Stop the Roller Coaster, I Want to Get Off
Controlling the Commotion of Emotion
Before you make a decision, your emotions rage all over the place. Then when you make a decision, you set about rationalizing it. When you watch yourself and other people carefully, you can actually see the transition from one emotional state to the next—from the emotional state to the decision state. Every day, every hour, even every minute, under some circumstances, you flip back and forth, back and forth. I want to change my career. I just do, even though I’m doing well right here. My dad says I shouldn’t. I know I probably shouldn’t. But I want to. We’ve all had such experiences. I want to buy this car. I know I shouldn’t. Yeah, I will. Back and forth, on issues big and small. Sometimes this dynamic is plain for all to see. Sometimes it’s almost all underground. Regardless, it is always there.
Successful negotiation of any sort requires that you understand this fact and use it. As I have already emphasized in the introduction, your overriding task as a negotiator—in the office or in the home, with your family, or anywhere at all— is to replace compromise- and fear-based negotiating with decision-based negotiating. You must learn to progress from raw, unexamined emotions, which never produce good agreements, to the careful decisions that eventually do. Most negotiators remain mired in their own emotions. Nor do they ever get past the emotions that are bogging the other side down. You must see the emotions on both sides for what they are and work with them, not against them. When you do, you’re way ahead of the game and way ahead of 99 percent of your fellow men and women. But it’s hard not to get trapped in the emotional realm, especially because of one particular emotion that dominates all others in negotiations: neediness.
Exhibit No. 1: Neediness
Why are the eyes of so many beasts like the big cats, grizzly bears, polar bears, and wolverines set in the front of the head, facing forward? Because these animals are predators always looking ahead for prey. They have no need to look back or even much to the side. They have their eyes on the prize, because this is how they make their living. Now, why are our own eyes also set in the front of the head, facing forward? Because we are predators as well. Watching children in a playground is delightful, but it is also cautionary, as every parent knows, because along with the friendships and the kindnesses we also see some king-of-the-hill, one-upmanship, bullying instincts emerge at an early age. For many, these instincts last a lifetime, as anyone who has spent much time in a nursing home knows. They accompany some of us right to the grave. (You’ve probably seen the ad on TV with the two sets of grandparents sending pictures of their grandchildren back and forth, trying to one-up each other. The scene is played for laughs, but it also says a lot about human nature.)
Our “one-upping,” predatory nature is a harsh truth and not always a welcome one. But it is a vitally necessary point for you to understand. Like it or not, we are predators by nature, and the first instinct of predators is to take advantage of the fear-racked, the distressed, the vulnerable—in one word, the needy. We humans, at least, are also capable of wonderful altruism, but we don’t see much altruism in the world of business and negotiation, despite all the sweet talk of cagey practitioners.
In a negotiation, you may be dealing with some serious predators who are looking for the slightest sign of distress and neediness. “Dog-eat-dog” may not do justice to the aggression you will encounter, and good negotiators pounce on the slightest appearance of weakness. Every time you leave a long-winded message on an answering machine providing all kinds of information, you put yourself at a disadvantage. How? You’re too anxious and therefore seem needy. Each time you answer a question with much more information than is really called for, you are showing neediness and putting yourself at risk. Every time you set a price and then lower it, you are showing need and putting yourself in a weaker position. By cutting your price without being asked to and then explaining why you felt it important to cut the price, you are showing neediness and reinforcing a bad habit.
Many business negotiators are expert in creating neediness by feeding the hopes and expectations of the other side. They paint rosy, exaggerated scenarios for year-making commissions and career-making deals—all for the purpose of building neediness on the part of the other side for this bonanza. Then, when the neediness is well established, they lower the boom with changes, exceptions, and a host of other demands. And why not? They have the upper hand.
These are not profound observations about neediness. They are common sense, when you stop to think about them. The problem is that all too often we do not stop to think about neediness. Many trained negotiators schooled at our finest institutions have never heard a discussion of the subject, let alone considered how to deal with neediness. I know this because I’ve lectured at these institutions. The students understand what I’m talking about immediately—who wouldn’t?—but they have no sense of how neediness plays out over the course of a negotiation. Certainly most people don’t watch out for neediness during the negotiations encountered in their daily lives. But you must. When you slip and allow yourself to appear needy you are in danger and your negotiation is in big trouble.
You do not need this deal
Today, in our wealthy society, most of us have no good reason to need much of anything, but somehow we fool ourselves and program our minds and make statements like “I need this leather jacket.” Or “I need this Maserati.” Or “I need to make this call.” Or “I need to talk to you.” Or “I need this opportunity.” Or “I need this deal.” Or “I need to see her.” We use the word “need” much too casually.
You’re negotiating for a new home? You love this one house so much you need it? It’s perfect—perfect neighborhood, school district, size, color, fixtures, garage, game room, everything? You have to have it? You’ve decided for sure? In the first place, do you really need it? It’s not your family or your career. It is, bottom line, a shelter with four walls (probably more) and a roof. There are others. In the second place, who says the seller is not the one with some real neediness to make this deal? Control your own neediness. If, after all the looking at houses, you decide to pay a $100,000 premium, at least you’ve clearly understood what you’re doing, and why. (Clearly, auctions are expressly designed to build and manipulate dueling buyers’ respective neediness. Beware.)
You do truly need the basics of physical survival—air, water, food, clothing, and shelter—and everyone reading this book already has these. You also need the basics of intellectual and emotional well-being for a well-lived life of love, family, friendship, satisfying work, hobbies, and faith—each reader has his or her own list here. But it’s a short list, and it does not—or should not—include the $500 jacket or the $100,000 car, because there are other jackets and other cars. Nor should the list include this particular job, deal, or agreement, because there are other jobs, deals, and agreements.
You do not need this agreement. Nevertheless, neediness is everywhere. Sometimes it is blatant and easy to spot, but just as often it is subtle and insidious.
Test Drive Take ten minutes at the end of the day and assess your actions and your conversations, looking for signs of neediness. No one knows better than you when it’s sneaking into the picture. Honest appraisal will uncover it. Did you talk too much or too fast in a conversation, negotiation, or interview, maybe to make just the right impression? Jot this neediness down.
•Did you leave long-winded messages? Jot it down.
•Did you make the direct statement “I need this or that”? Jot it down.
•Did you get excited and start looking ahead at the thought of some success, great or small? Jot it down.
•When you’re finished making your list, think carefully about the real motivation behind each item—not the apparent motivation or the rationalized motivation, but the real one. See if you can identify the neediness.
The list of our needs is endless. Our passion for the perfect house? It includes just a wee bit of neediness to demonstrate to the world our financial success, doesn’t it? The dueling grandparents sending pictures of the grandkids in the TV ad? There’s some neediness in that scenario, too: the neediness to be seen as winning grandparents with successful children who are in turn rearing these incredible grandchildren.
This is the way we are—and in our everyday lives, so what? But in negotiation it’s a different story. In negotiation, neediness is a killer. People who understand this—who see the big ways and little ways people express neediness—use this understanding to great advantage.
Test Drive After you have identified your own signs of neediness on a given day, look around your world and find the signs in others: the people who talked too much in an effort to please you, who needed to be right all the time, who needed to win at all costs, who needed to be the center of attention. If you look, you’ll find the neediness.
It is very easy to slip into such a state of neediness, often without even being aware of it. Think about something as simple as a greeting.
Hi, I’m Betty Jones.
Hello, Ms. Jones.
Such subtle subservience could put you at an immediate disadvantage in an important negotiation. Such a response concedes that Ms. Jones is top gun in this room, and she will know it. You could be ripe for the picking. So call her Betty instead.
Consider this appeal for an appointment:
Ms. Smith, this is Bob Harris. I’m with First Advantage Venture Fund, and I want to see if I could get ten minutes on your calendar so I can show you how we can work with you in the future.
Remember, start-up companies aren’t the only parties who can be needy. Some start-ups are well funded and choosy regarding any venture capitalist they may bring in. Investors can also get into the needy mode, just as Bob Harris did while more or less begging for this appointment. It leaves a poor first impression. Bob should have said, “Hi, Jill, my name is Bob Harris. I’m not quite sure that we as a venture fund fit where you’re going. I just don’t know. What I’d like to do is meet with you so we can see where you’re going and you can look at where we’re going at First Advantage and see if there might be a fit. When’s the best time on your calendar?”
No neediness in this approach. Just a calm proposal accompanied by a quiet invitation for Jill to say “no thanks” if she happens to have all the capital she requires.
Or say you’re “negotiating” for your first job. This is a big deal. (I know. My daughter Kristi is embarking on her first job search as I write this paragraph. I remember the equivalent moments in the lives of the other kids. I remember it in my own life. It’s a big deal, and it is a negotiation.) You have college loans on which the first payment is due in six months. You want to prove your worthiness to your parents and your family—and yourself. And this job you’re interviewing for is the perfect job in the perfect part of the country. You’re losing sleep over this amazing opportunity. You are overwhelmed with enthusiasm. You are eager and accept the very first appointment time. You spend hours preparing statements about how valuable you would be to this organization. In the interview itself, you sit forward in your chair, talk a little fast, start answering before the interviewers can even finish the questions.
Tell me Harold, in school did you—?
Oh, I loved school, I really enjoyed accounting and finance, I found I was really good in those areas and I really enjoyed my professors.
Tell me something about—
I just love your company and the work that you do, I really think I am a perfect fit. I grew up just down the street and I know a lot about your company and its customers. I have watched all the changes and it is just amazing how far it has come.
What is your—?
I am very strong in people skills and am a very talented listener who can focus on the issues at hand.
I have completed almost thirty percent of the work toward my MBA and I plan to finish part-time while working for you.
What’s going on here? Harold’s neediness to land this job is killing his thought process and ruining his chances. He’s not thinking about the challenges facing the company—he’s not even thinking about why the company decided to interview him. He’s practically screaming “neediness,” and the interviewer will not be impressed. Think about it. Imagine that you have invited this young man or woman to discuss working for you and all he or she talks about is how good he or she is, what his or her plans are, and what he or she sees as his or her greatest strength. How in the world do you hire someone like that? If you’re like me, you’re much more likely to consider someone who wants to know about your company and the opportunity you offer. You want someone who’s calm, cool, and collected. You might not have put the issue in these terms before now, but you want someone who’s not so darned needy.
Excerpted from No by Jim Camp. Copyright © 2007 by Jim Camp. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.