For the last 5 years I have worked around the world training people how to negotiate more effectively, both in commercial and personal environments. For a wide range of clients I have exposed common negotiation mistakes, revealed top tips to get what you want and boost profit margins and explored the myths and stereotypes around how men and women negotiate differently.
However, over time I have come to realise that all of the training and coaching that I deliver to my clients is useless.
That is, it's useless unless you take the time to understand one of the most important and powerful forces in negotiation. It is a force that is often under-estimated, misunderstood or simply ignored altogether...and yet it is a force that if harnessed can massively increase your chances of securing the best possible deal.
May I introduce you to...the little voice in your head.
'The little voice in your head' is the forgotten party in many negotiations and yet it has the ability to derail the most prepared and intelligent of people, make you sell yourself short, lose your confidence or assume your counterparty is in a far stronger position than they really are.
It's easy to recognise 'that little voice'. It sounds something like this:
'You can't say that' or 'You can't go that high' or 'You don't really know what you are talking about do you?' or 'They will never agree to that'...
I routinely work with clients and they are smart, intelligent people who have studied the facts, numbers and detail and have a plan for how they want to negotiate, yet as soon as they get to the negotiating table that little voice kicks in and preys on their stress and anxiety. It's at that point all of their clever planning goes out of the window and they listen to that little voice and they sell themselves short, don't aim high enough or don't push back as they assume they are only going to lose.
We all have that little voice in our heads. Whether you are young or old, male or female, recent graduate or CEO. It's there. It's just for some people that voice speaks so loudly to them that it clouds their judgment, erodes their confidence and ultimately prevents them negotiating as effectively as they could.
So, how do you stop yourself from being a victim to the little voice in your head?
1: Get to know your little voice: One of the most powerful ways to combat that little voice is simply to recognise it's there! By accepting and recognising its existence you have already taken away some of its hold over you as it is then less likely to be able to pop up and derail you unexpectedly.
2: Listen to it! Try having a listen to what the little voice is saying. Reflect on the messages you hear in your head when you are in a high stakes or stressful negotiation. Annoying and limiting as that little voice is, it also reflects your inner concerns, apprehensions and fears. By simply writing down what that little voice says to you at high pressure moments you can start to prepare to fight back.
3: Counter it: Once you have identified the negative messages you can start to build robust responses. So if in preparing for a salary negotiation that little voice whispers 'They will never agree to that figure!' or 'You're not worth that much!' use this to your advantage by going off and researching why you are worth that much or what other employers are paying for your level of expertise. We are most vulnerable when we haven't prepared or don't have supporting information, so listen to the fears being voiced in your head...and go find out all the information you need to answer back.
4: Drown it out: So much of effective negotiation is about confidence. Negotiation can be challenging, awkward and uncomfortable and this impacts our performance. One tip is to start to drown out the negative messages before you even get to the negotiation table. Before that little voice is able to kick in, take the time to tell yourself what you really want to hear...that you are valuable, worth it, well prepared, confident, compelling...and keep telling yourself that.
5: Recognise they have one too: Guess what? It's not just you that has the little voice. Your counterparty does too. And their little voice is whispering to them about their pressures and anxieties. A smart negotiator realises that if all they focus on is their own little voice then they are missing a huge opportunity to tip the balance of power and gain valuable insight as to the key issues in the negotiation. Whilst doing your research take the time to think about what the concerns and fears of your counterparty might be. By understanding that you can start to use the information to your advantage.
After all; they are only human too.
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