Negotiation is listening

There's an episode of The Office where Daryl, an employee of Dunder Mifflin, asks for a raise and Michael, the bumbling regional manager, researches negotiation tactics on Wikipedia.

Michael tries to implement a bunch of tactics. One of them is "declining to speak first," which is supposed to make the counterparty feel uncomfortable. Michael, unable to remain silent for more than 10 seconds, blurts out, "I will not be the first to speak."

It's a hilarious episode because a lot of the techniques he uses aren't wrong, Michael just doesn't understand the bigger picture and obviously does a poor job of executing it.

Michael eventually reveals that he himself barely makes more than Daryl.

Daryl realizes that of course he could never get a raise until Michael gets a raise, so they work together to get Michael a raise. Daryl, the superior negotiator, discovered a crucial piece of information that would help him get what he wanted.

I talk about negotiation in my book, and while I have a few tactics sprinkled in there, the bigger picture is that you are always listening for key pieces of information and implementing techniques to get the program manager to reveal them.

Here are some examples of information you're trying to get:

  • The reason why there is a vacancy (in demand skill, limited labor pool, difficult client, billable rate is too low, etc.)
  • The billable rate
  • The contract structure and duration (firm fixed price? time and material? five months left or five years left?

The more information you have, the more leverage you have in the negotiation. You can use that information to get what you want within reason.

So don't worry about trying to implement the hollywood version of negotiations where you think you have to get into a screaming match or dramatically write down a number on a piece of paper and slide it across the table.

Most of my negotiations have been done over e-mails and friendly phone calls. Sure, I may implement a few tactics, but if you were watching a movie of the negotiations it would look very boring.

Negotiation is mostly about listening to your counterparty, not banging your firsts on the table or trying to make your opponent uncomfortable.

For a great book on the topic I recommend reading Chris Voss' book, Never Split the Difference. Voss was a FBI hostage negotiator and does very a good job of sharing the strategy and techniques that helped him be successful with situations like hostage negotiations and business dealings.

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