How to Spot a Liar … Maybe

January 10th, 2011

I’m deeply mistrustful of mind-reading systems for detecting liars, such the pseudo science offered up in the wrong-on-so-many-counts movie, “The Negotiator”. (“If your eyes go up and right, you’re accessing the brain’s creative centers and we know you’re full of shit.”) Ah, if only it were so easy we wouldn’t be buried in the stuff these days.

That said, NPR yesterday reported on some interesting research led by Stanford Business School Professor David Larcker on the verbal patterns of liars ( These could all be helpful in negotiating, with a major caveat. Here are the three warning signs Larcker’s team detected:

  • When asked a direct question, the liar tends to answer indirectly or change the topic (e.g. asked whether he thought it was wrong to dress up as a Nazi, candidate Richard Iott replied, “I don’t see anything wrong about educating the public about events that happened.”)
  • Liars tend to use more strongly positive words, perhaps to compensate for negative feelings. (”If all my speech is ‘fantastic,’ ’superb,’ ‘outstanding,’ ‘excellent’ and sounds like a big hype — it probably is,” Larcker says.)
  • People seeking to hide the truth will hide behind general pronouns such as “we” or “our team” rather than saying “I.”

Here’s the caveat:  I’d never assume someone is lying merely because he’s an indirect speaker or she tends to get carried away by superlatives. Both speech patterns and cultural differences are just as likely to be the cause. Asians rarely speak with the same directness as Westerners; and Americans are famous for their unusual fondness for strongly positive adjectives (“Have a GREAT day!”). Gender also plays a significant role. The subjects of Larckner’s study were CEOs, a disproportionately male group. In fact, women have a strong preference for saying “we” rather than “I”—it’s just the way we speak.

The best way of spotting deception is having enough of a relationship with the other party to know when something sounds off-key. If all at once your very direct counterpart starts speaking circuitously or, when asked about concerns, launches into a riff about what a fabulous and exciting opportunity this is, your lie-detecting antennae should start quivering. However, it has to begin by knowing the other party well enough to detect change.

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Ask, Don’t Tell

January 10th, 2011

Want a sure-fire method for improving your exchanges with others? Stop telling them what you think and start asking questions.

An effective negotiation—or any decent conversation—is a dialogue. That involves reaching outside of your mental box and connecting your thoughts to other party’s.

Declarative statements about your opinions, ideas or desires, on the other hand, are merely a description of the contents of your personal mental box—useful for providing information, perhaps, but not for reaching an understanding with the other party. In fact declarative statements are often so laden with presumptions that they actually inhibit communication.

If person A says to person B, “I think we should do it this way,” the communication flow ends there. B now knows what A thinks. No response was asked for or is necessary and B can remain disengaged.  If, on the other hand, A asks, “What if we were to do it this way?” B feels invited in and a dialogue begins.

If A says to B, “You should do X,” B feels not so much disengaged as resistant—especially if A has no rightful authority over B. B’s mind is likely whirring with annoyance, “Excuse me! What do you know about my situation, my goals, my restrictions, or my concerns?” The walls on each party’s mental box grow so thick that no communication can get through. A could have had a much more positive effect by asking, “Have you considered doing  X?” then following up on B’s answer with more questions to get a thorough understanding of the constraints and come up with ways to surmount them.

In short, if you want to increase your influence, learn to phrase your statements as questions. If you just want to tell people what’s on your mind, write a blog. :)

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How to Get That Job Interview

January 10th, 2011

Although securing a job interview doesn’t strictly qualify as negotiation, your chances can certainly benefit from using the GRASP method to get your foot in the door. Most importantly, before you send that resume out, think hard about both your and the employer’s Goals.

Why do you want THIS job?  The answer may be that you desperately need a paycheck and haven’t thought much about where it comes from, but revealing that by sending out a generic résumé and cover letter isn’t going to take you  far—especially in this highly competitive job market with employers deluged with qualified candidates. To make a strong impression with the prospective employer, you need to be able to articulate in your cover letter why you want the particular position you’re applying for, or at least a position with that particular company.  Even if you are brilliantly qualified, your résumé won’t speak for itself; you will need to clarify why the job you are seeking genuinely appeals to you, to dispel the natural assumption it is merely a stop-gap until you can find something better.

Considering why you want a particular position—the type of work you most enjoy, the knowledge or skills you hope to gain, the lifestyle you’re looking for, your career path, your need for stability, challenge or excitement—will help you to separate the jobs you really want from those you are pursuing only because your friends of family think it’s a great opportunity. By knowing your own goals you will also be more articulate in expressing why you would be the right person to hire.

What do they want? Hiring a new employee is not a duck shoot. An employer is making an investment of time and money to find someone with specific knowledge, abilities or proven potential, who will fill explicit needs, blend into the company’s social structure, and stay long enough to make that investment worthwhile. That’s why organizations write detailed job descriptions and paragraphs if not pages about their vision and mission. They are looking for a specific person.

Look at the details in the job description—then adjust your résumé to emphasize how you are qualified to perform those tasks. The point of a  résumé is not to tell your life story, but to show that you have the skills and knowledge that employer is looking for. It’s a matter of selecting  which of the many things you have done in the past that is most relevant to the current position.

If you come from a job managing a sales team and are applying for a job as a general manager, for example, you might emphasize the size of the team you managed, your range of duties,  etc. If you are applying for a sales job, however, you might want to rewrite that entry to emphasize the sales targets you hit. If it’s an international position, the entry might focus on how your sales team covered three continents and involved considerable travel on your part. And so forth. Your goal is to show how you could credibly achieve the prospective employers goals.

Finally, spend some time looking at the employer’s website and other information you can find on the net to show the company philosophy and chief accomplishments. Then refer specifically to that philosophy or reputation in your cover letter. Remember that the person reading your cover letter is a human being—and like all human beings we are attracted to people who admire us. It will certainly get you more attention than will the person who just wants a job.

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How to Create a Positive Connection

January 10th, 2011

Some readers of Beyond Dealmaking have said that, although they see the value of building relationships with their business partners, they don’t know how to get started. How do you develop a relationship with someone you may not know well or have only spoken to on the phone? Of course you cannot give complete trust to a stranger, but you can start to build trust by creating a positive connection.

Every relationship, regardless of depth, requires words, attitudes, and behavior that express fellow-feeling. Here is my top-ten list for negotiators:

  • Respect, friendliness, a sense that you like the other person as a human being, not merely as a means, or obstacle, to your end
  • Fairness in distributing and carrying out both responsibilities and benefits
  • Honest, open, and positive communication
  • Care and concern for the other’s well-being, both within and beyond the immediate transaction
  • Empathy and understanding
  • Collaborative efforts toward mutual success
  • Reciprocity, returning favors, responding to trust with trust
  • Open-mindedness, flexibility, and willingness to adapt to different ideas and to changes
  • Appropriate commitment at each stage of the relationship
  • Dependability, maintaining your understandings, and following through with your promises

This may seem to be an overwhelming list, but it’s actually the way we approach normal human relations. Think of even a casual friendship—say with a colleague or neighbor—and you will see that you instinctively follow all of these rules to some extent. You smile and say good morning; you show concern and care when he appears with his arm in a sling; if she offers you a gift of some vegetables from her garden, you share something with her some other time. This is the natural way human beings interact to create smooth and cooperative relationships.

Why then should it be less natural or intelligent to show the same positive manner toward the person on the other side of the negotiation table, whose active collaboration you are pursuing and whose cooperation you will rely on for your own success in carrying out the agreement? Simply stated, it’s not. The grave danger is becoming so focused on the deal that you forget the human being with whom you have to fashion the deal, the person who will say “yes” or “no” to the terms you propose, and the people who will implement any final agreement.

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Ten Keys to Successful Listening

January 10th, 2011

Active listening means more than just letting someone talk. It is doing everything you can to hear what that person is saying and, just as importantly, encouraging the other party to communicate. Here are ten key skills of a successful listener.

  1. Open your mind. Close off all the judgmental thoughts and emotions that get in the way of your hearing what the other person has to say. Don’t be turned off by the speaker’s style, accent or appearance. Focus on what she is saying.
  2. Pay attention. Don’t let your mind wander. Set aside whatever is preoccupying you at the time. Give your full attention to the speaker, not to other things going on in the room.
  3. Don’t try to mind read. The only mind you can read is your own. When you think you’re anticipating another’s words, you’re actually just blurring the picture with your own thoughts–and missing their point.
  4. Hear the speaker out before planning your reply. You can’t hear when you are busy formulating responses. As you plan that snappy retort you are missing important points or nuances. You don’t have to worry that you’ll lose out if you don’t have an instant reply; speakers much prefer the feeling that you have both heard and thought about what they have said before you respond.
  5. Stay calm. While this may be difficult if the other party appears angry or accusatory, it is especially important then. If he is using aggression as a tactic to shake you, he will fail. Your calm response gives him nothing to react against. If she is truly upset, listening calmly not only will reduce tension, but may give you new insights into the problem. And if he is stonewalling, listening hard to what he’s saying gives you a platform for asking probing questions.
  6. Don’t interrupt—especially when crossing language barriers, even when the speaker seems temporarily lost for words. This is especially true when the topic is complex or emotionally difficult. Interrupting is distracting, annoying and frustrating. Moreover, you’ll miss out on some important information that may have come your way.
  7. Show you’re listening. Not interrupting doesn’t mean staring at the speaker with a blank face. Appearing disengaged can be even more conversation-killing than interrupting. A conversation must involve at least two parties. Even though only one person is speaking at a time, active listeners respond with visual (e.g. head-nodding) and aural cues (e.g. “uh-huh”).  If the topic is serious, taking notes shows a high level of interest and a desire to follow up.
  8. Ask questions. Asking questions is vital to ensuring that you fully understand the speaker’s meaning. Questions show you’re interested, stimulate conversation, and encourage openness. However, questions should be friendly and sincere, aimed at clarification or eliciting more information, not poorly disguised interrogations (e.g. “Isn’t it true that…”), which will only shut the speaker down or spark an argument.
  9. Watch your body language. Looking around the room while another is talking gives the instant impression that the speaker is boring you. Also avoid making dismissive or irritated facial gestures, such as rolling your eyes, tightening your jaw or sighing–unless your goal is to infuriate the speaker.

10.  Reply to what was said. Don’t just head off onto what’s on your own mind. Finish one topic before moving onto the next. Otherwise the speaker feels dismissed and is more likely to dismiss you.

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The Case for Going Beyond Dealmaking

January 10th, 2011

I am often asked why I differentiate relationship negotiation from dealmaking. After all, isn’t “deal” just another word for “transaction”? The answer is yes, and therein lies the central in traditional deal-based negotiation.

A transaction is a quick, short-lived exchange. It’s about this deal, these terms. Get a signature, and you’re done. Negotiating relationships is a process with no clear beginning or end. Your goal is to build sufficient understanding, comfort and trust between parties that you can work together now and in the future, under conditions that enable both sides to prosper.

There are other critical differences:

  • In a deal, the party you are negotiating with is, to a large extent, your opponent. In a relationship, the other party is your preferred partner.
  • Deals are about getting as much of what you want as you can carry away. Relationships are based on fair division and joint burden-sharing.
  • In a deal, you hold yourself aloof from the other party: hiding information, guarding your responses, pressing your position. In a relationship, you are more relaxed, open, and natural: sharing information and truly seeking to understand and resolve differences.
  • In a deal, you may exaggerate the strength of your position or try to trick the other side into giving in. Successful relationships are based on honesty, reliability, and follow-through.
  • Deals are static, inflexible, with exhaustive contracts intended to guarantee that every term and condition will remain “carved in stone” until the transaction is completed. Relationships are also based on fundamental agreements, but they are more accommodating, less rigidly detailed. Because relationships take place over time, change needs to be anticipated and managed constructively rather than ignored because it falls outside of the scope of the initial agreement. Relationships are dynamic, not carved in stone.

Not all deals require relationships in order to succeed, of course. When you sell your old car through an online ad or bargain over a ceramic pot in a foreign market while on vacation, it truly is a transactional activity. But most negotiations—from mergers and acquisitions, to supplier contracts, to interdepartmental meetings for allocating funding or agreeing on where to hold the company picnic—are for arrangements that will be implemented over time, sometimes years, or that will lead to future arrangements. Even when you are unlikely to meet that individual customer or supplier or even colleague ever again, the relationships you build throughout the negotiation and implementation process will have an impact on your future business by shaping your reputation and the number and type of references you receive.

Building and maintaining relationships involves a lot more work than simple dealmaking, in which you can be detached, no-nonsense, and unaffected by what comes after. But over time, living off single transactions is downright exhausting and offers ever-diminishing returns. In the long run, you will find that the extra work you put into negotiating relationships will more than pay for itself in tangible gains—and will reward you with a happier life.

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