This post is one in a series based on Never Split the Difference; Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss with writer Tahl Raz. Voss has 24 years of FBI experience and once served as the FBI’s Lead International Kidnapping Negotiator. He now runs a practice that trains individuals, corporations and law enforcement professionals to negotiate more effectively and more confidently.)
In a previous post, I wrote about the theory of homo economicus, or economic man. It’s the theory that says we humans will act rationally in our own self-interest during a negotiation, making us predictable and logical when we’re making a deal. Or not.
Chris Voss says understanding the person across the table is as important as having great negotiation skills. Voss divides negotiators into three categories: Analysts, Accommodators, and Assertives. Sizing up the other side is critical to know how and when to apply tactics. What works on one person may fail completely with another.
In tense hostage situations, like those he faced during his FBI career, Voss had to learn to judge people quickly; lives depended on it. In business, you have more time and more information to learn about the other person’s preferred approach. You may even know them well through years of working or doing business together.
Voss says that the three types of negotiators are defined by their goals and their relationships to time and silence. Which one is closest to your style?
Analysts are methodical and diligent. Voss says they are not in a big rush. Instead, they believe that as long as they are working toward the best result in a thorough and systematic way, time is of little consequence. Their self – image is linked to minimizing mistakes, so they’ll take as much times as it takes to get it right. They hate surprises and will need time to recalculate after something new comes up. They view silence as necessary and productive, giving them time to think.
Accommodators value relationships over winning. Their goal is to be on great terms with their counterpart, and they hope to remain friends even if they can’t reach an agreement. They love the win – win solution, and think as long as there is a free – flowing continuous exchange of information, time is being well spent. As long as they’re communicating, they’re happy. For Accommodators, silence implies anger, and they become very uncomfortable when the other party goes quiet. They’ll often start speaking just to fill the space, and this is where many Accommodators start to lose control of the negotiation or reveal things that give the other party the upper hand.
Assertives are fiery people who love winning above all else, often at the expense of other party. Their colleagues and counterparts never question where they stand because they are always direct and candid. Relationships, no matter how close, are based on respect, nothing more and nothing less. They prefer getting a deal done quickly to getting everything just right. For Assertives, silence implies consent; you must not have anything more to say, and it must be my turn to speak (again.)
Understanding who’s across the table from you is essential to your success. Push too hard or too fast and you could lose the deal before you begin to explore options. You can also use techniques like strategic silence to push the other person along or create uncertainty and make them anxious to concede a point or close the deal. But all types of negotiators will respond to one word.
Chris Voss identifies the word that he describes as “the most powerful word in negotiations”: fair. He writes, “As human beings, we’re mightily swayed by how much we feel we have been respected. People comply with agreements if they feel they’ve been treated fairly and lash out if they don’t.”
The word “fair” incites such primal reactions that it supersedes any issue of self-interest. Bring it up early in your negotiation by stating that you want to make a fair deal or that you want to treat the other party fairly. It changes the dynamics of the negotiation; the other party moves from being motivated to get the best deal to getting one that’s fair.
Implying that you’re not being treated fairly is one way to trigger the other party to balance the negotiation, to take a stance that will be more equitable for you both. Try it in your next negotiation.