For a lot of business and personal negotiations—say with your kid over bedtime—negotiation is a one-man or -woman gig. A single woman buying a house on her own can’t and shouldn’t rent a husband just to negotiate the deal. But it’s the concept of separation that’s important here, not the game card. Negotiating and decision making can be separated in a multitude of ways, not just by using physically different people. A one-man team simply has to adopt strategies to make sure the roles stay separate.
These strategies are not rocket science. You can go with the ol’ “Let me sleep on it” tactic, which lets you step away from the table and change roles. “Sounds like we’re almost there,” you tell the other person. “But let me just take a day to think it over.”
A slight variation is the time-honored “Let me discuss it with my spouse/partner/parakeet” line, used even when the spouse/partner/parakeet is the last person in the world actually making a real decision.
Let me sleep on it. . . .
I have another appointment but I think we’re almost there. . . .
You get the picture.
Merging the Roles
So, what if the other side tries to break down the separation?
The easy answer is: Don’t let them. And if you understand how it’s commonly done, you won’t.
There are only two tactics the other side can use to get the negotiator to merge the roles. To be fair, they may not see it as an adversarial tactic at all; from their point of view they’re trying to close the deal. They think the negotiation is done, whereas you know that the negotiation isn’t done—you’re not ready for the closing—until the commander reviews the negotiated terms.
One tactic a negotiator can try when someone asks for more time to make a decision is the “ego play.” The other is the negotiating deadline.
The ego play works as some sort of variation on the old line: “Who wears the pants in your family, anyway?”
Sure, generally it’s done much more subtly, but you get the idea. The best way to deal with ego plays is to recognize that that’s what’s going down. We all need a stroke now and again—but don’t look for it from the other negotiator.
I’ll go into deadlines in greater detail in Chapter 8, “The Two Ds—Demands and Deadlines.” Along with demands, it’s one of the two Ds that rookie negotiators fear but old pro’s love. You can skip ahead, or you can remember this until we get there: Most deadlines are bullshit.
And most of the ones that aren’t can be negotiated.
And the ones that can’t are bullshit.
If the deal you’ve negotiated isn’t strong enough to allow you a few hours of contemplation or whatever you need, it’s not a good deal. Period.
Separation, Separation, Separation
As an NYPD negotiator I had absolutely no problem remembering that I wasn’t the commander: He was generally the guy in the room with the shiniest badge and the largest hat size. In most everyday situations, you can keep the roles separate by planning for them to be separate before negotiations begin.
Plan to negotiate, plan to break when you’ve got your best possible deal—when you’ve nailed down all of the difficult issues. Plan it right down to the exact words you want to use. If you’re negotiating on the telephone—a favorite in hostage negotiations, since it’s a heck of a lot safer than standing ten feet away from a guy with a gun—write it at the top of your notepad. Hey, tattoo it to your wrist if you have to. There are worse things on people’s arms, believe me.