Stories I only tell my friends: The Power Of Belief-System

August 22, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — mylittleblackpen @ 12:11 pm

Never put anything down on paper, my boy, and never trust a man with a small black moustache.

It is a mistake to think that certain problems can be solved by open discussion. Often it merely makes them worse, as I found when I meet representatives of the ******* photographers to try to work out how ******** press passes should be allocated. From the chair, I would watch differences of opinions and special pleading decline into bitter controversy, even leading to walkouts by some of those concerned. They did not want to negotiate. They just wanted to get their own way.

Anyone can improve their ability to negotiate, either formally or informally, when positions, policies, contracts, or treaties have to be finalized. You too can learn how to use levers of all sorts, how to bargain, how to horse-trade. The key is always to watch out for what might go wrong; the downside.

This includes watching your own downside and being alert to when your influence is on the wane or otherwise being eroded. There is little to be gained, when received opinion is firmly against you, in wasting time on those whose ears are closed. Then you should start looking for a new job, a new target on whom to practice your skills, a new world to conquer. In other words, if you, a mature guru in your fifties, find doors closing in front of you and your telephone calls going unanswered, go gracefully. Don’t cling.

There are three basic types of negotiator:

  1. The hard type, who plays his hand as if were a constant battle to win.
  2. The soft type, who gives and takes, always seeking a compromise.
  3. The negotiator who conducts the whole process in terms of seeking mutual gain for both sides. This is the approach that I encourage you to follow, or at least present yourself as following, even though you are Type 1 underneath.

the ten qualities of a good negotiator

You should develop the following aptitudes:

  1. Know how to assess the opposition’s and anticipate its plans, needs, fallback positions, and determination.
  2. Know how to assess the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and its allies. Who really are the most important participants in the negotiation?
  3. Know how to stress the advantages to the opposition of a given course of action and how to play down the benefits to yourself.
  4. Know how to get the timing right. Do not reveal your own views too early. Let the opposition present its case, then move in.
  5. As an extension to this, know how to play the “creative use of silence” card. In a crucial discussion if you do not talk the other person has to. At the Foreign Office we used to say that the best diplomat was someone who thought twice before saying nothing. Silence is even better than asking questions if the mood is right; it is always a hard argument to counter. Your opponent will give away his thoughts, approach, opinions, and strategy. Talk less; learn more. There is a weight in silence, a great value in an interval in presenting your argument, an influential thoughtfulness in a pause. “He has occasional flashes of silence that make his conversation perfectly delightful,” said Sydney Smith of Macaulay.
  6. An ability to bluff, short of having it called.
  7. A skilful use of the threat of a breakdown in negotiations (but always avoiding it in the end). This tactic can usually only be used once, although some unions and management seem to threaten it all the time.
  8. Know how to use side issues to take the heat off or to distract attention; know when to back off and when to put the pressure on.
  9. Know how to use psychological pressures. Remember the American equivalent of Balliol’s “effortless superiority” characteristic. John F. Kennedy called it “grace under pressure”. Lesser mortals are fascinated by achievements such as making people listen to you without raising your voice or otherwise demanding to be heard.
  10. Know how to constantly question your opponent’s position when you are under attack.


Faced with a similar situation in a negotiation, you can resort to one of a number of commonplace phrases that are excellent openers in a blocking move:

“In present financial circumstances (and I need not detain you with all the detail), Mr. Chief Executive, it is impossible to contemplate … “

“Since it is my duty to warn you of possible threats to your political position, Secretary of State, do you really think it wise … “

“The rate of unemployment, Minister, will not allow … “

“The inflationary spiral, fellow directors, means that the unavoidably bitter consequences … “

“While we must play our part if economies are to be achieved, as you, Mr. Chief Executive, will be first to recognize … “

“If you are ready for the inevitable drop in profit margins and the resulting outcry from shareholders at the AGM, we certainly can do as you suggest … “

“If you are prepared to see increased levels of untreated sewage pumped into rivers, then further economies could be found … “

(This is a real example, experienced by Michael Heseltine when a Cabinet Minister)

More desperate are the following lines of argument (you are running short of macro-influences if you have to use them), but they crop up in commercial and political life a dozen times a day:

“There is a large body of opinion against this… “(And I am part of it)

“The people will not stand for … “(for “people” read also “workforce” or “shareholders”)

“Future generations will condemn … “or, suggesting your interlocutor may be bent on locking for a new job, “If you are really looking for a new challenge and are not afraid of the consequences … “

Finally, always beware when others say “There is no alternative” or “This course of action is unavoidable.” These are standard committee room phrases. Let us look now at how to deal with committees and their ilk.

My Guest Writer

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