Talk to me – Confessions of a life-long negotiator

Detective Frank Hunt has a distinguished 30-year career with the 110th precinct in New York City. He has seen most all of it when it comes to crime and crime scenes. And although he has been honored for numerous contributions that he has made to the department, perhaps he is best known for being an experienced and highly successful negotiator.

I was honored last year to speak at the Coldwell Bankers Real Estate annual awards breakfast in Owensboro and my topic was, if you choose, how you too can learn to be a better negotiator. After all sales personnel all need to understand the art and science of negotiations ot be as successful as possible.

I first observed the power of a good negotiator when I watched my grandfather trade mules back in the 1950s. By the 1970s, I was negotiating my way through a government agency and then for the past 20 years I have taught these skills to managers, labor representatives, sales, law enforcement and military personnel.

Frank Hunt and I agree on many points that we have learned in our 30-year careers.

To be a good negotiator, you must get and keep “rapport” with the other person. Rapport is a French word that means you have developed a relationship of mutual trust or, like-mindedness, fellowship, comradeship, camaraderie, sympathy.

Hunt says that under all circumstances you must be “relentless” in trying to develop rapport. The development of rapport is not always easy and yet even when we get it we also can lose it fairly quickly. We know we have rapport when the “feeling” of the moment is “right”. We lose rapport when we are not paying attention to what we are doing to keep the other party engaged.

Effective negotiators “get up close and personal” with the other party, Hunt says. And I would add that it is always the “one-on-one” that makes the most successful relationships during negotiations.

As a hostage negotiator Hunt says, you must “deal with the situations as they happen” and show the other person involved that you too are a “real person” that cares about the outcome of the experience.

My own experience has demonstrated over the years that if you negotiate for purely selfish reasons and don’t find a mutually successful outcome such discussions usually fail on all fronts.

“You also must place your ego to the side,” Hunt admonishes. And experience has shown both of us that when you can’t do that you simply can’t be effective.

“I believe that to be most effective you must be able to show the other party that you are willing to cross the line with them,” Hunt notes.

Roger Dawson, author of the The Secrets of Power Negotiators, points out that irrespective of how much you study or what you do that the best teacher is “experience”.

Of course, that would not be the case with hostage negotiations yet most of us have tried now and then to develop our skills by actually practicing them. Think about it. Ever bought a car and made a different offer than the “asking price”? You opened the door for negotiations but did you walk through it?

Some basic tips to follow if you decide to engage in negotiations

• Go into the situation thinking and acting positive
• Be aware that if you think negative, you will come out with a negative outcome
• Remind the other party that they are not alone – it is you and them working together for a mutually satisfactory outcome
• Propose often by using language such as “Why don’t we try this …”
• Remind the other party frequently “We will work this out”
• Remember negotiations require time – time is on your side
• Create a ‘win’ of some kind for both sides
• Deal with the moment and get personal when you can
• Pull them out of the situation psychologically not physically
• Keep the playing field level whenever possible
• Let the other person tell you how to best deal with their complaint or issue
• Keep asking for their advice and help
• Help the other person to make decision along with you
• Be a good listener and repeat now and then exact words back so the other party feels honored by your listening skills
• Be sensitive to all situations – what might not be important to you may be to the other party
• Project and instill confidence in your discussion

Finally, with all due respect some people simply can’t be good negotiators. That is a fact of life. Those people should proceed to develop other skills they may possess.

And remember, as Hunt is apt to share, “If you only have a hammer in your tool box then every problem has to be a nail.”

Develop as many of your negotiating skills and talents as possible and use them to develop a wealth of experience to be successful at using them.

Until next time.

L. Darryl Armstrong

Armstrong and Associates

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