mis-label. Our student was negotiating the purchase of a mixed-use (retail and multifamily) building in a historic district of a thriving southern U.S. town of about 650,000 people in the greater metro area.  The building had nearly 100% occupancy, partially due to the prestigious nearby major university.

Label: “It seems like the seller must be trying to get out of the market, due to the disbelief in future market fundamentals, if he or she is selling a cash cow” was the mis-label.

Response: “Well, the seller has some tougher properties in xxxxx and xxxxx (other southern city names omitted) and must get out of this property to pack back the mortgage elsewhere” was the answer. (Bingo!)

Also, please be aware – this mis-label was preceded in the conversation by 2 calibrated questions, 2 “no-oriented” questions and 4 labels.

The Expertise Rule of 67

I recently had the privilege of hearing the phenomenal John Foley speak. (No, this is not the brother of Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop.) John Foley is a former Blue Angel and an inspiring motivational speaker regarding high performance.  He should know.

He talked about how many repetitions were required to acquire a habit. How long to get to unconscious competence? He referred to it as building grooves in your brain for high performance.  We now know it’s actually building the neural pathways and stimulating the synaptic connections so your brains fires quickly.  You groove your performance.

He said from all the experts he had spoken to, he most often heard approximately 65-66 repetitions of an action to achieve a habit.  Steady, paced repetition to unconscious competence, if you will.  

Let’s make it 67.  67 reps to groove the label skill.  Steady, paced repetition.  Make sure you label at least 6 times a day.  Use it a couple of times with 3-4 different people.  You’re going to have a least 3 conversations daily even if you have to make them with a door-man, waitress or Starbucks coffee shop employee. Do this for 11 straight days.  

By day 12 you will hit your groove.  And you will be AWESOME!

Finally, be worthy of the trust you earn.  Be worthy of the closely guarded information you trigger.  Your reputation precedes you. Long-term success depends on a reputation that serves you well.

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