Negotiating and Feeling: The Power of Emotions in Business


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Text comes from: Kompromisslos verhandeln. Die Strategien und Methoden des Verhandlungsführers des FBI (2017) by Chris Voss, published by Münchener Verlagsgruppe (MVG), Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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Scientific theories are constantly trying to explain the world rationally. Nothing works without emotions and the power of interpersonal psychology - even in business that seems so rational.

Negotiating and Feeling: The Power of Emotions in Business

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Chris Voss is a consultant and ex-negotiator for the FBI.

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The psychology of negotiation

During my brief stint at university, I realized that all of the raw analytical intelligence and mathematical logic in the world without a deep understanding of the human psyche, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotion-driven beings in the emotionally loaded interplay between two people who negotiate with each other, offer no help.

Yes, we may be the only living things haggling - one monkey doesn't trade any part of its banana for another monkey's nuts - but no matter how we dress our negotiations in mathematical theories, we always remain animals that come first and foremost act on the basis of our deep-seated, but externally invisible and diffuse fears, needs, perceptions and desires.

Where Harvard is wrong

However, this is not the approach taught at Harvard Law School. Their theories and techniques had invariably involved intellectual superiority, analytical logic, rational value concepts, authoritative acronyms like BATNA and ZOPA, and a solid moral Concept ABC School Joke Oud about doing justice and injustice. And of course the process was enthroned above this false building of rationality. The students had to follow a script consisting of a predetermined sequence of actions of offers and counter-offers that were arranged in a specific way to produce a particular result. It was as if they were operating a robot: if you do steps a, b, c and d in a specific, fixed order, you get x.

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In reality, however, negotiations are far too complex and unpredictable for this type of procedure; you may need to do step d after step a, and then maybe step q. If I could master the most brilliant students in the country using just one of the many emotion-based negotiation techniques I had developed and successfully used in negotiating with terrorists and hostage-takers, why shouldn't they be applicable to the business world? What is the difference between bank robbers who take hostages and CEOs who use tough negotiating tactics to try to lower the price of a billion-dollar acquisition?

What hostage takers and business people have in common

Ultimately, hostage-takers are nothing more than business people trying to get the best price for their "goods". Old-school negotiations for hostage-taking and their release have been going on for ages. The Old Testament contains numerous stories of Israelites and their enemies who took citizens hostage to one another as spoils of war. The Romans, in turn, forced the rulers of the conquered vassal states to send their sons to Rome for training in order to secure the permanent loyalty of the conquered territories.

Until President Nixon's administration, hostage negotiations consisted without exception of the deployment of heavily armed special forces to attempt to free the hostages. In policing, our approach was mostly to talk to the hostage takers until we figured out how to use guns to free them. Pure brute force. But then a series of bloody hostage dramas forced us to rethink.

The FBI's wrong strategy

In 1971, 39 hostages were killed when police tried to use gun violence to end the riot in Attica Prison, in upstate New York. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by their Palestinian hostage-takers after an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the German forces. However, the greatest impetus for institutional change in America's law enforcement agencies came on October 4, 1971 on the tarmac at Jacksonville, Florida airport.

At that time, the United States was experiencing an epidemic of hijackings; in 1970 there were five kidnappings within three days. It was in this heated atmosphere that a troubled man named George Giffe Jr. hijacked a charter plane from Nashville, Tennessee, and wanted to hijack it to the Bahamas. By the end of the hijacking, Giffe had killed two hostages - his ex-wife and the pilot - and subsequently committed suicide. This time it wasn't the hostage-taker's fault, it was the FBI's sole responsibility. Two hostages had managed to convince Giffe to release them in Jacksonville, where the plane had stopped to refuel. However, the FBI agents had lost patience and shot up the turbines. This made Giffe so angry that he murdered the hostages. The FBI's guilt for this outcome was so great that the court before which the pilot's widow and Giffe's daughter had brought charges against the FBI for wrongful deaths upheld the plaintiffs.

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How should negotiation processes run?

In the landmark 1975 judgment of Downs v. The United States, the US Court of Appeals wrote that there was "a better alternative to protecting the" welfare "of the hostages," and said the FBI had "what was a successful" perseverance "tactic, in the course of which two people were able to safely exit the plane, turned into a 'shooting tournament' that claimed three lives «. The court concluded by stating that "a reasonable attempt at negotiation must be made prior to tactical intervention."

The Downs hostage-taking epitomized all the things that should not be done in a crisis situation and inspired the development of today's theories, training and techniques in hostage negotiation. Shortly after the Giffe tragedy, the New York Police Department (NYPD) became the first law enforcement agency in the United States to put together a special team of specialists to develop a crisis negotiation process and lead the negotiation. The FBI and other agencies followed. A new era of negotiations had begun.

4 steps to perfect negotiation

In the early 1980s, Massachusetts was the hotspot in the field of negotiation science, where scholars from different disciplines came together and explored exciting new concepts. The Harvard Negotiation Project, founded in 1979, with the aim of optimizing the theory, teaching and practice of negotiation in order to increase the chances of success in all possible negotiating situations - from peace negotiations to corporate mergers - marked a real milestone. Two years later, Roger Fisher and William Ury, co-founders of this project, published Getting to Yes2, a groundbreaking treatise on negotiating tactics that fundamentally changed the methodology of real-world negotiators.

Fisher and Ury's approach was essentially to systematize problem-solving so that the negotiating parties could reach a mutually satisfactory agreement - as the book title suggests. Their basic assumption was that the emotional brain - the animalistic, unreliable, and irrational beast - could be overcome with a more rational, problem-solving mindset. Their system, which consisted of four basic tenets, was attractive and easy to follow.

  1. Separate the person - the feeling - from the problem.
  2. Don't get caught up in the other side's outward position (what they are asking for), instead focus on the underlying motivations (why they are making a particular request) so you can figure out what they really want.
  3. Be cooperative to find mutually beneficial options.
  4. Establish mutually accepted standards for evaluating possible solutions.

Does game theory help with negotiations?

It was a brilliant, rational and profound synthesis of the most modern game theory and legal thinking of the time. After this book came out, everyone, including the FBI and NYPD, has focused on a problem-solving approach to any type of negotiation. It just seemed so modern and so smart. In another corner of the United States, two were chasing Professoren from the University of Chicago took a completely different approach that they carried over to every imaginable field - from economics to negotiation. That was the economist Amos Tversky and the psychologist

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Daniel Kahneman. Together they established the field of behavioral economics - for which Kahnemann was awarded the Nobel Prize - by showing that humans are extremely irrational beings. Feeling, they found, is a form of thinking. When business schools like Harvard began teaching negotiation strategies in the 1980s, they conveyed this process as a straight economic analysis. It was a time when the most respected economists believed that people were "rational actors." And so it was taught in theCourses on negotiation strategy. It was assumed that the other side was basically rational and selfish in an attempt to strengthen its own position. Accordingly, the negotiating partner must find out how best to react to different scenarios in order to maximize the value of his own position in a rational way.

Heart versus mind

This view baffled Kahneman, who knew from years of experience in the field of psychology that "people are never completely rational nor completely selfish and that their preferences are anything but stable," as he put it in his own words. In decades of research that he carried out with Tversky, Kahneman proved that all people suffer from cognitive bias. These are unconscious and irrational processes in the brain that distort our perception of the world. Kahneman and Tversky discovered more than 150 such processes. There is the so-called framing effect - also known as the interpretation frame - as a result of which different formulations of the same content-related message influence how it is interpreted by the recipients. (Studies have shown that an increase from 90 to 100 percent - from high probability to certainty - is perceived as more valuable than an increase from 45 to 55 percent, although objectively the same rate of increase, namely 10, is in both cases Percent, acts.) The prospect theory or new expectation theory explains why we are prepared to take disproportionately high risks in view of a possible risk of loss. The best known is the loss aversion or loss aversion, which describes the tendency to value possible risks higher than possible gains of equal value.

The 2 thought systems of humans

Kahneman later codified his research in his 2011 bestseller Thinking Fast, Thinking Slowly. In essence, he puts forward the thesis that humans have two systems of thought:

  1. System; Our animal brain is fast, instinctive and emotional.
  2. System: our rational brain, slow, conscious and logical.

System 1 is far more powerful and influential than System 2; in fact, it guides and controls all of our rational thinking. The immature beliefs, feelings, and impressions of the first system are the main source of the explicit beliefs and conscious decisions of the second system. It is the source that feeds the river. We react emotionally (system 1) to a suggestion or a question. Then, the response of the first system affects the response generated by the second system.

Heart vs. Mind: how to manipulate interlocutors

Consider the following: If, using this model, you know how you can influence the way of thinking and unspoken feelings of the first system of your interlocutor with the help of the formulation and transmission of your questions and statements, then you can control the rationality of his second system and thus change his reactions .

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That happened at Harvard to a fellow student named Andy. By once asking him, "How am I going to do this?" I influenced his first system into admitting that his offer wasn't good enough. His second system then streamlined the situation so that it made sense to make me a better offer. According to Kahneman, negotiating based on the rational System 2 concept, excluding the tools used to read, understand, and manipulate the emotional basis of the first system, was like trying to cook an omelette without knowing how to make one smashes an egg.

Powerless against feelings: The FBI is getting emotional

It could not be overlooked that Getting to Yes did not work in negotiations with hostage takers. No matter how many agents studied the book intensely with a highlighter in hand, we did not succeed in improving our method of negotiating hostage-taking. There was a definite break between the book's brilliant theory and everyday police work experience. Why was it that everyone read this bestseller and praised it as the best negotiating book that had ever been written, and yet hardly anyone was successful with the strategies it describes? Were we complete fools?

As the FBI's new hostage negotiation team grew in the 1980s and 1990s and its expertise in crisis management, it became clear that our system was missing a key element. At that time we were completely convinced of Getting to Yes. And as a negotiator, consultant, and teacher with decades of experience, I still enjoy many of the highly effective negotiation strategies in this book. At the time of its publication, it provided groundbreaking ideas for cooperative problem-solving and formed the basis for the development of indispensable concepts such as the start of negotiations with an alternative concept - called BATNA ("Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement") - in the event that the desired outcome of the negotiations was achieved does not come about. It was awesome.

But after the devastating end of the surveillance of Randy Weaver's Ruby Ridge Farm in Idaho in 1992 and the siege of the David Koresh-led Branch Davidians headquarters in Waco, Texas in 1993, it could not be denied that most hostage negotiations were taking place were anything but rational problem-solving situations. What I am saying is this: have you ever tried to find a mutually satisfactory solution in dealing with a person who believes he is the Messiah? After Ruby Ridge and Waco, many people asked this question. For example, US Assistant Attorney General Philip B. Heymann wanted to know why our negotiating skills failed so miserably when taking hostages. And we had to admit: We were powerless against the power of feelings.

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