How do expert negotiators outperform amateurs? Author Adam Grant details four differences in his terrific book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. The bullets that follow pull from a classic study where a group of average negotiators and a group of skilled negotiators were compared against each other in labor and contract negotiations.
- Average negotiators go in armed for battle, ready to attack every argument. Expert negotiators devote more than a third of their time to finding common ground because agreeing with someone disarms them.
- Average negotiators pile on the arguments. They correlate the number of arguments with improved odds of success. Expert negotiators do the opposite. They present fewer reasons because a weak argument dilutes a strong one.
- Average negotiators enter defend-attack spirals. They are dismissive of their opponent’s position and they double down on their own. Expert negotiators rarely go on offense or defense. Instead, they express curiosity with questions like, “So you don’t see any merit in this proposal at all?”
- And finally, in that vein, expert negotiators ask a lot of questions (one out of every five comments on average). This makes them appear less assertive and encourages the opposition to step forward.
“A good debate is not a war. It’s not even a tug-of-war, where you can drag your opponent to your side if you pull hard enough on the rope. It’s more like a dance that hasn’t been choreographed, negotiated with a partner who has a different set of steps in mind. If you try too hard to lead, your partner will resist. If you can adapt your moves to hers, and get her to do the same, you’re more likely to end up in rhythm.”