In my relentless pursuit to make the complexities of negotiation more grokkable for readers of Execs and the City — I'll often spurn myself awake at 3:47 to jot notes about the epiphanies I have while sleeping.
Last night was one of those nights.
Hey, I never claimed to have the most exciting life. My closest friends will tell you I'm an obsessive nerd who geeks out on anything with a deep learning curve.
I reckon that the sophistication of intricate high-stakes negotiation work those muscles for me. Yet, I digress.
Let's talk about you, my friend.
There are two focus areas that you can develop that will have a profound impact on your career and how well you perform while negotiating.
I'd also argue that you may have an executive title attached to your role, but you won't be respected as a "real" VP or C-Suite leader without these skills.
The Preamble: Mindset Correction
For a punk-ass anti-authoritarian Millennial like me, mastering negotiation is a damn dream profession.
There are no rules to negotiation, only principles.
When I ask prospective clients why they want to work with me, I often hear, "I want to get what's fair."
I implore you to reconsider "fair" and revisit your mindset toward negotiation.
There is no such thing as fair. Fair is the most destructive f-word in salary negotiation. You don't get what's fair; you get what you negotiate.
We must correct this mindset because fairness creates glass ceilings, stagnation, and self-inflicted career captivity.
Fair suggests that we negotiate on a level playing field, and objectivity will determine outcomes.
Sure, you can arm yourself with as many objective criteria as possible, such as industry benchmarks, publicly stated salary ranges, pay transparency reports, and whatever data you have about what your buddy makes to determine what is fair.
But IQ doesn't win deals. EQ does.
If you haven't learned by now that life isn't fair, I suggest you go full couch potato keyboard warrior and start criticizing those on their feet doing something about it.
#1 Emotional Intelligence: The Negotiation Right Hook
Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions and the emotions of others.
When you need to interact with the folks you negotiate with daily, you best not be a bull in a China shop.
Relationships are fragile.
The fear of appearing aggressive or overly self-serving may turn you off from negotiating effectively or kicking the can down the road to "do better next time."
So how can you better balance your self-awareness, self-regulation, motivations, empathy, and social skills to cultivate more substantial outcomes?
And how do you trigger these skills immediately while you navigate tricky or tense situations?
Here are five (of many) ways to approach EQ and keep it top-of-mind during your next negotiation.
- Build rapport: Demonstrate empathy and understanding from the very first conversation. Concentrate on active listening, mirroring words or emotions, labeling what you hear, acknowledging (verbalizing in summary) the other party's perspective, and avoiding judgment. Being more likable from the get-go will help you be more persuasive later.
- Read the room: What's not said is likely more important than what is. You must 'read between the lines' of what's being said—that is—you must read the emotions and nonverbal cues of the other party. I recommend sharing your unique experiences to commiserate with the challenges the other party faces to show that you can understand their perspective. For example, "Goodness, I remember going through a similar experience 4 years ago with my XYZ team. It took us 8 months to figure it out..."
- Master emotions: Difficult conversations, such as executive interviews that cascade into complex negotiations, can be stressful and emotionally charged. It's best not to take any personal offense to an offer or stupid question that catches you off-guard. Stoicism can help you endure with a smile, but silence, pauses, and politely requesting time to digest or revist sticking points later can serve incredible advantages. Let emotions subside before you decide. That includes deciding to react immediately.
- Find common ground: One key to unlocking successful negotiations is identifying shared interests that can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. I recommend you never take an adversarial you vs. them approach. Instead, it's you and them vs. the challenge. Picture yourself sitting on the same side of the table as your counter, and you're both tackling the pain together.
- Generate creative solutions: Remember, there are no rules, only principles. If you don't like how the pie is sliced for you, bake another pie. An open mind is necessary to offer creative solutions that take all parties into account and serve the interests of everyone involved. Ask not, "Is this the best we can do?" instead, ask, "Is it unreasonable to try a new solution here, such as..."
Your concentration on EQ will help you approach negotiations with empathy, curiosity, and adaptability. As a result, more successful outcomes and stronger relationships will follow.
Speaking of curiosity—let's get to the second punch.
Curiosity: The Negotiation Left Jab
Curiosity may have killed that cat—nosy bastard—but a lack of curiosity has killed more executive careers than our feline friends.
The right hook (EQ) lands harder when the left jab (Curiosity) wears the body down.
A healthy dose of curiosity and inquisitiveness will lead to more substantial discovery, innovation, and personal growth.
Given that information is the gold standard of negotiation currency, you must hone your question-asking acumen and mine the right information—especially when you anticipate a negotiation may be looming.
You must ask questions that create distance between you and your competition (alternative solutions to a problem)—which is necessary to increase your power when you need it most.
If you can do this well, you will win more substantial deals and negotiate with maximum leverage.
So let's focus your curiosity there first.
Experiment with the following to know where you stand throughout your next interview or internal negotiation for a promotion.
- What are some of the traits that you admire about other candidates in the process?
- Have you considered hiring a vendor, such as an agency, software solution, or consultant, to solve your challenges? Why make an internal hire?
- What about a more junior candidate or multiple junior candidates? Why are you sure investing in an executive is the right solution?
- Have you thought about candidates with a background in the XYZ industry, hiring someone directly from a competitor, or with a 'specific school or relevant experience' instead?
- Why are you looking for someone outside the organization to fill this role? What is missing in your current team?
- What happens if you don't make a decision? Why is now the right time?
This line of questioning helps you understand whether you're a strong fit for the job and enables you to navigate what information is most relevant for you to share.
You encourage the other party to verbalize what they want (ideally you).
More importantly, you will get them to verbalize what they don't want and why they don't want their alternate solutions.
Psychology hack: People want to be consistent with their verbal declarations and tend to be accountable for what they have said to remain constant.
You're stripping apart their other options and reasons for decision-making.
When you've mastered this, you will entice others to verbalize that they want you and that your competition doesn't fit their need.
A line of competition-focused questioning will give you incredible power on exactly how to differentiate yourself from every possible alternative.
If you've done this well, what happens when you say no? What happens when you walk away?
Psychology hack: You may trigger a cognitive bias called loss aversion. Loss aversion refers to the tendency for people to feel the pain of a loss more acutely than the pleasure of a gain.
So, I ask you—if you've made yourself the only desirable or possible solution available, is it better to give you $100,000 or go back to the drawing board to find another you?
The pain of "what could have been" will bump your negotiations much more than what's objective and fair.
Want to speak directly with me about your career? Contact me below.