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The Negotiation Blog

I’ve come to a rather important realization about persuading people:  it’s really freaking hard.

Not only that, when we fail, we tend to fail hard.   Don’t believe me?

Well, how do you feel about the last guy who tried to talk you into buying something you didn’t want?  When was the last time you heard an “elevator pitch” that didn’t make you want to jump out the window?

Despite our repeated failures we believe that persuading or changing others is a necessary part of life, and a core part of business.  But there is something wrong with our concept of persuasion.  There is something deeply troubling that lies behind most of the persuasion theorists’ work and advice.

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I’m currently redesigning my company’s logo.  After drafting some initial mock-ups on my own last night, I solicited feedback from a group of friends whose opinions I value. Here are some of the messages I received:

“..too derivative.”

“Not keen on any really….”

And my personal favorite:  “Thanks for sending. Honest first thoughts – let’s get you a slick graphic designer. Talk soon.”

To say that this feedback was unhelpful is an understatement.  In fact, as I read it before my coffee, it was utterly demoralizing.  In fact, I found myself somehow blaming my mood on them and even judging them on their “stupid” or “unhelpful” responses.  Hold up.  What was happening here?  How could I feel so totally deflated by the advice of people I really respect, especially when I asked for that advice from them?!  And how did I have the cajones to try to blame it on them?

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Tell me if this sounds familiar:  You’re on vacation, browsing through a Middle Eastern bazaar or Caribbean marketplace.  All of a sudden you somehow find yourself in a hut filled with poorly made trinkets having tea with the shop owner himself.  He asks you where you are from, tells you about his cousins in your home country, even introduces you to family members who have “hand crafted” the goods on display.  You feel stressed.  You know where this is going but are powerless to make it stop.  And before you know it, BAM!  You’re walking home with yet another outrageously priced, Chinese made African mask that you don’t even really want.  If this has never happened to you, you can stop reading now.

For the rest of you, here’s what happened:  You got played.  And here’s the game:  As a shop owner invites you in for tea and asks about your family etc., they are cultivating a type of “relationship debt” with you.   You’ve accepted their invitation to come in, you’ve accepted their free tea or snack, they’ve asked you about your family and yet you have nothing to offer in return.  Strangely, you feel like you owe them something  And, they just happen to have that “something” at a price “just for you”!  In short, you felt bad, got suckered into buying something or paying too much, and now you feel worse.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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A while ago I was doing a workshop with a large high tech company that I’m not at liberty to name (hint- it’s a search engine).  We were doing a simulation of dealing with a customer who feels they have been wronged.  In many cases, explained an account exec to me, we aren’t legally allowed to apologize, yet the customer is demanding we do so.  How do we deal with that?

Whether it’s for legal reasons, those of pride or protocol, often times we find ourselves in situations where an apology is desired that we’re not allowed or don’t want to give.  Here are two ways of getting around an apology while still repairing a damaged relationship:

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Over the years I’ve gotten free upgrades, shortened wait times and special treatment from even the most bureaucratic of nay sayers.  Here’s a few tips that I’ve found increase the chances of cutting the line (and your blood pressure) when dealing with customer service reps, government officials or anyone in a minor position of power that you need something from.

1.)  Arrive smiling.   It’s basic human psychology- emotions are contagious.  If you show up smiling and give an enthusiastic greeting, the other person will tend to mirror your psychological state, increasing your chances for a positive outcome. Don’t be fake or phony, but be as brimming with positivity as you can.

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