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
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.