The Second 7 of the Luckiest 13 Communication Tips in Negotiation

Communication is the stage upon which the negotiation drama is played out. Listening and speaking are the literal nuts and bolts of communication but they are accompanied by the more mysterious figurative elements of body language and an open mind. Mastery of both the figurative and the literal is essential to negotiate effectively. The open mind brings a bonanza of techniques that are beyond the reach of our closed minded brethren.

Communication is the stage upon which the negotiation drama is played out. Listening and speaking are the literal nuts and bolts of communication. Here are the second seven tips of how to communicate better in negotiation.

7—–Reflective response

This technique recognizes that two or more people can hear the same words and come to different conclusion as to what was said. If you don’t think it is possible for two people to hear the same words, know the individual meanings of the words, yet come to vastly different conclusions, consult someone who is married for a second opinion.

Not only do individual words have different meanings but usage varies, some people speak poorly and our own prejudices get in the way on clear communications. If someone says OJ, your response would include the words orange juice. If they meant O J Simpson, your reflective response would clear that up before you got any further down field. The use of the reflective response in tandem with the ‘I’ statement are some of the most plentiful and powerful negotiation techniques you will deploy.

We can sometimes be confused by the tone of voice or individual delivery styles. For this reason, it is advisable to question the speaker about intent rather than impart our own meaning. For instance, suppose someone says, “Well that’s just great.” The meaning could be literal or it could be the sarcastic opposite. The tone may be used by the speaker to indicate frustration, disgust, anger, pride, or other conclusions. Such statements call for open ended questions on the part of the listener. Fortunately, the spoken words of our verbal language leave clues of the speaker’s meaning independent of the tone.

Verbal clues come unexpectedly. Let’s take them on in the same staccato style in which we are likely to encounter them. Keep your ears attuned to these words when they pop up in negotiations because they usually signal important meanings or information that is worth pursuing.


The ‘but’ word is a verbal eraser of everything that comes before it. How many times have you heard interlopers jump in with the prefaced excuse, “I am no expert on that, but“…What is the next sentence out of that person’s mouth likely to proclaim to the world? He is ready to demonstrate what an expert he really is, irrespective of qualifications. As my father loved to say, “Why ruin a good argument with facts?”

The use of ‘but’ may also send the other side scurrying for weapons to counter attack this new revelation. We can clean up our act by substituting ‘and’ instead of ‘but’. “I am no expert in negotiation and here I am negotiating with you, so please help me out.” Instead of connoting challenge or flattery with the ‘but’ word, we have ratcheted down the conflict level.

9—–”I’m sorry’

Be on alert for these words of apology. Why would anyone apologize in advance for what they are about to say? The effect of the phrase ‘I’m sorry’ is to erase all the words that trivialize the words that come after it. It trivializes the content to the extent that it may be ignored. If the sales person says, “I’m sorry. Our policy won’t permit returns,” she has expressed half hearted agreement with the policy, connoted an air of weakness and invited further investigation. Reserve the words ‘I’m sorry’ for mistakes.

10—–Changes in speech patterns

Train your ears to perk up when someone speeds up, slows down, repeats, answers a question other than what was asked, or otherwise changes their pattern of speech. These departures from the usual betray a loss of poise that bears exploration.

When a speaker speeds up, they may be unconsciously trying to get past the trouble spot. If they whistle past the graveyard, maybe you won’t notice they are afraid.

Sunday morning TV news shows serve up a bonanza of suspicious speech patterns. Every politician worth the office knows the value of answering whatever they want to say, no matter the question. It is a way to get the message out, stay consistent, and avoid off script traps. Unless you are negotiating for public office, this circuitous route may not be the best. When faced with the politician negotiator, ask the same question in different words to eliminate any honest misunderstanding. Suppose, for instance, that you ask your spouse, What time is dinner?” In response, you hear, “Well, I put the roast in at four thirty.” This is an honest misunderstanding caused by answering a question other than what was asked.

Ask close ended questions to improve precision. Perhaps insert the ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ word to clarify, and include the reflective response too such as in this sentence. “And you expect that roast will be ready at about what time?” You have narrowed the funnel quite a bit without creating any undue friction. As a last resort, explain your frustration and ask for help. If you receive none, your suspicions are confirmed. Often times, depending on the individual’s personality, a seller may not want to answer a question head on for fear of offending someone, betraying a confidence, or general insecurity.

11—–Announcer statements

Announcer statements encompass a variety of prefatory remarks intended to condition the other side for desired effect. Off the cuff terminology comparable to “By the way”, or “As you know” sometimes inadvertently introduce important or decoy information.

The preface, “To be honest with you,” merits particular attention. On its face, the phrase is ridiculous. Is the speaker confessing dishonesty up to this point? That is probably not the intention, but it may be the message received. It should alert the listener that significant information probably follows.

The use of repetition is another announcer alarm tone. Politicians repeat for emphasis, or maybe because they expect people not to listen so they won’t notice the repetition. Constant repetition, however, may be an indication of importance of the repeated point. It might simply be a flaw in negotiation skills. In any event, it bears clarification.

12—–Avoid pronouns

Is anything more prone to confusion than the overuse of pronouns? They (referring to pronouns) are just too non specific. The pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘we’ and ‘they’ are tough enough, but ‘it’ comes in for special scrutiny. A description that goes on for more than three sentences needs to reconfirm the identity of nouns being supplanted by pronouns. Any more than one male in a story and the use of ‘he’ becomes troublesome. Given that ‘it’ covers almost all creation, the pronoun problem (it, meaning the pronoun problem) cannot be overstated.

At home, I live with a wife, two daughters and a cat, all female. With my back to the crowd, I will hear, “did you see how she did to her?” Huh? Unless the house is on fire, I tune out all the static noise rather than try to unravel the pronoun references.

13—–Distinguish observation from conclusion

This fault of logic must be one of the most common problems for familiar parties. If someone offers an observation, do not impute your own conclusion. It may not coincide with theirs. If the seller says, “We cannot sell at that price,” that is merely an observation. To furnish our own conclusion would be erroneous. We cannot summarily conclude that the price is too low. It could mean their costs are too high, or that they have some other controlling factor that is not divulged. Clarify the conclusion by asking straight away about what conclusion to draw. If the person is challenged by direct questions, employ the reflective response and rephrase the observation. Then, with the ‘I’ statement, ask about the conclusion. The talk might be like this. “So, if I understand the statement, that price is not available. Is that right so far?” If you hear a no, investigate with open end questions. If the answer is yes, the test for conclusion might be, “So that I am clear, is the conclusion that the price is too low for to cover the costs?”