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Negotiation Training: What Are Black Swans and How Can You Identify Them?

By |February 14, 2022

Black Swans are small bits of information the other side holds that— if uncovered—would dramatically change the course of the dialogue and, ultimately, the result of the negotiation.

The best way to discover a Black Swan is by staying curious in each conversation. Every time you sit down at the table, repeat a mantra to yourself: I have something to learn here.

This mindset forces you to listen to what’s not being said rather than the actual words. By staying curious, you reduce the chances of getting triggered during a conversation if the other side threatens, attacks, or makes outrageous demands.

If You’re Hiding Information, Your Counterpart Is Too

During a negotiation, is there ever a time when you’re not hiding information? Obviously not.

If you’re actively hiding information from your counterpart, your counterpart is doing the same. You need to be aware of that.

When you operate with blinders on during a negotiation, you miss things that your counterpart hasn’t revealed yet. It’s that simple. 

If you go in with a goal-oriented mindset and an agenda that you are “married” to, you have decided where you want to end up, and you’ve made that decision based on incomplete information. You can’t get the best outcomes when you don’t have the complete picture.

The Two Types of Black Swans

The key to uncovering Black Swans is to go into every conversation with an open mind and without judgment. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve known the person for five minutes or five years.  During the conversation you will discover things about which you had no clue. With this approach, it’s only a matter of time before you uncover information that will change the course of the conversation.

Generally speaking, there are two types of Black Swans:

  • Guarded information, which the other side is intentionally hiding.
  • Blind  information, which seems irrelevant or unimportant to the other side but delivers tremendous benefits when you uncover it.

Black Swans never fly alone. Usually, there will be 3-5 Black Swans in every tough conversation. If you find yourself in a difficult conversation and you uncover a Black Swan, keep digging. You will find more.

We’ve outlined seven key items to empower your sales team. Download the  checklist here »

Identify Black Swans to Uncover the True Motivation

Black Swans can help you discover the true motivation behind your counterpart’s statements, questions and actions. 

Imagine this: You thought you had an agreement when you suddenly start getting pushback from the other side. In such a scenario, most people go into defensive  mode, believing that the other side is flaking or acting without integrity.


Instead of viewing the counterpart as threat, go into curiosity mode. There is always a motivation behind an ask, a behavior, or a statement. Ordinarily, those actions are camouflaging something else—the Black Swans. 

Next time you find yourself in a similar situation, start hunting for the Black Swans instead of freaking out.

What is the other side really telling you when they say you need to cut the price or they will go somewhere else? They are likely under immense stress—most people are. Use a simple Label™ to find out: I’m sorry. It seems like you’re under tremendous pressure to get this exactly right.  

As you begin pulling information, your counterpart will feel heard and respected because you picked up on the signals. Suddenly, you discover that price has nothing to do with it. The more you dive into the pressure, the more dopamine your counterpart gets. You will dramatically increase the probability that they will enter a collaborative state and start working with you, not against you.

The Inevitability of the Black Swan

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much research you do or how many people you talk to before sitting down with your counterpart. There will always be things that come up in the conversation that you didn't know. Once you uncover a Black Swan, use it to your benefit, allowing it to guide your strategy.

Now that you understand the importance of uncovering Black Swans, it’s time to continue your negotiation training. Download the Ultimate Negotiation Checklist for Sales Teams to sharpen your skills.

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