Body Language Secrets to Win More Negotiations - Greg Williams, Pat Iyer (2016)
Chapter 3. Primers: Preparing for the Emotional Game
Jessica prepared the conference room for the negotiation. She ordered fresh flowers to create an impression of opulence. She hid the plastic cups. Crystal glasses rested on a sideboard. Jessica turned down the lighting to increase the sense of exclusivity. She asked her assistant to hold all calls during the meeting. Before the other negotiator arrived, Jessica rehearsed how she would start the negotiation and the main points she wanted to make. Just before the elevator chimed the arrival of her guests, her eyes swept the room. “Let the games begin,” she thought, “I am ready.”
Targets for Priming
This chapter relates to priming: preparing for the emotional game. Preparation involves planning how you will react in a negotiation and anticipating what the other negotiator will feel and do. Plan your own body language as well as what type of body language signals you will seek to provoke from the other negotiator. Think about how you’re going to react and how you will keep the negotiation flowing toward your objectives. Priming does not occur exclusively before a negotiation begins; as you will learn, you may use priming during a negotiation in response to what takes place.
Priming encompasses controlling the physical environment, your opponent, those not at the negotiation table, and yourself.
Priming the environment
I started this chapter by describing how Jessica deliberately primed the environment through lighting and objects to project a certain atmosphere and provoke reactions from the other negotiator. Negotiators may use a variety of subliminal tactics to affect the environment. As an example, you can increase discomfort by setting the room temperature lower or higher than comfortable.
Stephen Woodruff watched the reactions of Bonnie Mallick as she entered the board room. Because the negotiation took place in his environment, he had control of the room’s temperature. The thermostat was outside the room. Prior to the meeting, he reduced the room temperature as a subtle method of priming her for a difficult negotiation. “It’s a little chilly in here,” she said as she buttoned her suit jacket. Bonnie was oblivious to the fact that Stephen deliberately turned down the temperature. Stephen replied, “I’ll make it a little more comfortable for you.” Watch how these subliminal messages are repeated during the negotiation. Stephen made an offer to Bonnie that she found unacceptable. She responded, “That offer is making it a little chilly in here.” Subliminally, she just referred back to the level of discomfort that she was feeling.
Stephen heard her discomfort and inquired, “Why do you say that?” Giving Stephen an annoyed look, Bonnie retorted, “I need a more comfortable offer.” Stephen hid a smile as he realized his priming worked. He had anchored the negotiation around the concept of discomfort, using words that tied back to her perspective.
As the negotiation progressed, Stephen asked for some significant concessions from Bonnie. He sent a text message to his associate that said, “Turn down the thermostat.” Any time Bonnie balked at Stephen’s terms, Stephen texted his associate to turn down the temperature. Bonnie finally capitulated: “Fine, I agree to what you are proposing. I need to get out of here and get more comfortable.”
Stephen sent one final text message: “All is good. Raise the temperature.” By turning the temperature back up, Stephen rewarded Bonnie for giving in.
Priming your adversary
The more you know about the other negotiator, the easier it is to incorporate that knowledge into your priming.
✵ Is she an aggressive person when she negotiates?
✵ Is she a timid individual when she negotiates?
✵ To what degree might you be able to make her more timid based on the fact that she needs the deal that you’re offering her?
✵ To what degree might she flinch as a tactic using body language gestures to send the nonverbal message that you’ve come too close to the edge and are causing her to back away from the negotiation offer?
The more insight you have about the motivation, strategies, and body language gestures that she will use, the better equipped you will be to understand how you can alter her perspective based on how you use your body language. Should you display aggression by leaning too close to her and cause her to weaken or be more receptive to accepting your counteroffer? Or is she the type of individual that if you lean too close to her she’ll lean right back into you and instead of weakening, she becomes aggressive? All of those aspects are what you need to know about the other negotiator so that you can plan appropriately and thus understand what priming techniques you might use in the negotiation.
Consider what you know about your opponent. Ask yourself:
✵ What triggers might you be able to use to agitate or calm the individual?
✵ What body language will you use to add emphasis to or soften what you are saying?
✵ What pressures might you apply to wear the other negotiator down or to pick her up?
✵ What persona are you going to project? Will you be the nice guy or harsh?
Part of priming is considering how you can increase the other person’s receptivity to the negotiation. For example, your first question on the phone when you call your opponent is, “Is this a good time to talk?” What does that question accomplish? Based on what you know of the other negotiator, you recognize that he is a powerful person who is used to being treated with deference. Your question about the timing of the discussion conveys that you are considerate and respectful.
You could also choose not to ask that question. Starting a negotiation without asking if the person is ready to talk could set the tone that you are an aggressive negotiator. “We need to get this deal done, and I don’t have time to waste; let’s do it now.” You are taking control.
Take into consideration the type of individual that you’re speaking to and how you expect him to react. Do you want to disarm a powerful person by being solicitous? Or do you want to control a weaker adversary?
What stimuli will you use throughout the negotiation to make the opponent feel a certain way? Plan how you will use those reactions to your advantage. Priming is akin to getting inside of the other negotiator’s mind-set and then determining how you might shift that mind-set to your advantage.
Your body language and words prime the other negotiator. Consider what body language gestures would best suit the message that you want to convey. For example, you could say with a smile on your face, “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to make sure you are 100% satisfied with this deal. You will have nothing to fear from it.” My voice conveys compassion and is consistent with my body language. Contrast that same sentence said while you shake your head and look doubtful. When confronted with a conflict between your body language and your words, your opponent is likely to react to your body language and become wary.
Offering food or drink is a common way to prime the other negotiator. Robert and Samantha are buying their first home together. They are ready to make an offer and are sitting with their realtor in the living room of the owner, Lorna. She asks, “Would you like anything to drink? Is there anything I can do to make you comfortable?” Lorna is trying to make the couple feel at home and more comfortable. The priming message is, “This is the right environment for you to be in. I’m going to make you feel comfortable.” What does that say subliminally? You are going to feel right at home. You should engage in this deal.
Lorna smiles and reaches over and touches the back of Robert’s hand while she says, “You will be at home here.” The smile goes a long way. She’s saying, “Let me show you how comforting this environment is going to be.” Lorna watches Robert’s reaction. As soon as she withdrew her hand, Robert pulled his hand away and hid it in his pocket.
That body language signal says, “Wait a minute; not so fast, Lorna. We just started talking, so let’s not move too quickly.” Therein lies a signal that told Lorna she had to do a little more work to convince this prospective buyer that this is the right environment. Robert is saying just with that one little gesture, “Don’t come so close to me so fast.”
Lorna shook her head as she realized her mistake. “I should have planned that better,” she thought. “He still looks ill at ease and Samantha is watching him, looking for a signal as to how he should behave.” Lorna asked them, “What can I get for you that will make you comfortable?” Samantha declined a drink. As Robert replied, “orange juice,” Lorna noted he avoided eye contact and looked around the living room.
Lorna thought, “I wonder if he is thinking about what it would be like to live here?” “The sunsets are beautiful from the deck—the sky fills this room with golden light,” she told them. She watched Robert and Samantha grin and relax back into the sofa.
Priming someone else on your team
Not only do you need to know about the other negotiator so that you can prime for the event appropriately as Jessica did with the flowers and the crystal glasses as opposed to the plastic cups, but you also need to know who is not at the negotiation table. From a priming perspective, always consider who will be at the negotiation table and who will not be there. Consider the impact of absent negotiators (silent stakeholders) and the priming tactics you might apply to influence them. As an example, you might consider making an offer or counteroffer that is extremely appealing tied to a time constraint to which the negotiator at the table cannot commit. Thus, she’d have to contact the power negotiator who is not at the table. By gaining such insight, you flush out the real power and you know to what degree the person at the table can negotiate. The person with whom you are really interacting with may be nothing more than a shill. If that’s the case, she then becomes a puppet. She’s there to find out your position. Your body language will convey your messages, seriousness, sincerity, and flexibility.
Remember, when you’re negotiating, the more information you have, the more options you can use.
Heidi Crawford glanced down at the word she wrote on the pad by her side: “Desperate.” Carlo Antonio sat across from her, quivering with anxiety. Carlo asked, “Are we ready to make a deal?” Recognizing that Carlo was putting up a front of bravado, although clearly in need of completing this deal, Heidi said, “I have to call my boss.” She excused herself and went out in the hall and spoke to her boss. “Sarah, here’s the situation. Carlo says he wants to sell his consulting services for $10,000 a year. I think we can get him down to $7,500. It is time for you to come in.” Note that Heidi could have asked for a concession from Carlo and then called Sarah. If she’d done so and Carlo denied Heidi’s request, Heidi and Sarah could have played a game of good cop/bad cop, which could have brought more pressure upon Carlo.
Let me take this a step further. Priming includes understanding your motivations for the negotiation, your mood, and your vulnerabilities.
Penny glanced up at Crystal, who stood in the threshold of her office. “Luke Fort is on the phone. He just got his invoice for our services, and he sounds really angry.” Penny groaned. Tired from not getting much sleep and feeling sluggish, Penny did not want to deal with an irate client. She took a deep sigh and said, “Please tell him I am involved in something right now and I will call him back in 10 minutes.” Shrugging on her coat, Penny walked out into the cold winter air. After pacing in front of her office for 10 minutes, she felt ready to speak to Luke about his concerns.
It is critical that you be aware of how much energy you have before you begin a negotiation. Priming yourself involves recognizing the hampering role of stress, fatigue, or preoccupation and taking steps to sharpen your focus.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Priming
Although you enter a negotiation with expectations about what will happen, there are often unpredictable factors that affect a negotiation. What kinds of cues can you pick up in the process of the negotiation that will give you feedback on whether the priming has been effective?
Bud Lorenzo felt himself getting angry at the man sitting next to him. Prior to their meeting, Brian told Bud that he was ready to close the deal. All they had to do was sign the papers. But the discussion was not going well. Bud saw the deal slipping away, so he decided to reveal some of his emotion. He displayed his aggression by leaning close to Brian as they talked. What Bud expected Brian to do was to lean to the opposite side to get further away from Bud.
Instead, Brian did not withdraw; he leaned toward Bud. “That did not work,” thought Bud. “I have to change my tactics.” Bud became more strident and loudly exclaimed, “I don’t think that’s appropriate. That offer you have on the table does not fit with what we had discussed before.” Bud was upping the game. “From what I know of this guy, I think he is going to back off,” thought Bud. Brian put his hand on Bud’s forearm and said, “Okay, let’s rethink that.” Brian’s body language said, “I need to placate you. I miscalculated.”
Consider what will also make someone feel as though he is in a more emotionally heated environment than is comfortable. Calculate to what degree that person will go in order to experience more comfort. These aspects can be observed during a negotiation and thus the reason you also need to know how you’re going to react to prime the next phase of the negotiation.
Priming in a Difficult Negotiation
Priming is an essential stage in a negotiation that centers around a complaint. You are a small-business owner who picks up the phone to hear Jake, an attorney client, who is upset and angry about an invoice. He has built up a head of steam, and feels indignant and wronged. His speech is rapid and pressured.
You have a choice. You can be defensive and refuse to talk to him until he is calmer, or you can listen. When you want to learn his concerns and negotiate a way to handle them, priming means creating an atmosphere for communication. Listen, don’t interrupt, and wait until Jake has wound down. These are examples of soothing questions that pave the way for two-sided communication:
Tell me what’s concerning you.
Let me hear your situation.
What were your expectations?
What would make you satisfied?
Understand how part of the limbic system works in our brains. The limbic system is set up to seek comfort. Jake is conveying to you that he is in a state of discomfort. When you use a soothing tone coupled with questions that show you really want to understand the person’s perspective, you are conveying concern. You are trying to comfort and accommodate the person. You’re setting the stage for saying, “Let’s enter into this negotiation and I’m going to take care of you.”
Suppose you reacted a different way. When Jake complained about the bill, you could have responded aggressively: “What are you talking about? You said you wanted us to bill you for 30 hours. We billed you for 25 hours. We gave you five extra hours for free. Are you mad? We don’t need to be dealing with people like you. I’ll tell you what; pay the invoice and we’ll call this quits right here.”
Suppose you adopted that particular stance. Most likely the lawyer would not have expected this kind of reaction. Depending on the personality type that other person has and to what degree you had leverage, the lawyer may acquiesce and say, “Wait a minute, I’m sorry. I really didn’t understand all of the variables that went into this bill. Now that you say you gave us five free extra hours of nonbillable time, I’m very appreciative. We’ll have the check in the mail to you tomorrow.”
Your priming determines the next steps in the negotiation process. You also set the tone for how that negotiator will act with you in the future.
My motto is you’re always negotiating. The reason I insist upon people understanding that is because that what you do today influences the next occurrence that you will engage in that could be a moment later with someone whom you’re negotiating with. It also influences how the two of you will interact in the future. Be mindful of the fact that you are constantly priming the other individual as to how to interact and react to you. Consider if it would be strategic for you to use your leverage to be softer or harsher. You are in control. Remember, the action you engage in will have an affect the next time you negotiate with that negotiator.
How do you recognize when people are using priming tactics against you? Just as you do research about your opponent, expect that others will do research about you. Don’t be caught off guard. Be attuned to your reputation and what others say about your negotiation style. The other negotiator has an expectation as to how you’re going to react in certain situations. Do you have a reputation as being easily angered? Are you known for your calmness?
Tom was known among his colleagues as a hothead. He flared into anger easily. His internist told him, “Tom, your blood pressure is too high. You need to learn some methods of controlling your anger. I would hate to see you have a stroke one day.” With this in mind, Tom resolved to not allow himself get riled up when he got into negotiations.
The next day, one of Tom’s coworkers, Victor, came storming into his cubicle. “What do you mean by this memo? Do you realize how bad it will make our department look?” Victor expected Tom to scream back. Tom leaned back in his chair to put distance between those words and how they affected him. After Victor finished his tirade, Tom leaned forward with a smile on his face and said, “Are you finished?” Tom threw him off by responding in a very calm manner. As he replied, “Let’s talk about this when you are finished screaming,” Tom watched Victor’s reaction. Victor looked puzzled.
Victor started to wonder, “Wait a minute, I just had this guy back on his heels and he was literally leaning away from me so I knew my tactic was working—or was it?”
Tom took the priming aspect that Victor thought would be effective and turned it around against him to a point that Victor wondered: “What happened to the Tom I used to know? Does this guy know something that I don’t necessarily know? Have I miscalculated the amount of leverage that I might have in this situation?” Tom’s unexpected reaction put Victor into a quandary. Victor questioned his effectiveness in using such a priming technique against Tom.
I mentioned earlier in the chapter that you may prime your adversary in the middle of the negotiation based on what is occurring. For example, you are negotiating with Amy, who is an aggressive person. She shoves a document in your direction and says, “Look, this is the best deal you’re going to get. Sign it or forget it!” Let’s say you play along. You make your hands tremble. While sitting at a table next to her, you reach for the document and you look at it. To gain a height advantage over Amy, you stand up. After stopping your trembling, you say with confidence, “If this is the best deal that I’m going to get, I don’t think we are going to have a deal.” You rip the paper up into small pieces and allow each little sliver of paper to fall onto the table. Then you start to walk slowly out of the room.
At that point in time you will have turned Amy’s tool of being antagonistic against her. Your knowledge of your leverage lets you see that you can still get a deal. Amy and you both know you have another choice; she knows her ploy of trying to prime you by displaying anger has truly backfired. Amy puts a hand on your shoulder and says, “Let’s not be hasty. Let’s sit down and talk.”
I had a situation once when one of my clients had a lawyer. He had a nasty attitude when he called me. We were discussing what he called his “take it or leave it” position. I told him, “You can now tell your client that you were the one who blew this deal” and I hung up on him. He waited a few days and sure enough called back and tried to be nice. We ended up concluding the deal, but the point is, I let him know his tactic was not going to work. He assumed his priming aspect would be effective: He was rough and tough; after all he was a lawyer and I was “just” a business person. Remember the importance of learning about the other negotiator. Find out who you’re dealing with.
Timing of Priming
You have a certain degree of control over when you use priming. For example, you can chose the time in a negotiation to display a different demeanor. As you analyze a situation, you may expect the other negotiator to respond in one particular manner. When it is to your advantage, you may apply a stimulus to get that negotiator to respond the way you wish. Consider your leverage points and who is not at the negotiation table. Ask yourself, “Where is this person getting her instructions? To what degree does she have the ability to go to a certain point in the negotiation and then stop because she’s been told she could take this negotiation up to this line and no further?”
If that’s the case and you have insight into how far she can go, you can push her to a point and understand that she can’t go past this point. Now apply other stimuli to reveal her plan. She says, “I need to reconvene at another time,” to which you say “Why?”
Her: “I need to assess what you have discussed thus far.”
You: “What is it that you need to assess?”
Her: “I need to just think about this offer a little more.”
You: “How might I be able to help you think about it a little more so as to help us move forward?”
What you’re doing is making an assessment as to how much further she might be able to go. Your objective is to see to what degree she needs to go back and talk to somebody else. You are using that mind-set to not only cue her to change her perception of the negotiation, but you’ve also taken that time to gather more insight and information from her. This will arm you with more leverage that you can utilize later in the negotiation.
Priming at the end of the negotiation
You have reached the end of the negotiation and are ready to use priming to evaluate the firmness of the deal. Confirm your understanding of the covenants of the deal with the other individual by observing her body language at that time.
Is she smiling?
Is she receptive to the deal?
Test the vulnerability of certain aspects of the deal to see to what degree, based on her body language, that she might be amenable to meeting those obligations. I like to use this example: “You’ll have a wire transfer to my bank for a million dollars by next Tuesday end of business day, correct?” You’re smiling at your female opponent. You’re literally leading her with your body language by nodding your head and saying “Yes.” She says, “Yes, I definitely will,” and she’s nodding her head also. Contrast that to her not smiling or following your lead as you nod your head. If she starts to stammer, you know that she is somewhat hesitant as to whether she can deliver.
You might then say to her because you’ve sensed hesitancy, “I believe what you’re saying. If the check is not there, just please understand I will have to accept this deal from another entity.”
Now you’ve primed her to understand that if the wire transfer does not take place on Tuesday, the deal is off. Knowing how badly she needs the deal now, you have primed her to acknowledge she will lose the deal if the money is not there. That’s one way that you can use priming to assure at the end of the deal that all the terms are actually met.
Here is another tactic you can use. Don’t shake your opponent’s hand at the end of the deal. Now remember that you’ve already primed her to know if she does not abide by the covenants of the agreement that the deal is off. You already know that she wants that deal and she wants it badly. It’s commonplace for a handshake to occur at the conclusion of a deal. The failure to shake hands could signify that the negotiator is not enamored with this deal and has alternate plans.
Suppose you do not shake her hand at the conclusion of the deal. You say, “You’ll have the money to us by next Tuesday, correct?” She says, “Yes, we will.” Notice how she says this: Is her voice firm and assured? Does she display a level of commitment?
You respond, “Okay, I have to leave. I look forward to connecting with you after we receive that wire transfer next week. I’ll talk with you then,” and you’re out the door. She’s thinking to herself, “This guy is really serious.” You are reinforcing from a priming perspective the fact that you have another deal in place if this one falls through. Her deal to you is not as important as she may have thought. You now have primed her to get this agreement completed. She’s going to go ahead and make all the efforts that are needed. She may end up having that money to you by Monday just to show exactly how serious she is about abiding by the covenants of the deal because she needs it so badly.
This is another signal that you can perceive from her actions simply because you used a body language gesture of not shaking her hand to reinforce the position you placed her in from a priming position.
Understand the effectiveness of priming. The environment can invoke pleasant memories associated with good times. By managing the environment, you can set the expectations for the interactions that are to occur as you actually enter into a negotiation.
Consider how the limbic system allows you to experience pleasure and avoid displeasure. When you experience displeasure you will seek comfort, and one way to lead someone into a more comfortable state is simply a smile. A baby’s mother smiles and the baby starts to smile right back. The baby is experiencing comfort. The baby is hungry. The baby starts to cry to display his discomfort. That is not taught. That’s innate. Those are factors that are innate in all of us. We all seek comfort when we are in a state of discomfort.
When it comes to priming, all you need to do is assess how you might be able to shift the perspective of your opponent from a state of comfort or discomfort. Apply the perfect stimuli in order to get the other negotiator to experience discomfort or comfort. You will be able to manipulate him by using stimuli throughout the negotiation.
It is important to efficiently plan how to use priming in a negotiation. Be adaptive in the negotiation; be aware of when you are experiencing comfort and discomfort. If you use a tactic that doesn’t work and you thought it was going to produce a certain result, you’re going to place yourself into a state of discomfort. Understand the impact that priming has in everyday aspects of our lives, especially in a negotiation because you’re always negotiating.