Monday, August 30, 2010

The Inner Balcony

Most negotiators are familiar with the concept of “the balcony.” The idea is that during negotiation sessions someone on your team stays in observation mode, like an audience member in the balcony, watching the action on stage. That person in the balcony is supposed to listen for what the rest of the team misses, or note how the dynamics between the parties are working or not working. The balcony can call for breaks if the discussions go off-track.
But what do you do when you don’t have the luxury of an extra team member? As a Deal Whisperer, you have to learn to develop your “inner balcony.”

An inner balcony is the ability to be present in the discussion at the table and still mentally remove yourself to assess how the negotiation is proceeding. It’s almost like trying to have an out-of-body experience while you’re negotiating.

How do you develop an inner balcony? First, you have to sensitize yourself to your own emotions. Ever notice how your body starts to feel different when your emotions are triggered? Think about the last time someone cut you off on the highway and made a “friendly” gesture in the process. Recall how your heart started racing, your body tightened and you could feel the blood rushing into your head. That’s the sensation of your body gearing up for battle. Anything you do under those circumstances is likely to be based more on emotion than reason. In a negotiation, that’s a bad strategy.

Having an inner balcony is important, especially with difficult negotiators, to monitor yourself for these moments. Difficult negotiators tend to generate a lot of emotion at the table, either on their own by yelling and making demands, or by being positional and unyielding. When the difficult negotiator says something like: “I made the last delivery on time. It’s not my fault your people are incompetent” you may start to feel that rushing sensation as your body coils up preparing to strike back. Stop. Take a deep breath. Ask a question. “So what should we do next?” “Where is that information coming from?” “Any suggestions on what we could do differently?” If you can’t think of a question, call for a break. “I’m not comfortable with the tone of our conversation. Can we take a break?”

What Deal Whisperers have that other negotiators lack is emotional maturity. As disciplined negotiators, Deal Whisperers remain focused on the goal and do not let emotion overtake reason. If you can train yourself to react to the other party’s aggressive behavior by asking a question or stopping the action, you will have made the first step toward developing your inner balcony, a powerful skill for a Deal Whisperer.

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