Every time I run a negotiations skills course, I start the day by asking the delegates what they want to get from the programme. And pretty much every time, what they are looking for is a magic wand. This is true on an Introduction Course and on Advanced Course.
Fortunately, I can give them what they’re looking for.
Magic wands for beginners
Let’s take the beginners class first. Of course, they won’t say they’re looking for a magic wand. But one person will say something like, “I don’t know what I want. But I often go into a negotiation, sitting alongside my boss and they always seem to know exactly what to do. Whatever it is they do, that’s what I want!”
And then the next person, who was feeling exactly the same, will grin and say “I want that technique that always works in every situation and always gets you a brilliant deal!” and everyone will laugh, because they kind of felt the same way.
They want a magic wand.
“Great”, I say, “you’re on the right course. There is a magic technique that works in well, pretty much every situation.
“Its called ‘preparation’.”
Because, of course, if they had prepared fully enough, they would have pre-empted whichever tricky question or tactic the other party threw at them and they would know exactly what to say. In any situation.
They usually go quite thoughtful at this point and one of the smarter ones will put their hands up: “But how much time should you put into preparation? Isn’t there a limit to it?”
“Good question”, I say. “It all depends. But think of it in terms of sports: an Olympic athlete will train for four years for one event, the Sunday player stubs his cigarette out and runs on to the pitch. Who do you want to be? The world-class professional? Or the Sunday player? It’s up to you.”
Magic wands – the Advanced Course
Of course, I can’t get away with this with the guys on the Advanced Course. If I said ‘preparation’ to them, they’d say, “We’ve done all of that. We want something different. We did preparation on the Introduction course, we did asking questions and we did listening, we did loads of things. We want something really advanced.”
Again, they want a magic wand.
But let’s go back to sports. Tennis: Roger Federer, he’s quite advanced. If he takes on a new coach, what happens? Does the coach show him some amazing new shot that no one in the world has ever seen before; something like twirling the racquet three times around your head then top-spinning it around the back of your legs? No, of course not, these shots don’t exist.
No matter how good you are in tennis it still boils down to forehand, backhand, top-spin, back-spin, serve, volley, smash and lob. Even the most advanced of advanced players won’t play any other shots than those.
So I indulge them. I give them mind-reading techniques (they go “ooh!”), I give them hypnosis techniques (they go “aah!”), I give them lie-detection methods and ways to land the impossible deal (they go “ooh!” again, but some of them go “aah!” instead).
But I also give them the real magic wand – the magic wand that, if they use properly, will help them become the wizard at negotiation they dream of becoming.
The real magic wand
Back to Roger Federer, the greatest magician ever on a tennis court. So what will his new coach get him to do?
Practice those same shots but better, deeper, more skilfully.
Federer occasionally plays a fancy shot through his legs or something but that isn’t how he wins his tournaments. He has won more Grand Slam titles than anyone else because he plays the basic shots supremely well.
So what is the magic wand I give to the advanced course delegates? It’s practice – conscious practice. Practicing those same basic skills but better, deeper, more skilfully.
Until its so deep in their neurology they can do magic.