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Perception Is Reality

One of my negotiation idols is Herb Cohen. In a conversation I had with Herb (episode 33 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast), the biggest golden nugget for me was the re-affirmation that perception is everything in negotiation. He said:

Perception is reality. Power is based upon perception. If you think you got it, but don’t have it, you got it. If you think you don’t got it, but have it, you don’t have it. What the hell people think is more important than what is really going on.

Perception is everything in negotiation. And you, as one of the parties in the negotiation have the opportunity to change the perception of the other party or use their perceptions to your benefit.

Make no mistake, negotiation isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The person that you are negotiating with is likely going to try to condition you to believe many things that are in their favor.They will deliberately try to manipulate your thoughts to make you believe that they are either strong or weak (depending on their motivation), that your options are better or worse than what they are offering (depending on what they want), or that they price attached to what they are buying or selling is good or bad (depending on what side of the table they’re sitting on). Now this kind of behavior isn’t good or bad, it just is the way it is. But knowing this, wouldn’t it make sense to identify these tactics, learn to defend against them, and then use them for your own benefit?

The most common area you’ll run into with regards to conditioning and changing perceptions is when someone is trying to make you believe that the options or alternatives (your BATNA) you have available are not as strong as you think they are. It serves to benefit whomever you’re negotiating with if you believe that your alternatives are not very strong. Because if you believe that your options are limited and not strong, then the likelihood that you’ll close a deal that is in favor of the other party significantly increases.

Experienced negotiators are great at selling how amazing their offer is (raising the perceived value of their offer) and even better at making their competition look bad without overtly slagging  them (lowering the perceived value of the competition). This kind of conditioning comes in the form of opinion, conjecture and rumors. Think about the last time you negotiated when someone told you they ‘heard a rumor’ about their competition. Or perhaps when someone, even with positive intentions, tells you that their ‘opinion’ is that their service or product is better than everything else available in the market place. This is not really giving you any proven information. These are only rumors, opinions and conjectures.

Your job, as a responsible negotiator, is to TRUST, BUT VERIFY. Don’t take what they are saying as the gospel. Verify whether what they are saying is correct and factual. And if you cannot verify it, then you MUST cast it aside as anecdotal. Your alternatives should only ever be influenced by fact. Never ever let your alternatives be affected by rumor, conjecture or opinion. In order for you to truly be unaffected by this type of conditioning you really have to know your alternatives well. You should have all your alternatives written down with strengths and weaknesses, and understand what opportunities are available with each and what may threaten those opportunities.

So now that you know how to defend against the conditioning influence of the other party, how can you use this tool to better serve your needs?

Perception Activity:

Easy Answer: Learn to sell – Learn to sell your offer well. And it doesn’t matter if you’re not a sales person. You still need to know how to sell. There are tons of amazing selling resources out there (I recommend reading anything by Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino).

But before you do, start by answering these questions:

  • What are the features and benefits attached to your offer and how do those benefits meet the need of the party you’re negotiating with?
  • What are the features and benefits attached to your competition’s offer and how do those benefits meet the need of the party you’re negotiating with?
  • How does your offers benefits exceed those of the competition?
  • What is the unique competitive advantage of your offer?

The very nature of selling learning to sell will develop your conditioning muscle and open up an entirely new world for you in negotiation.

Learning to sell is a never ending activity that I encourage all to get in the habit of doing. Like negotiation, it’s a discipline you can learn and master if you commit yourself to the practice.