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If You Feel the Need to Say You "Are"... You "Are Not"

Mike Freedman

When we ask people to define negotiation on the Scotwork pre-course paperwork, purchasing people very often refer to “finding a middle road” or “common ground”. They deal every day with variables about which they and the people across the table feel differently and what they really mean is “let’s split the difference”. Sales people however refer to “persuasion” often as their all encompassing definition of negotiation. This persuasion they see as a unilateral process of changing the view of the other party in order to have them accept their offer or opinion. Salespeople often consider this to be an essential fundamental skill of their trade.

Persuasion is an instinctive approach to conflict in an attempt to change the view of the other party(ies) towards our own. The reason we resort to this is very simply because if we indeed reach agreement solely through persuasion the cost to us is NOTHING. Persuasion is clearly an attractive option, but in our minds persuasion takes on an importance that far outweighs its prospects of success. Just as more people buy a lottery ticket than can expect to win, it seems that we invest a considerable amount of time in persuasion because it is spectacularly cost-free if successful and the persuasive party feels an enormous personal sense of achievement if the outcome is successful. Conversely, as is most often the case, when persuasion fails it feels personal; there is a sense of loss of honour or pride.

The newspapers report significant disputes every day where often the only attempt made to resolve differences has been persuasion.  Our politicians proudly announce “No concessions” to the electorate and immediately they reduce their options.  We too see that week by week even the most experienced negotiators resort to persuasion like a reflex action at the beginning of the course. The amount of time they spend on attempting to change the other party’s view is hugely disproportionate to their odds of succeeding to that aim. They often repeat themselves over and over, incredulous that the other party is unpersuaded.

During negotiations we see that a large number of experienced negotiators believe that by expressing approval of their own proposals they expect to add weight to the proposal itself.  They say things like “you won’t get a better offer than that” or “If I was in your position I would accept that immediately”.  Whenever I hear such attempts at persuasion, Margaret Thatcher comes to mind. She famously said, “Being right is like being a ‘Lady’”. If you feel the need to say that you ‘ARE’… then you are NOT”.

Proposals should speak for themselves; they do not need the “persuasion” of the proposing party. No-one ever accepted a marriage proposal of their free will because of anything that was said after “Will you marry me?” The only opinion that counts after a proposal is that of the receiving party.

Stand back from persuasion and realise that any attempt to persuade that involves your opinion as the persuading party as opposed to plain facts is doomed to failure.  Your opinion when added to the argument actually devalues your attempt to change the other party’s point of view. Taking this a step further and to view persuasion as simply exceptionally good information sharing. 

Distilled even further I am these days beginning to question whether or not persuasion even deserves to be a noun.  Persuasion can comfortably be viewed as an outcome as opposed to an action.

Try to think of persuasion as the successful result of timely, accurate, opinion-free and relevant information sharing.  These disclosures should manage/shape the expectations of the other party to your benefit.  If opinion-free then I think it’s worth a try, but if it doesn’t work (the odds suggest you should not be surprised) and you can’t improve the quality of the disclosure then you should try something else. 

A Scotwork –trained professional possesses a whole arsenal of skills aimed at dealing with conflict.  If you still think that persuasion is your best option in a sales, purchasing or conflict situation, talking to Scotwork will greatly increase your options.

Mike Freedman


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