Trigger the two words that immediately transform any negotiation

Create a subtle epiphany

I was a natural for the Schilling case. I had spent some time in the Philippines and had an extensive background in terrorism from my New York City days assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

A few days after Schilling became a hostage, my partner Chuck Regini and I flew to Manila to run the negotiations. Along with Jim Nixon, the FBI’s highest official in Manila, we conferred with top Philippine military brass. They agreed to let us guide the negotiations. Then we got down to business. One of us would take charge of the negotiation strategy for the FBI and consequently for the U.S. government. That became my role. With the support of my colleagues, my job was to come up with the strategy, get it approved, and implement it.

Trigger a “that’s right!” With a summary

After four months of negotiations, Sabena still refused to budge. I decided it was time to hit the reset switch. Benjie had gotten so good at extending the conversations that you could tell that there were times that Sabaya must have paced back and forth for an hour before calling Bennie, trying to figure out how to get what he wanted. He would call in and say, “Tell me yes or no! Just yes or no!”

We had to get Sabaya off this war damages nonsense. No matter what type of questioning, logic, or reasoning we tried with him, he wouldn’t release it. Threats against Schilling came and went. We talked him down each time.

“That’s right” is great, but if “you’re right,” nothing changes

Driving toward “that’s right” is a winning strategy in all negotiations. But hearing “you’re right” is a disaster. Take my son, Brandon, and his development as a football player. He had been playing on the offensive and defensive lines all through high school. At six foot two and 250 pounds, he was formidable. He loved to knock every player wearing an opposing jersey to the ground.

Having played quarterback, I didn’t fully appreciate the blue-collar nature of being a lineman. Linemen are like mountain goats. They put their heads down and hit things. It makes them happy.

Using “that’s right” to make the sale

Getting to “that’s right” helped one of my students in her job as a sales representative for a large pharmaceutical company. She was trying to sell a new product to a doctor who used similar medication. He was the largest user of this kind of medication in her territory. The sale was critical to her success.

In her first appointments, the doctor dismissed her product. He said it was no better than the ones he was already using. He was unfriendly. He didn’t even want to hear her viewpoint. When she presented the positive attributes of her product, he interrupted her and knocked them down. Making the sales pitch, she soaked up as much as possible about the doctor.

Using “that’s right” for career success

One of my Korean students got to “that’s right” in negotiating with his ex-boss for a new job. Returning to Seoul after getting his MBA, he wanted to work in his company’s consumer electronics division, rather than the semiconductor section, where he had been stationed. He was a human resources specialist. Under the company’s rules, he believed he had to remain in his previous department, unless he could also get approval from his ex-boss. He had gotten two job offers from the consumer products division. He phoned his ex-boss from the United States.

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Lastly Comment

“Sleeping in the same bed and dreaming different dreams” is an old Chinese expression that describes the intimacy of partnership (whether in marriage or in business) without the communication necessary to sustain it. Such is the recipe for bad marriages and bad negotiations. With each party having its own set of objectives, its own goals and motivations, the truth is that the conversational niceties—the socially lubricating “yeses” and “you’re rights” that get thrown out fast and furious early in any interaction—are not in any way a substitute for real understanding between you and your partner.


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