Entrainment as a concept was initially discovered by a Dutch physicist, who found that when he set several pendulum clocks in motion, after a while the sway of their pendulums completely synchronized. Subsequently, the term entrainment has been used to describe a tendency of systems to synchronize their rhythm over time. Like many phenomena we observe in nature that may appear to be messy and chaotic at first sight, business negotiations are essentially organized in layered patterns of intricate, fractal design. When we are fully involved in such interactions, in a process governed by basic relationship rules, we can frequently observe a self-organizing pattern of entrainment emerging.
For sales specialists, key account managers and business negotiators the key is to understand that the entrainment-effect causes one entity to resonate synchronously with another in response to the dominant frequency of vibration. However, most people will probably resist obvious attempts by their opponent to dominate the conversation during business negotiations. Trying to dominate the people you negotiate with by using clever manipulation techniques usually only makes matters worse. Physically mirroring your counterpart’s posture, gestures and key words during a business negotiation in order to drive entrainment actually works – until they catch you doing it.
Rhythmic entrainment is a natural tendency in human behavior, including the way people adjust the rhythm of their speech patterns to those of the subject with whom they communicate, as well as the synchronized chant of the crowd at a concert, or the rhythmic unison of an audience clapping. Even amongst strangers, the rate of breathing, gestures, and rhythmic speech patterns tend to synchronize and entrain automatically over time. But again – the moment your negotiation counterpart notices your attempts to manipulate them through active mirroring, their guard usually goes up and the level of trust goes down.
Deep Dialogue Techniques Create Natural Entrainment
The frequency following response is a specific reaction to hearing sounds, including stories and music, by which neural oscillations adjust their frequency to match the rhythm and patterns of auditory stimuli. Research by neuroscientists such as Uri Hasson of Princeton University would seem to support our observation that telling engaging stories is a highly effective technique for creating neural entrainment. Neuroscientists tell us that stories and deep dialogue techniques have the effect of synchronizing the brainwave patterns of the audience with those of the person speaking to them.
However, the deciding factor, is the listener’s willingness to entrain to the frequency of the person they are engaging with. And this is where most negotiators seem to make their initial big mistake.
In order to create effective neural entrainment, we first need to catch the attention and earn the trust of our audience.
Many negotiators seem to cut to the chase too quickly, shifting into a transactional problem-solving mode before any real sense of engagement has been achieved.
This is often the perfect recipe for failure.
In sales and business negotiations you may need to slow down initially in order to speed up the process.
If you don’t, you may end up creating the perfect solution for the wrong problem!
The following process will help you to get on to the same wavelength with the people you engage with in sales and business negotiations:
- Engagement: Creating a strong sense of rapport, respect and common ground first is essential, in order to really tune in to the frequency of the people we may be negotiating with. The way in which you need to handle this first step will depend to a large extent on the cultural background and personality of the people you are dealing with.
- Commitment: Take your counterpart on a step-by-step journey instead of requiring them to take a leap of faith from their status quo towards the desired future state. Walk through the process of developing the appropriate solutions with them, so that they feel a strong sense of ownership for both the process and the end result.
- Interruption: Negotiations quickly tend to induce a trance state in which the participants are so focused on the state of play, mentally and emotionally absorbed by the short-term power-tactics, that they no longer see the big picture and what is really going on in and around them. Their inner search engine begins to create what we call an information bubble, in which they increasingly only hear what they already know, filtering out and eliminating information that doesn’t immediately fit in with their current mental processes. At this stage it is important to break the thought patterns and create cognitive tension by introducing relevant, disruptive factors into the conversation, actively transforming and redirecting it towards a more creative, satisfactory, successful outcome.
- Refocus: By interrupting their routine mental processes you create a short window of opportunity in which your counterpart can reassess their priorities, explore new options, clarify their objectives, identify possible obstacles, assess potential opportunity costs and co-create alternative, innovative outcome scenarios.
- Resource: At this stage your counterpart may go into a state of overwhelm, if you don’t quickly help them to identify and access the resources required to close the gap between their status quo and the future state they wish to achieve.
- Evaluation: According to our experience many negotiators skip this final step in their drive to close the deal as quickly as possible. Doing so will often cost them dearly. Many well-crafted deals will still fall apart, if you don’t secure a strong sense of engagement, closure and commitment before you get your counterpart to sign on the dotted line. A powerful close should include a clear, mutual understanding of what will be different and better in the future state you have developed together, how success will be measured or experienced, and WHY they are willing to fully commit to this jointly developed outcome.
This type of neural entrainment requires a willingness and ability to engage in deep dialogue, which tends to increase the level and quality of the thought processes, emotional engagement and personal commitment of all parties involved.
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