Effective negotiating tactics: stop talking!

Posted by on January 12, 2010 in Negotiations

If you follow sports long enough, a certain pattern emerges in any league. One person is anointed the franchise of the league (think Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and, um, until recently Tiger Woods); they can do no wrong and the league does anything and everything within their power to maintain this image. Every league has a player or players who are the bad guys and then there are the court jesters- the guy the league brings out to show its fun, modern and hip.

In the National Basketball Association (the NBA) the court jester was Gilbert Arenas- until last week. Gilbert, or Agent Zero, was suspended indefinitely by the league for: (i) bringing unloaded guns from his house into his locker-room; (ii) had some type of conflict with a team-mate over an unpaid gambling debt which may or may not have involved one party pulling said gun (or guns) on the other (given an on-going criminal investigation, what occurred exactly in the locker-room is speculation rather than fact); (iii) going onto Twitter and joking about his situation; and  (iii) making light of the situation by pretending at a pre-game introduction to shoot his team-mates with guns made out of his fingers. Agent Zero may, in fact, be a reference to his level of common sense.

We can all learn from Gilbert Arenas as negotiators. Mainly, stop talking. Just stop.

What you do not say is sometimes better than what you do say especially in delicate situations. Here is an excerpt from Gilbert Arenas’ official press release before he was suspended:

“I told the detectives and prosecutors the whole story about my storing the unloaded guns at the Verizon Center and what I was intending to do when I took them out of my locker on December 21st.

As I have said before, I had kept the four unloaded handguns in my house in Virginia, but then moved them over to my locker at the Verizon Center to keep them away from my young kids. I brought them without any ammunition into the District of Columbia, mistakenly believing that the recent change in the DC gun laws allowed a person to store unloaded guns in the District.

On Monday, December 21st, I took the unloaded guns out in a misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate. Contrary to some press accounts, I never threatened or assaulted anyone with the guns and never pointed them at anyone.”

If what Gilbert Arenas said to the authorities was consistent with his press release, he admitted to the following:

  • bringing firearms to a place of employment, a breach of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement
  • transporting guns over state lines, a criminal offense
  • drawing a firearm on a third party, a possible criminal offense (whether you think it is a joke or not is irrelevant. In many jurisdictions, the criminal offense of assault compromises of the intended victim believing reasonably that you would attempt to carry out harm on them. Battery is the actual touching of someone unlawfully)

One is not exactly sure why he would admit these to the public. If he spoke to the authorities and then said nothing publicly, there would not be any sense of public outrage, or fear of public backlash, if the authorities declined to act further. By issuing the statement, the media is hounding the authorities to do something.

Perhaps, Gilbert Arenas wanted the press. Once a court jester, always a court jester. And, yes, he took down his Twitter account (I suspect his lawyer had a little chat with him about that).

For an example that applies to people who are not professional athletes, consider a mailer I received from a real estate agent who recommended that if you have to be at home during an open house, just smile and say as little as possible. We are wired to tell stories but sometimes our stories hurt us as negotiators. As the mailer continued, the vendor told everyone at the open house that the condo was full of nice old people. Problem was most of the potential buyers were younger couples who may not want to live in that type of building (having lived in both a younger person and older person condo, there is a huge difference).

The rule when being questioned by the authorities is always be respectful, be polite and only answer what is being asked. Don’t try to tell your story. All you are doing is giving angles to the other side to use against you. The same concept applies in negotiating.

To be clear, if there is something that needs to be disclosed legally or ethically, disclose it. However “stop talking” refers to not staying on point in negotiations and wandering off into what may be interesting facts or some self-need to spill your guts to strangers. It is ok to say you are selling the 2nd car to pay off some bills but I am not sure we need to know about all the good times you had in the backseat in graphic detail.

Stop talking also means keep a muzzle on your social media accounts (a rant onto itself). If you are selling your house, please don’t post on your Facebook page “Put our house up for sale. Hope someone buys soon. Bought another place already.” You never know who is reading your Facebook feed or what your privacy settings are.

Finally, stop talking refers to Four Pillar’s excellent post about bias and pointless arguing. Negotiations is much like sales. You are trying to get to a result. Good salespeople know that getting to a “no” is almost as important as getting to a “yes” so bias and pointless arguing may just annoy the other side and forgo the opportunity cost  of negotiating with someone who wants to negotiate a deal which, frankly, is much more desirable than hearing the sound of another’s voice drone on and on…

1 Comment on Effective negotiating tactics: stop talking!

By A Lap Of The Blogs : WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo.com on January 14, 2010 at 11:25 pm

[...] of the golden rules of negotiations and sales: know when to stop talking. Thicken My Wallet [...]

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