When I was nine years old, one of my friends Adam and I first visited the USA when we made our first trip to the USA as a family.
One day, Adam asked the chief villain to meet him outside the building, and we met alone. At the centre of our brief negotiations was a small, outstretched hand with a smile on his face. Stunned by the gesture, the child, who had been bullied for his appearance and poor English, became friends.
In most of my writings on negotiations, surprise has been treated as a negative tactic. By adding new partners, changing deadlines, and reversing promises, we can throw our opponents out of the game and let them make bad decisions.
Negative surprises can indeed be effective, but negotiators can also use surprise more positively to signal cooperation, generate creativity, destabilize negative patterns, and gain a positive reputation.
Surprises, while fleeting, are cognitively complex, and to use them constructively, we must begin with an understanding of what a surprise is. A Tania co-author and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, points out in Surprise:
When something unexpected happens to us, we freeze and call for a so-called “surprise reaction” – a reaction to the unexpected event, such as a phone call, a visit from a friend, or a new job.
Next, our brain tries to find an explanation, but as soon as we draw a conclusion, we experience a cognitive and emotional shift. P300 brainwaves, which forces us to focus on the discrepancy and also changes our perspective. We always think in terms of the “good” or “bad” side of things and not vice versa.
According to neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz, surprise intensifies our emotions by about 400%. Let us now consider how to proceed with the surprise sequence in a negotiation. We can share our surprise with others to give it meaning and reduce its cognitive burden.
Let’s say you get a low offer: you expect a market salary, but you have an offer that doesn’t even cover your rent. First, you freeze in the computer – in charging mode – and wonder if you will get the offer you expected.
Given how destabilising surprises can be, they are likely to strike, but a positive surprise, such as an unexpected signing bonus, would make you feel like you’re getting the best deal in the world you don’t get. Then go to a scathing review of Glassdoor and decide there’s definitely no way to change your mind. You get annoyed because it would be you if you knew your salary, and then you have to get to know them.
The expectation of the unexpected can diminish the disorienting effects of surprise, and even make it easier to recognize the chance to seize it forever. Although planning and preliminary negotiations are valuable, it is impossible to prepare for each outcome. When something unexpected happens, a good negotiator must remain surprised, but especially the following skills are useful to help negotiators harness the power of positive surprise. Learn more about my work at LifeLabs Learning and the benefits of surprises and positive surprises in negotiations.
Instead of getting carried away, postponing a degree, suspending judgment, and entering question mode (this ability is called “stepping”).
Research by the Huthwaite Group found that negotiators asked more questions than their counterparts in the United States, Canada and the European Union. In fact, 21.3% of all communication was spent on ensuring that the right questions were asked and that more of them were asked, which increased uncertainty.
Research by LifeLabs Learning revealed a similar pattern: Executives at work had employees who unexpectedly demanded an increase, saying they had been undervalued for too long. Personally, this increase meant a significant increase in my salary and a reduction in the number of hours I had to work.
As a result of the Q & A, it became clear that the employee was seen as an important contributor. Both of us could effectively negotiate an adjustment of the visibility of this employee, save money and retain this important member of our team. Even after the trial, I got into a state of curiosity and said to myself, “I wonder what makes me think.
This is one of the classic principles of improvisation, but how do you keep a completely unwritten scene dynamically interesting? Make sure that the first step you take is at least one question, and then say it while building your scenic idea. Say: “My scene partner is going to propose to me, so how about saying:” I’m interested in the proposal you’re making.
Say: “I’m going vegan, so how about saying:” I’m over the moon for you”?
But most of us are quick to dismiss surprise as a threat to our plans, and, like Improv, an unexpected negotiation proposal can lead to a much more interesting conversation than you and your partner expected. The more your scene and your partner build on each other’s ideas, the more surprising and entertaining your performance will be.
In highly competitive negotiations, the ideal scenario of a win-win scenario that can achieve the best possible outcome for both you and your partner (and the other person you are negotiating with) is rarely realistic.
You can reduce your costs by 10%, secure a customer in your city, sell 1,000 copies, be satisfied with a lower salary, move your furniture, and win customers in any city.
Surprise can also be used to foster collaboration and creativity and can be handled well by those who can handle it well. I love this surprising ability because it leads negotiators to develop more ideas and seek new solutions, rather than being stuck in fixed positions.
Imagine, for example, that instead of the typical formal start of negotiations, you say: “I want this to go well. These kinds of positive, unexpected steps can create a new level of trust between you and the other person in the negotiation process. Can you agree that you will not agree until you are both happy, or can you both agree to be happy?
Adam negotiated with a neighbour who was annoyed by the noise of the piano playing from his apartment. When the neighbour arrived at his house, he was ready for a confrontation, but did not.
Instead, Adam asked him about his favourite composer, and the neighbour, perplexed, said cautiously: “Chopin. The invitation changed the tone of the negotiations and led to a much friendlier relationship. Finally, he invited the family to a private Chopin recital played by his wife and some of his friends.
This surprising rupture has taken the tension out of the room and increased the willingness of people to cooperate. An even more unconventional example comes from a warehouse manager I interviewed, whose approach was so unconventional that he continued even after leaving the company. Whenever the team got into an impasse or a conflict in negotiations, he played his favourite Elvis album and invited everyone to dance. Despite initial scepticism, staff competed over who would play their favourite music, and the tradition has continued to this day.
We should always expect the unexpected in negotiations, but a surprise of this magnitude can quickly affect not only the outcome of the negotiations but also the mood of everyone in the room at this time.
The best negotiators know how to reduce the negative effects and amplify the positive ones. If you are dealing with a bully in the playground (or with an adult, especially if you are the bully), I urge you to use one of the tools in this article at your next hearing. The results may surprise you, but they will also have a positive effect on everyone else in the room.