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Why You Need Muscle Memory in Negotiation with Julia Ewert, Ep #273

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Becoming effective as a negotiator is simply a process of developing skills. But that doesn’t mean it’s a simple process. It requires dedication and diligence to maximize your ability to achieve your desired outcomes in your negotiations. This is a skill set that can and should be developed by every salesperson, procurement professional, and of course, negotiator. It consists of many things, tools if you will, that must become second nature to you so that they are available at a moment’s notice. Negotiation and sales trainer Julia Ewert calls this skills development “negotiation muscle memory” and believes that the more you can develop it, the more proficient and successful you’ll become. We also address the power of open questions, how to defuse tension using negotiation skills, and how negotiation skills can help businesses convert more sales. Enjoy! Don’t miss this fascinating conversation.


Outline of This Episode

  • [1:26] Julia Ewert’s background and experience with the biggest companies in the world
  • [2:04] Muscle memory is a negotiation skill you can develop
  • [8:47] How long does it take to build the muscle of asking open questions?
  • [13:59] How negotiation skills help you manage tense situations
  • [17:28] Handling tough conversations when trust is absent
  • [23:20] Julia’s favorite tool: Strategic silence

Good negotiation skills must become like muscle memory

Negotiations are fluid interactions and often regarding high-stakes issues. As a negotiator, you want to bring your “A” game every time. You can’t expect sloppy preparation or skills you learned once upon a time to serve you well. You’re taking a huge gamble on an important interaction if you do. It deserves more attention than that.

You’ve got to become a student of negotiation so that you can learn and hone proven negotiation skills through application. As you put in the work, your skills become more natural, automated over time, and you find that you’ve developed the “muscle memory” Julia refers to in this conversation. But beware, once you’ve mastered the skills, you’ll need to apply ongoing practice and diligent attention to keep your negotiation muscle memory active and available.

How negotiation muscle memory helps you ask the right kind of questions

One of the most practical areas to begin your focus on developing negotiating muscle memory is in the type of questions you ask. Most people ask closed questions (questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”) simply because they are easy to come up with. But they aren’t worth much when it comes to eliciting much-needed information. This form of question also tends to shut down a conversation instead of opening it up. In a negotiation, you want to get the parties across the table talking, sharing, revealing their reasons for entering into the negotiation in the first place and what they really want out of it. You do this by asking open-ended questions. Julia says it’s not hard to learn the skill but it’s terribly hard to make it a muscle memory-type habit. But it’s essential that you do if you want to be successful as a negotiator.

Muscle memory helps you when a negotiation gets tense

Emotion is present in every negotiation, but often it’s under the surface. It becomes more evident when the stakes in a negotiation rise or disagreement become apparent. In those moments, it’s easy to fall into a default response or reaction rather than leaning on the negotiation skills you’ve practiced. This is why the muscle memory Julia mentions is so important. When the heat is on, you must know how to diffuse the situation, move the conversation forward, and do so without hesitation and with skill.

How emotional or tense situations can be diffused through negotiation skills

What do you do when a negotiation becomes heated, tense, or touchy? Julia says that negotiation done right sets the stage for people to tell the truth. Believe it or not, drawing attention to the existence of the emotion in the room can often elevate the conversation. That’s because everyone feels the emotion in the room, and the person who calls it what it is in a non-accusatory and honest way opens the door for everyone to be more honest. Again, your “muscle memory” comes into play in similar situations. Negotiations tools you should pull from your arsenal in a case like this are:

  • Let them empty their tank (they want to feel heard).
  • Practice strategic silence.
  • Learn to respond with “OK. UmHm. Right, tell me more about that” rather than closed questions or defensive responses.

There is a lot more to learn from Julia so be sure you take the time to listen. You’ll gain more insight into how you can develop the muscle memory needed to be effective in negotiations.

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