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Having just done an exhilarating session teaching assertiveness yesterday, I came across this excellent article in The Guardian from Saturday 10th of January 2015 on How to get what you want: top negotiators on the tricks of their trade.

Five experts at negotiating share some of their best tips for getting what you want: a leading divorce lawyer, a hostage negotiator, a parenting guru, a deal broker and a retail expert who specialises in haggling for the best bargain.

All stressed in some way, the importance of going for a win-win situation; of understanding the other person’s needs and being open to the possibility that either you or the other person might be open to something different to what you each thought you wanted.

There were a lot of negative comments, with one person claiming that all these people were parasites, and only reluctantly conceding that the parenting guru and hostage negotiator might after all not be.

However, in good journalistic style, the hostage negotiator raised some furore by claiming he had started using hostage negotiation skills with women he had dated. “Sometimes that worked, sometimes it blew up in my face.” He said. Of course it is very easy to take exception to this, unless of course you see him applying the concepts of win-win and that everyone wants something worthwhile out of the deal. It must seem so manipulative (sarcasm warning) to be a woman subject to “active listening, empathy, rapport”- and I myself practice behavioural change (or I would be useless to my clients.) Obviously, if he was insincere, he would deserve it if someone blew up in his face, but his point was that even with kidnappers, you actually have to be sincere to get the deal you want. This may be far too broad minded for some people, but remember this is a man who has negotiated on 150 kidnappings worldwide. He knows what he is talking about.

And the divorce lawyer talked about using guilt. Well obviously, a red rag to many who feel they have had an unfair settlement. Then again, if someone has done something unpleasant during a relationship, perhaps some balancing up is only fair. My take on this is that if you are accused of something and you are clear that you either did no harm, or intended no harm, then guilt is unlikely to touch you. If something unfortunate happened as a result of your attitudes, words or actions, and you are a decent person, you would probably want to put it right anyway. You just would not want the other party to try to get unfair leverage from it. Notice though, that she tries to get clients to keep their emotions out of the issue and that her success was based on bringing a “deal-oriented approach to family law, which was a unique perspective at the time.”

Even the parenting guru came in for some flack, possibly from people whose parents had not had the benefit of her advice. My own experience has been the same as hers: young children need clarity and consistency. As they grow up, they need to be able to understand and agree with the rules, and as they get near puberty, they need to be weaned and allowed to work out what is going to get them the best results in life, by being treated more and more like adults.

The main objection though, seemed to be that these people were extremely well paid. And yes, in these times of austerity, those being paid way above the rest of us should certainly come under some scrutiny. Then again, these people are well paid because they manage to get the best deal for both parties, and they achieve this to a degree that few of us seem to manage. My observation is that these are pearls of wisdom from people who know what they are talking about. We would do well to avoid grunting at the people who were generous enough to share them with us.

My own nuggets

The advice in the article is excellent, but it does not tell you how to empathise or how to be in the right state. NLP gets to the inside and offers ways of doing these. Before you negotiate:

  • Get in a good state, using the energy ball, body language, voice tone, or anchoring. (Posts coming soon for the last two.)
  • Disassociate yourself from what you think you want, and look to see how to set up the best possible win-win situation. (Again, post coming soon.)
  • Resolve any of your own issues, anger or over attachment, by using tapping or by finding a good NLP practitioner.
  • Get a sense of what the other person wants by imagining that you actually are that person. There are effective ways to do this which sometimes give remarkable results. (Yes, post coming soon.)

Willing to be unreasonable

Picture of George Bernard Shaw.

George Bernard Shaw: A very unreasonable man- and very wise. (Picture from Library of Congress.)

Once you get to the negotiation, one of the core principles of assertiveness is that you need to be willing to be unreasonable. According to George Bernard Shaw, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (Or woman.) Unreasonable people usually get their way because other people just tend to give way to them.

If you are up against someone who is unreasonable, you need to be willing to be at least as unreasonable as they are otherwise they will just walk all over you. Notice that you may not have to be unreasonable, but you have to be willing. Once someone realises you are willing to be at least as unreasonable as they are, they realise you are no longer going to be a pushover and they tend to pay attention.

And just because you are willing to be unreasonable, it does not necessarily mean you have to be unpleasant or nasty. In fact, sometimes, the most unreasonable thing is to be unreasonably pleasant, unreasonably polite or unreasonably reasonable, yet in a firm way. When you can demonstrate that their unreasonableness does not rattle you, then they tend to worry even more what you might have up your sleeve.

It does help to have something up your sleeve though. As US President Theodore Roosevelt put it “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Know your grounds, know your rights, know what you can do practically (eg. through the process of the law) and be willing to do it. This is why the divorce lawyer was willing to use guilt: it is a valid weapon against people who have already been willing to do something unfair to you. If all you want to do is to be ‘Reasonable’, if all you want to do is to appease, then Shaw says “If you begin by sacrificing yourself to those you love (or anyone for that matter), you will end by hating those to whom you have sacrificed yourself.” And if you do not stand up for yourself, you will end up hating yourself.

Being willing to be unreasonable and to use your big sticks if necessary, does not mean you are a bad person. Quite the contrary: You can still keep aiming for the best possible win-win situation for everyone concerned, but it has to be ‘win-win or no deal’,‘win-win’ or damage limitation, or ‘win-win’ or be willing to walk away- especially if you are in danger. Other than that, know that you have a right- and a duty to yourself to ask for what you want and to respectfully stand up for what you are entitled to.


See also Life isn’t about finding yourself for more wisdom from Shaw.

Photograph of Shaw from US Library of Congress.

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