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Learn to Flinch at Proposals

by Roger Dawson

Power Negotiators know that you should always flinch-react with shock and surprise at the other side's proposals.

Let's say that you are in a resort area and stop to watch one of those charcoal sketch artists. He doesn't have the price posted, and he has the shill sitting on the stool. You ask him how much he charges, and he tells you $15. If that doesn't appear to shock you, his next words will be, "And $5 extra for color." If you still don't appear shocked, he will say, "And we have these shipping cartons here, you'll need one of these too."

Perhaps you are married to someone who would never flinch like that because it's beneath his or her dignity. My first wife was like that. We would walk into a store, and she would say to the clerk, "How much is the coat?"

The clerk would respond, "$2,000."

My wife would say, "That's not bad!" I would be having a heart attack in the background.

I know it sounds dumb and I know it sounds ridiculous, but the truth of the matter is that when people make a proposal to you, they are watching for your reaction. They may not think for a moment that you'll go along with their request. They've just thrown it out to see what your reaction will be. For example:
  • You sell computers and the buyer asks you to include an extended warranty.
  • You're buying a car and the dealer offers you only a few hundred dollars for your trade-in.
  • You sell contractor supplies and the buyer asks you to deliver it to the job site at no extra charge.
  • You're selling your house and the buyer wants to move in two weeks before the transaction closes.
In each of these situations, the other side may not have thought for a moment that you would go along with the request, but if you don't flinch, he or she will automatically think, "Maybe I will get them to go along with that. I didn't think they would, but I think I'll be a tough negotiator and see how far I can get them to go.

It's very interesting to observe a negotiation when you know what both sides are thinking. Wouldn't that be fascinating for you? Wouldn't you love to know what's going on in the other person's mind when you're negotiating with her? When I conduct the one or two day Secrets of Power Negotiating seminars, we break up into groups and do some negotiating to practice the principles that I teach. I create a workshop and customize it to the industry in which the participants are involved. If they are medical equipment salespeople, they may find themselves negotiating the sale of laser surgery equipment to a hospital. If they are owners of print shops, the workshop may involve the acquisition of a smaller printing company in an outlying town. I break the audience up into buyers, sellers, and referees. The referees are in a very interesting position because they have been in on the planning sessions of both the buyers and the sellers. They know each side's negotiating range. They know what the opening offer is going to be, and they know how far each side will go. So the sellers of the printing company would go as low as $700,000, but they may start as high as $2 million. The buyers may start at $400,000, but they're prepared to go to $1.5 million if they have to. So the negotiating range is $400,000 to $2 million, but the acceptance range is $700,000 to $1.5 million. The acceptance range embraces the price levels at which the buyers' and the sellers' negotiating ranges overlap. If they do overlap and there is an acceptance range, it's almost certain that the final price to which they agree will fall within this range. If the top of the buyers' negotiating range is lower than the bottom of the sellers' negotiating range, then one or both sides will have to compromise their objectives.

The negotiation starts with each side trying to get the other side to put their offer on the table first. After a while someone has to break the ice, so the sellers may suggest the $2 million (which is the top of their negotiating range). They believe $2 million is ridiculously high, and they barely have the nerve to propose it. They think they're going to be laughed out of the room the minute they do. However, to their surprise, the buyers don't appear to be that shocked. The sellers expect the buyers to say, "You want us to do what? You must be out of your minds." What they actually respond with is much milder, perhaps, "We don't think we'd be prepared to go that high." In an instant, the negotiation changes. A moment ago, the $2 million had seemed to be an impossible goal. Now the sellers are thinking that perhaps they're not as far apart as they thought they were. Now they're thinking, "Let's hang in. Let's be tough negotiators. Maybe we will get this much."

Flinching is critical because most people believe more what they see than what they hear. The visual overrides the auditory in most people. It's safe for you to assume that at least 70 percent of the people with whom you negotiate will be visuals. What they see is more important than what they hear. I'm sure you've been exposed to some neuro-linguistic programming. You know that people are either visual, auditory or kinesthetic (what they feel is paramount). There are a few gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell) people around, but not many and they're usually chefs or perfume blenders.

If you'd like to know what you are, close your eyes for ten seconds and think of the house in which you lived when you were ten years old. You probably saw the house in your mind, so you're a visual. Perhaps you didn't get a good visual picture, but you heard what was going on, perhaps trains passing by or children playing. That means you're auditory. Auditories tend to be very auditory. Neil Berman is a psychotherapist friend of mine in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He can remember every conversation he's ever had with a patient, but if he meets them in the supermarket, he doesn't remember them. The minute they say good morning to him, he thinks, "Oh yes that's the bi-polar personality with anti-social tendencies." The third possibility is that you didn't so much see the house or hear what was going on, but you just got a feeling for what it was like when you were ten. That makes you a kinesthetic.

Assume that people are visual unless you have something else to go on. Assume that what they see has more impact than what they hear. That's why it's so important to respond with a flinch to a proposal from the other side.

Don't dismiss flinching as childish or too theatrical until you'd had a chance to see how effective it can be. It's so effective that it usually surprises my students when they first use it. A woman told me that she flinched when selecting a bottle of wine in one of Boston's finest restaurants and the wine steward immediately dropped the price by five dollars. A man told me that a simple flinch caused the salesperson to take $2,000 of the price of a Corvette.

A speaker friend of mine attended my seminar in Orange County, California, and decided to see if he could use it to get his speaking fees up. At the time he was just getting started and was charging $1,500. He went to a company and proposed that they hire him to do some in house training. The training director said, "We might be interested in having you work for us, but the most we can pay you is $1,500."

In the past he would have said, "That's what I charge." But now he gasped in surprise and said, "$1,500? I couldn't afford to do it for just $1,500." The training director frowned thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "the most we've ever offered any speaker is $2,500, so that's the very best we can do." That meant $1,000 in additional bottom line profit dollars per speech to my friend and it took him only 15 seconds to do. Not bad pay.

Key points to remember:
  • Flinch in reaction to a proposal from the other side. They may not expect to get what they're asking for, but if you don't show surprise you're communicating that it's a possibility.
  • A concession often follows a flinch. If you don't flinch, it makes the other person a tougher negotiator.
  • Assume that the other person is a visual unless you have something else on which to go.
  • Even if you're not face to face with the other person you should still gasp in shock and surprise. Telephone flinches can be very effective also.
Roger Dawson is the author of two of Nightingale-Conant's best selling audiocassette programs, Secrets of Power Negotiating and Secrets of Power Negotiating for Salespeople. This article is excerpted in part from Roger Dawson's new book-Secrets of Power Negotiating, published by Career Press.

© Roger Dawson. All Rights Reserved

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