Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Impact Of Your Blind Spot In Sales & Business Negotiations

I often encounter business leaders and sales executives who get so immersed in their negotiations, that they tend to overlook the obvious verbal or non-verbal cues, patterns, preferences and team-dynamics of the people they engage with.

They become so fully focused on the negotiation process, that they disregard these essential keys, which could often help them to create better business deals.   

In effect, these executives have become blind to what expert negotiators view as essential information.

In business negotiations, you won’t get what you can’t see!

I have come to view this as a side-effect of the respective executive’s blind spot.

In medicine, the blind spot is the area in the visual field, which corresponds to the zone on the optic disc of the retina in your eyes, where there is a lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells. The brain interpolates the missing input-data, which is not available in the area of your blind spot, based on information details gained from the surroundings, as well as information obtained from the other eye, so that we are usually not aware of the blind spot’s existence.

Similarly, in our personal blind spot, we may be unable to take in new information, especially when faced with unfamiliar, complex, challenging situations, such as intercultural business negotiations.

Our past experiences have shaped and cemented our beliefs, assumptions, and expectations of how the world works to such an extent, that we have literally become blind to what is really going on in and around us in such an area. We interpolate, making assumptions about what is going on based on factors we are no longer conscious of, forces at work in our blind spot which are no longer under our control.

I always tell the executives I coach to beware of the assumptions they make, and the stories they tell themselves before, during and after a negotiation, for our perceptual filters may play tricks on us.

Our mind is programmed to create coherence between our deeply held beliefs and our perception of reality.

Our subconscious mind sorts and filter the input data it receives, evaluating it based on its existing map of the world, including its belief-structures, value-hiearchies and fundamental needs. If our mind can’t find adequate references to back up its deeply held beliefs, it may experience cognitive tension, to which it will frequently respond by coming up with creative ways to bridge the gap. The resulting mental shortcuts may be interesting and creative, but if they are based on an insufficient, incomplete, or otherwise flawed perception of reality, they will often lead to sub-optimal results. This is especially true in the context of intercultural negotiations, where it is essential that we learn to take our blinkers off.

In order to overcome the negative effects of the blind spot in business negotiations, I usually recommend the following steps:

Appoint An Observer

Whenever you are negotiating as a team, make sure that you appoint one of the team-members as an observer, and ensure that this person is well trained, prepared and fully able to perform this role well.

Amongst other things, the observer should take notes about the following factors in the opposing team:

  • personal styles, as well as the explicit and implicit roles of the team members
  • hierarchical structures, team dynamics and possible switching of roles
  • cultural negotiation patterns and preferences (time, tension and trades)
  • non verbal communication patterns and micro-cues of the team members
  • orchestration of the negotiation phases, recurring themes, priming techniques
  • etc.

The observer should be given the authority to call for a time-out (obviously: not too frequently!) during which he or she can share the observations and discuss possible interpretations and required tactical changes with the team.

Activate Your Inner Observer

This technique takes some practice, and may not be easy to learn initially, but if you find yourself getting involved in complex negotiations frequently, you will benefit from learning to activate your inner observer.

Essentially, this activation process requires you to learn how to be fully present, focused and engaged with your team and your counterparts during any given negotiation, whilst at the same time being able to step out and above the situation to observe everything that is going on in and around you (and no, I don’t teach OBE!).

When I tell my executive clients how this works, the initial reaction I frequently get is that their eyes glaze over and they give me a quizzical look, as though I were trying to teach them some highly esoteric technique or concept.

However, once they allow me to show them specifically how they can activate their inner observer, and they gain a few initial positive experiences in real-life negotiations, they tend to become more open to the potential benefits of using this approach.

Conduct A Post Mortem

I am often amazed to see how many of my executive clients rush from one sales or business negotiation to another, without stopping to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why, as well as what they could learn from the experience they just went through.

Furthermore, even if they apply a proper debriefing process after each negotiation, I virtually never see them share their insights with their business colleagues in a systematical manner.

In many ways, the learning organization still seems to be more of a myth than a reality when it comes to business negotiations.

Beware Of Your Blind Spot!

Your blind spot usually is the direct result of your perceptual filters, including your personal and business values, rules and beliefs. Understanding what is really going on in your blind spot is often a critical key to creating a real breakthrough in your business negotiations.

Find out more about how you can turn your blind spot into your sweet spot at



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Beware Of Your Business Blind Spot!

In medicine, the blind spot is the area in the visual field, which corresponds to the zone on the optic disc of the retina in your eyes, where there is a lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells. The brain interpolates the missing input-data, which is not available in the area of your blind spot, based on information details gained from the surroundings, as well as information obtained from the other eye, so that we are usually not aware of the blind spot’s existence.

Similarly, in our personal or business blind spot, we may seem to be unable to take in new information. Our past experiences have shaped and cemented our beliefs, assumptions, and expectations of how the world works to such an extent, that we have literally become blind to what is really going on in and around us in such an area. We interpolate, making assumptions about what is going on around us, based on factors we are no longer conscious of, forces at work in our blind spot which are no longer under our control.

Most of these subconscious programs were probably originally well intentioned, designed and created to help, support and protect us!

But more often than not, the forces active in our blind spot will sabotage our ability to make effective decisions to change our life and our business for the better. I see these forces at work virtually every time I coach corporate clients, executives and business owners, although they are usually not consciously aware of what is going on under the surface.

I frequently find that the forces active in the blind spot include:

  • An unwillingness or inability to engage in creative, constructive conflict, both within the organization, as well as with external stakeholders

  • Emotional disengagement or employee inertia, due to excessive change initiatives, project overload, leadership fire-fighting, and an overall lack of direction

  • Negative associations with projects, products and processes that failed in the past

  • Difficult clients, markets or product segments employees have learned to avoid

  • Opportunities business leaders no longer pursue due to past issues, perceived potential risk, or the lack of low-hanging fruit to create short-term success

  • Assumptions about what is permitted, compliant, politically correct – and what not

  • Extrapolating past experiences to predict future developments of market trends, economies, buyer behaviour, the competitive landscape

  • Etc.

But in my executive coaching engagements, I have usually found very positive factors to be present and active in the business blind spot, too! According to my experience these often include:

  • Untapped innovation potential, stifled under a blanket of politically correct, streamlined management power-talk

  • Process improvement know-how and employees’ implicit ability to make better decisions on the shop floor than what the executives dream up in their ivory towers

  • Market intelligence and intimate customer knowledge which is often left untapped even by the most sophisticated CRM or touch point management systems

  • Game-changing business ideas employees work on in their spare time, because they don’t believe their company would value their input

  • Contacts to thought leaders, political movers and shakers, potential business partners, and possible affiliates which employees are acquainted with, but would never share as contacts with their employer

  • Etc.

Your blind spot usually is the direct result of your perceptual filters, including your formal and informal business values, rules and beliefs. Understanding what is really going on in your personal or corporate blind spot is often a critical key to creating a real breakthrough in your business.

Find out more about how you can turn your blind spot into your sweet spot at


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Top 10 International Business Negotiation Mistakes - And How To Avoid Them!

In our coaching practice I often meet executives and entrepreneurs who have made several of the following 10 mistakes when negotiating international business deals, creating huge opportunity costs for their organizations as a consequence.

In this short post, we will take a closer look at these mistakes and present proven, pragmatic ways to avoid them.

Mistake # 1: Lack of effective scenario planning and preparation

Too many negotiators default to their personally preferred standard procedure in negotiating deals, because this approach has enabled them to succeed in the past.

If you find yourself getting involved in complex, international or intercultural deals, your default home-country way of doing things may backfire. In such situations, robust planning and preparation is required, in which you take into account all of the interdependencies and cultural factors influencing the deal, develop multiple scenarios both at the strategic and the tactical level, and recalibrate or refine your negotiation plan on an on-going basis during the actual negotiation, based on the cultural and interpersonal patterns you observe.

Experience shows that the best negotiators prepare their interactions meticulously, which allows them to be more present, agile, powerful and effective during the actual negotiations.

Mistake # 2: Not setting the scene properly

The best negotiators we have met over the years seem to initially spend a lot of their negotiation time setting the scene, priming their counterpart, framing their position, and anchoring the value their product or solution offers.

If there is ONE thing which seems to separate the experts from the amateurs in negotiation, it must be the quality of the priming, framing and anchoring applied.

This is especially true for international, intercultural negotiations, where framing provides a means of maintaining a clear focus throughout the business conversations.

As the saying goes – frame or be framed!

Mistake # 3: Unclear team roles and responsibilities

Most negotiation teams we work with seem to fare relatively well when it comes to appointing the lead negotiator and expert roles.

However, we often find that despite all of the power-mapping negotiation teams seem to go through during the preparation phase, in order to better understand the power-distribution and interdependencies of their opposing team, they relatively rarely map out who on their team will be developing what type of relationship with which person on the other side. They also rarely seem to consciously plan who will be making which concession at what point in time to which person on the opposing team.
In addition, experience shows that it is important to have at least one person on your team charged with managing the agenda, timelines, milestones and deliverables, as well as observing and interpreting the potential changes in team-dynamics, roles, body-language cues and priorities in the opposing team.

I am often amazed to see even highly experienced, seasoned negotiators totally ignoring the obvious body-language cues their counterparts share during the negotiations. The danger here is that we get so involved in the conversation, especially when the tension and complexity levels increase, that we no longer consciously see what is really happening right before our eyes.

Mistake # 4: Lack of constructive conflict

Many business leaders and sales people seem to dislike the conflict, tension and emotional stress, which are simply a natural ingredient of most negotiations. Most professional purchasers and sourcing specialists know this fact intuitively, leveraging tension as a strategic tool during their negotiations, in order to destabilize the sales people.

The best sales negotiators we know have learned to reframe such tension and use it as an opportunity to create innovative solutions with their clients.

In the context of intercultural negotiations, it is important to note that the amount, timing and the way in which trades are made can differ significantly. Not using a culturally appropriate trading-style is one of the main reasons why intercultural negotiations frequently stall or become totally blocked. 

By managing conflict, tension and concessions strategies in a psychologically and culturally appropriate way, we can develop stronger bonds with our counterpart and get them to invest in a solution we jointly own!

Mistake # 5: Ineffective management of complexity

When negotiations get too complex, the tension level tends to increase fast, and the resulting sense of frustration can quickly lead to dangerous black-or-white solutions, which usually don’t satisfy the underlying needs of any of the parties involved.

Managing complexity usually requires us to limit the number of negotiables we focus on at any one point in time. Experience shows us that a range of 6 – 8 negotiables provides a manageable level of complexity which most negotiators seem to be able to work with effectively.

However, experience also tells us that having too few negotiables is just as bad as having too many. In both cases most negotiators tend to focus on the obvious, quantitative negotiables more, which usually leads to a discussion purely around price, rather than value.

Mistake # 6: Not preparing breakthrough strategies in advance

Handling tactics, power-play, and blocked situations on the spur of the moment often doesn’t provide successful results, unless you happen to have a long track-record and a wealth of relevant experience in business negotiations, or if you are equipped with an unusually strong intuitive guidance system.

We have seen even the most seasoned negotiators getting into totally blocked situations, especially when tension levels increase and their brain goes into fight-or-flight mode. A key breakthrough strategy thus is to monitor and actively manage your personal emotional state, as well as leading your counterparts towards a constructive process of creating common ground and co-creating a mutually beneficial outcome. We suggest brainstorming potential breakthrough strategies with your team in advance, as part of the scenario-planning, and involving a seasoned negotiation coach where needed.

Mistake # 7: Selling and challenging instead of co-creating

Although there clearly are many exceptions to this rule, we find that especially in Europe many business leaders do not like being sold to. They also often don’t respond especially well to having their business strategies, plans and activities challenged by sales-people (the Challenger Sale approach often doesn’t work well in this part of the world). And increasingly, we hear executives state that the win-win approach often produces compromises which aren’t really satisfying.

One of our clients has even coined the term win-win is for losers!

In today’s complex, multinational, multi-option, multi-polar world, we need to go beyond cleverly crafted compromises, and instead orchestrate the context for co-creating more holistic, sustainable, truly satisfying solutions with our counterparts in the business-negotiations we get involved in.

Mistake # 8: Not probing and checking assumptions deeply enough

We often find in our business negotiation coaching assignments that our clients believe they have understood what their counterparts really want – and they usually have already developed a whole host of potential solutions for the perceived problem. It seems that many negotiators enjoy the sense of satisfaction involved in the problem-solving process. So as soon as they see a problem, they immediately start solving it.

This highly transactional problem-solving approach often leads sales teams to present their clients with the perfect solution for the wrong problem!

Even if you provide clients with exactly what they asked you for, you may find that they are still not truly satisfied with what you give them. Especially in complex business negotiations we need to take time to check our assumptions and dig deeper, in order to understand the true underlying personal and business motives, as well as the respective hierarchy of needs driving the dynamics of the negotiation.

Mistake # 9: Not structuring the negotiation process effectively

Our negotiation coaches are often called to intervene and provide support in negotiations that have become blocked – or totally unstuck. One of the first things we do in such situations is to conduct a meta-negotiation with all parties involved, to redefine or recalibrate the rules of engagement, clarify the expectations, define the desired deliverables, develop a common denominator, and agree on mutually acceptable ways to take the negotiation forward.

Such meta-negotiations are especially important and effective in the context of intercultural business negotiations, as they help to create the common ground which is usually required, in order to establish a sense of mutual trust and transparency. Creating such small but significant incremental agreements, and linking them up logically, can provide a quick and effective way to break through blocked situations and to create solutions that satisfy the real needs of all parties involved.

Mistake # 10: Ineffective deal closing and post-deal implementation

Many procurement professionals admit to experiencing what they call purchaser’s remorse after closing a deal, especially if they learn later that they could have got a better deal, if only they had fought longer and harder.

The best sales negotiators seem to help their procurement partners by putting together a sound business case and coherent, relevant business story (that is why relevant storytelling is so important in the sales process), enabling the buyers to make a better case for their purchase within their own organization.

When I work with procurement specialists, they often tell me that this is the most important thing they would like to receive support with from the sales people they meet. And at the same time it is the MAIN thing they usually don’t get.

Learn more about how you can improve the results of your international negotiations at


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Power Of Priming

Once upon a time, in the Wild Wild West, when thirsty cowboys would finally find a well where they could draw water for themselves, their horses and their cattle, they would find a flask or bottle of water next to the pump. In those days, the hose which was supposed to transport the water up from the bottom of the well, was often made of leather or a similar type of material, that would get dry and brittle over time, if it was not used frequently. You could work the pump as much as you liked, but it would not draw up any water for you, as long as the hose was dry and brittle. So you needed to gently pour the water from the bottle provided into the dry hose, which would become moist and more supple in the process. And with that, the cowboys could draw up as much water as they wanted.

This process was called priming the pump.

Thus as a thirsty cowboy, you had to first make a key decision when you got to the well:

Would you quench your thirst immediately, with the water provided in the bottle?

Or would you invest the water into priming the pump, deferring the possible immediate gratification of quenching your thirst, but with the realistic expectation of gaining much more of the precious water in return?
Using Psychological Priming Techniques In Negotiations

Psychological priming techniques essentially leverage a tendency of our minds to take shortcuts when faced with complex decision-making situations. It seems that our mind can consciously juggle only four to nine bits of information at a time. If we are faced with a vast amount of information and variables we need to take into account when making a decision, we reduce the complex rush of input we receive from the world in and around us into a shorthand version of reality.

Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts we use to solve such data-overload situations. They speed up the processing in our brain, but sometimes these shortcuts lead us to drawing conclusions so fast, that we miss what is really important. We tend to look for information that confirms our beliefs and ignore information that challenges them. When pattern recognition fails, we create patterns of our own – the mind fills in the gaps.

Every person, experience and object we encounter triggers an avalanche of associations in our mind, and most of the resulting thoughts, feelings and impressions are biased, based on the shortcuts and mental maps of the world we have created in the past.

Psychological priming takes advantage of these mental shortcuts, which works best if the person being primed is not aware of it. Let us look at a number of priming techniques which are frequently used by expert negotiators to influence the subconscious decision making patterns of the people they find themselves negotiating with:

-          Affect heuristic:

First impressions focus your thinking and directly affect any decisions you may take

-          Recency bias :

We link what we think and believe to the most recent credible data we have received concerning a topic

-          Status & authority bias :

Data and information provided or supported by a credible authority figure is believed more readily

-          Conformity bias :

Conformity is a strong, subconscious survival instinct, e.g. conforming to norms, majorities, statistics on best practise, market intelligence, what competitors are doing, etc.

-          Availability heuristic :

We believe something to be normal, if we can find an example or a physical representation of it, but don’t believe something exists (or that it is possible), if we have never seen or heard it before. The more available, concrete and credible a piece of information is, the faster you process it and the more you will believe it.

-          Confirmation bias :

We like to be told what we think we somehow already knew – this satisfies our need to right

-          Hindsight bias :

Even when presented with sensational new information, if it is presented in a credible manner, we asume we really already knew what we just learned, and call it common sense

-          Introspection illusion :

We like to believe that we really do understand our true motives, needs and desires, and we like people who help us to maintain this illusion

-          Choice supportive bias :

The more expensive a purchase, the greater our loyalty becomes for it. An emotional connection is created to something we view as being precious. Once they have bought something expensive, people will fight very hard to defend their choice and avoid purchaser’s remorse.

At first sight, each one of these priming techniques may seem to be all too obvious, and easy to detect. As expert negotiators know, the real power of priming comes into play when you start stacking them, by using five, six or more of the techniques simultaneously, swiftly and precisely, so that the conscious thinking processes of the counterpart become overwhelmed. As a result, the priming messages slip right past the conscious filtering process and speak directly to the subconscious mind, where the real decision-making happens.

These techniques are so powerful, that even if you happen to detect several of the priming messages your counterpart may be applying during a negotiation, as long as he or she stacks enough of them, one on top of the other, fast enough, and with precision, your subconscious patterns will still be triggered.

So, whenever you are involved in negotiations, ask yourself :

« Am I still driving, or am I being driven ? »