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Effective Negotiation Will Never Happen Without This, with Dan Oblinger, Ep #119 

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My guest on this episode learned effective negotiation in the trenches, working as a hostage and crisis negotiator. But don’t let the fact that his negotiations often happened in life and death situations convince you that his experience is worlds apart from whatever it is that you do. It’s not. What he learned in that high-pressure environment transfers across the board to every discipline. You can apply the principles to procurement, sales, and a variety of other business applications – not to mention your personal relationships.

Dan Oblinger is a hostage negotiator, author, international keynote speaker, and fuel behind the Leadercraft brand of workshops and training. He graduated from the FBI National Crisis Negotiator Course in 2018 and teaches frequently on the topics of active listening, negotiations, ethics, leadership, culture, and crisis management. The stories he shares in this episode illustrate that the power behind successful negotiations is not in the words you use, but in the words you don’t use. Join us for this insightful and practical conversation.

Outline of This Episode

  • [3:00] A story about a woman who was ready to jump off a bridge
  • [6:15] The importance of doing pre-work before engaging in a negotiation
  • [9:30] What you need to say when beginning a negotiation
  • [13:52] Listening becomes the superpower for most negotiations
  • [20:51] The major role of practice in any skill, especially negotiations

The first essential to effective negotiation is the art of listening

There are many things Dan has learned in his experience as a negotiator, but the one thing that has become a predominant theme in his work and professional training is the powerful role listening plays in any negotiation. The first time he learned it was in his very first crisis negotiation. A woman was on a bridge, about to jump, and he came on the scene with a head full of pre-formulated solutions. As he spoke to the woman, he found her to be increasingly resistant to his suggestions the more time he spent with her. It wasn’t making sense to him.

What he learned was that he hadn’t taken the time to listen, to understand what she was feeling and the true reasons why she was on the bridge in the first place. Without that information, he limited his effectiveness by degrading trust from the outset.

Effective listening begins with pre-work

As in Dan’s situation, listening begins before you ever step into the room (or onto the bridge) with the person you must negotiate with. Nothing is gained by stepping in too quickly. The agents coming on the scene know that sort of approach puts the entire situation at risk. Instead, they will take the time to assess the scene they are stepping into. An effective negotiation – in crisis situations or in sales and procurement – requires pre-work.

Dan’s advice about pre-work:

First, you must gather intelligence. If you know how to ask good questions you can glean information that will help you assess the situation quickly and accurately

Next, make sure you have all the needed resources for a possible negotiation. Resources can take the form of data, or people, or tools, but make sure you have what you need.

Finally, approach the situation with YOUR emotions in check. When you can present a calm, professional, experienced demeanor to the person on the other side of the negotiation, you bring a sense of stability and trust to the scene that is almost always needed.

You can’t advocate for a solution if you don’t know what the problem is

In his first crisis negotiation, Dan tried to cut to the chase, attempting to move the woman toward his preconceived solution before hearing her out. It was a mistake. It’s the reason she became entrenched and didn’t want to interact with him at all.

Why? He didn’t take the time to win her trust and make himself her ally. To her, it appeared he was stepping into the situation to make her do something she didn’t want to do. She had placed herself into that situation for a reason and Dan had no clue what it was.

That’s a key point we need to pay close attention to. We can’t advocate for solutions – in business or life – until we understand the motivating factors of the person on the other side of the negotiation. How do we gain access to that information? By listening.

Dan points out that the themes for a beneficial outcome have to develop as you negotiate, you discover them by asking questions and listening carefully to the answers you receive. The point of every negotiation is to genuinely care for the human on the other side, not to win. Listening is the only thing that makes that possible.

There is no way to become a skilled listener except by practice

Over the years of his career, Dan learned the power of effective negotiation is listening, and the only way to become good at listening is by practicing it. He’s expanded his knowledge of the craft of listening by studying what is now known as “active listening.” Active listening means that you learn to listen with more than just your ears. You give full attention to the speaker and demonstrate that you’re truly hearing what they express through your body language and eye contact. Through the continual practice of active listening, you can begin to understand the true power of listening – empathy.

That may sound a bit “fluffy” for a business negotiation, but it’s actually the key. Understanding the problems and feelings that have driven the person across the table to seek a solution is how you know what to suggest as a solution. When you’re able to understand on that level and to express it clearly, you will be able to build the rapport and trust needed to come to a place of agreement.

Dan’s experience and advice about effective negotiations serve us well in this conversation. Be sure you listen to this episode to learn how to be a better listener, not only in your next negotiation but as a habit for your life.

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