A Fork In the Road: Negotiation, Humor, and Business Moves
I'm no negotiator and I know it. If you want to read negotiation from a master negotiator, read anything, everything from Harvey Mackay. He lives on negotiation. In one of his books, he mentions a key factor in negotiating is having superior knowledge to the person you are negotiating with.
Information is good, but, I will add, superior strategy is also useful.
Being able to target two purposes at once. In chess, weak moves tend to threaten the opponent in only one way. It only puts pressure on one opponent piece. It is hard to win if all you do is make moves that attack one piece.
The opponent will usually have a one-move response to effectively counter your single threat. The most effective moves are those which simultaneously threaten two of your opponent's pieces.
Consider the powerful forking behavior of a chess knight. A knight can be very fun or a very annoying chess piece, depending upon whether you or your opponent is using it more effectively. The killer knight move is forking the opponent's king and queen with your knight.
If, in one move, you can put your opponent in check and at the same time be threatening the queen, and no options exist for your opponent taking your knight, you have probably won the game. Doing the same to two rooks will probably put you up enough material so that you will win the game also.
Of course, this is easier said than done. But, the fact remains, threaten two pieces at once, and it is very difficult for your opponent to protect both with only one move. If you can make repeated moves, each targeting more than one helpless chess-piece victim, your position will gain immensely.
Now, as I said, I'm not a competitive guy. Personally, I think competition brings out the worst in me. I would rather seek a mutually beneficial deal. While aggressive negotiation is useful for some forms of negotiation, it is a deadly flaw in other negotiation arenas.
The other day, I was getting clothing from the laundry machine and the TV was on. A talk show host was interviewing some very attractive young ladies who wanted to be stars. I just caught one line of the show, but it was a great line.
This incredibly attractive blond said, "I'm a Barbie, living in a Barbie world. AND I WILL BE ON BAYWATCH!"
The audience happily applauded. I realized two things.
One. I want to be a producer on Baywatch.
And two. No need for two. I got in the punch line.
Humor works because it makes a second implicit connection between what is said and what might really be meant. You see not just one connection, but two connections. One funny. Hopefully.
People are always looking for ulterior motives. And, I don't use the term "ulterior" with derogatory connotations. I just mean more than one goal is being targeted. Often, the secondary goal is just as meaningful as the directly-stated goal. And, the unstated goal doesn't have to be sinister.
Good films make use of this in humor, but also in another powerful way. They state something more significant or provide insight that resides just below the surface of what is directly said.
One of my favorite movies, Rocky, has a scene where Adrian has just been invited into Rocky's apartment. He wants to show her his exotic pets, two turtles named Cuff and Link.
He holds them up and says, "These are the turtles I told you about."
She says, "I know. I sold them to you."
"Of course, you sold them to me. I remember that. I came in and I bought the turtles. Then I came in and bought the bowl. Then I... You know I had to get rid of that mountain cause it kept tipping over."
Great writing. Who among people Stallone's age who had a fish tank can't remember having some silly mountain or such thing that kept tipping over? And, trying to get it to keep from falling was no small matter. Usually, it had to go. Beaten by an ornament. A great line. Small talk, but at the same time lightly touching upon a real minor life frustration. Tipping mountains.
But, is Rocky really an amphibian aficionado? No. Not that he doesn't like his turtles. He does. We learned this in an earlier scene, so we don't doubt that he is a good turtle owner, as well as a good guy.
But, in a way, what Rocky is really saying is, "I like you. I kept coming to the store, not cause I needed a mountain, but because I wanted to see you." He is sincerely interested in her. Hardly, conveying a sinister thought.
And probably not trying to convey a hidden implication at all. The beauty of such often missed implicit meaning is that it usually is true. Not planned at all. But, what is projected. What is understood.
If you try to force hidden meaning, you will probably fall into superficiality. But, once you learn that much more is nearly always conveyed than just what is stated, you will be able to do two things.
One, you will be alert for hints that the other person is giving you. About issues that concern them that they do not directly wish to state. They might think to do so is tacky. Yet, they have the concern.
Once you can see the concern, you can try to address it. Put the person at ease on the issue, maybe.
Two, you can be more alert to what you are saying. You can learn to spot verbal slips that might cost you. Giving away a concern of yours that you don't want the other party to see, for example. Like the fact that you need the deal much more than they do.
Mackay says good negotiators often make a notebook history of what happens during a negotiation. Summarize what happened. Then you can examine it later and see how you can improve as a negotiator. Ask, "What were the deciding factors in the negotiation?"
I never have kept such a negotiation diary, myself. Then, again, I'm no Harvey Mackay.
To have a practical example of how you might approach making every opportunity count for two or more strong moves, consider the case of a consultant.
Your first goal as a consultant is, of course, to generate business. Let's suppose you have a client for whom you have just completed a project. That's Move One. You generated the business and earned some money.
But, now to maximize your payoff, do the following. First, ask the client if he or she knows anyone else who might be able to benefit from your services. If so, get the name of the person and ask the client if he or she will recommend you to the person. This way you are seeking referrals from every job you do. You add to your prospect list.
Second, ask if you can use the person as a reference. Some people don't like to be bothered giving references, but others do. Many consultants neglect this. They are willing to generate the business, but then they never build more good references.
You have now created a very effective fork. You have not only served a client, but you have possible new clients and references to your prowess. But, you are not done yet.
A week or two after finishing your project, call the client and ask if everything is OK. Is there anything you can help them with? Free of charge, of course. Any other big projects they need? Not free of charge, of course. And, ask them to keep you in mind in the future if they might have needs related to what you do.
This helps build goodwill. It shows you are concerned about the client and at the same time helps ensure some future business.
Finally, a very interesting study showed that as some men age, they often seriously loose brain cells. Not the best thing! One of the first things to go is the sense of humor. This leads to the stereotype of the Grumpy Old Men.
Related to this, young and healthy chimps tend to be playful. Their brains are actively growing. But, as gorillas age, their brain shrinks. They become more morose. Less likely to enjoy a good gorilla joke.
Becoming more antisocial might be OK for a 300-pound gorilla who can stomp anything and anyone in his way, but in the human world, with that attitude you will lose. You can't roll over everyone in your path and hope to succeed. You need to learn to negotiate for your benefit, but at the same time try not to exploit the other party. Take advantage and it will certainly be a one-time negotiation.
There is strategy in being good-natured. Keep sharp by laughing.