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Negotiate like Muhammad Ali

Negotiation touches every part of our lives. Relationships in business and in our personal lives are negotiated. And the skills to do it effectively can often mean the difference between getting what you want or losing out. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

In the first section of the book, How to be a Great Negotiator, written by property economist, investor and developer Neville Berkowitz, the characteristic traits of a great negotiator are explored in short, bite-sized nuggets of advice.
Over the next few months, we will bring you the traits needed to succeed at the art of negotiating.

(Courtesy of PersonalEmpowerment.co)

115 Unpredictability

When Muhammed Ali said, “Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee,” he was talking about unpredictability. Unpredictability is not something you do for its own sake. It’s a willingness to do whatever it takes, creatively and strategically, to step out of your usual patterns and your comfort zone to make a deal work, or to deal with a difficult client. It’s generally something you do when a deal is not going smoothly, and your usual strategies don’t seem to be effective.

Approaching each negotiation in a similar fashion can impart a sense of stability and consistency that is reassuring to you and the other party. It’s good to be consistent and have your own negotiation style and persona. But being too predictable can be a liability in certain situations with certain kinds of negotiators. Shrewd negotiators may use your style and consistency against you to manipulate and control the process of the negotiation. If they can “read you like a book,” they can also “work you like a pinball machine.” Shrewd negotiators can exploit your predictability to get you to do what they want and get what they want from you on their terms.

It pays, every now and then, to do things differently – to change your typical patterns, to veer from your personal style. The next time you’re in a difficult negotiation, pause without explanation and notice what you usually tend to do in the situation; then try something different, something new, something atypical for you.

Perhaps you tend to try too hard to work things out with difficult people. Perhaps you say “yes” to something less than you want, or try to coax or appease the other party. If so, try indifference, be detached, and act like you don’t care about the result anymore. Look impatiently at your watch, as if your mind is already on lunch or the next meeting. Say “no” to minor points you would generally agree with. Play hard to get and make them have to coax or please you. Seem mildly annoyed or even a bit offended. Your unpredictability may surprise and fluster the other party who thought they knew you well enough to manipulate you and control the negotiation. They may worry that they’ve gone too far, and become apologetic and cooperative. But don’t push it too far, unless you really are willing to walk away from the deal and feel you have nothing to lose.

The reverse of the above scenario can also be effective. If you’re an inflexible, hard-line negotiator and it’s not working, lighten up, soften up, try a friendly approach, and be uncharacteristically gracious or generous. Say “yes” and make a concession as a token of good will. Do something different than what wasn’t working, perplex the other party in their expectations, and see what happens. You can still move the negotiation toward your objectives but with new tools and a different approach.

Unpredictability is an occasional and useful tool of a great negotiator. It’s important to have it on the reserve bench when you feel you’ve been taken advantage of, dealt with unfairly or inappropriately, and your usual tools aren’t working. If you sense that you are being “played” in a negotiation, you might want to say or do something unexpected and unpredictable to throw the other party off-balance. Difficult people who take your kindness for weakness, abusing your integrity and graciousness, need to meet the unpredictable side of you. And you need to meet and learn to use that side of you as well.

Unpredictability can be breaking your usual pattern in simple ways. Consider how you usually behave in a negotiation, how you tend to approach the other party and present information, how you begin, and how you close. Notice your typical strategy and assumptions. Then find ways to shake things up by considering other approaches and doing things differently than usual. See what happens and how it feels. This simple exercise will often energise you and stimulate new and creative thinking. It will sharpen your edge.

Unpredictability can also involve breaking polite social protocol, speaking bluntly about your objections or apprehensions about the product or service represented by the other party, or even expressing candid doubts or reservations about the other party. This can be unsettling and even startling to the other party but that’s the point. It can be effective in putting them off-balance so that you can assume or regain the power position. But it can also create animosity, disrupt the negotiation, and ruin the relationship. For that reason, you only want to use this strategy as a last-ditch effort, when the other party is being uncooperative, rude, greedy, disrespectful etc.

If someone uses that strategy on you, remain calm, perhaps even smile, and address their objections in a reasonable way. If they persist in trying to put you off-balance with critical comments or aggressive behaviour, you can even say, “That’s a very interesting negotiation strategy but it won’t work with me.” This will often take the wind out of their sails and enable the power balance to shift your way. But, if they persist in counterproductive or unacceptable behaviour, you may need to apply the strategy outlined in the section in this book titled “Walking Away.”


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