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The Art Of Negotiation


by Stephen McGarvey, author of “Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior

Persuasion typically involves some level of negotiation, whether it’s a quick haggle and a handshake or a years-long process. The key to productive negotiation lies in two parties finding alignment and agreement at a high level, while slowly moving into details. Given that, establishing a healthy rapport in order to develop a foundation of trust is essential for successful negotiations. Once you have rapport there will generally be a willingness to align with each other at a higher level, and then your negotiations are more likely to reach that point at which both parties are satisfied.

In the course of negotiation, it’s important to avoid thinking about a “relationship” as an entity that can be lost or gained. It’s more beneficial to consider your interaction as an ongoing process of relating between two or more people. This way, you’ll be able to stand firm to your principles and be free of the niggling feeling that you may “damage the relationship.” It’s also worth noting that your rapport within any given process of relating is elastic, meaning that it can stretch or contract depending on the circumstances. Again, this allows you to be bold in your negotiations. The elasticity of rapport helps you question confidently, challenge respectfully, and negotiate skillfully as you move toward a common goal.

The Art of Language.

When negotiating, it’s crucial to understand the different structures of language we employ and their impact; that is, surface structure and deep structure. Surface structure refers to language that is more abstract or vague, consisting of the labels we use to represent actual experiences. On the other hand, deep structure refers to language that reveals actual experiences, details, and specific information. Moving between and understanding these structures depends on the questions you ask. So, how do we use these structures successfully in a negotiation?

Moving the other negotiating party toward a more abstract surface structure is called “chunking up,” and relies on questions like:

    • What is this an example of?
    • For what purpose…?

Conversely, moving toward a deep structure is called “chunking down.” To chunk down, ask questions that can recover deeper levels of meaning and more detail such as:

  • What are examples of this?
  • What are other examples of this?
  • What specifically…?
  • Who specifically…?

You can also chunk laterally to find other suitable examples at the same level before moving toward greater detail. Chunking laterally can increase your flexibility in the negotiation process and reveal agreeable alternatives.

Whichever direction you guide the conversation, it’s important to stay fluid and chunk in whatever way is necessary.

When Communication Stumbles.

Faltering communications will require you to ask broader questions to reach the more abstract, bigger picture where you first found alignment with the other party. Move to reframing the conversation and chunking either laterally or downward to progress into the details while maintaining agreement along the way.

If disagreement arises or when in doubt, move back to the last point of agreement to maintain rapport before going further into detail. The ability to do this requires some grit.

Get Grit.

Grit is critical to the success of your negotiations. If agreement is wavering, remember to be resilient and confident in figuring out where things went awry. Remain in a state of curiosity and ask clarifying questions to determine how best to regain alignment. While preserving negotiations, remember that unexpected or disagreeable outcomes are temporary and that the process is flexible. When disagreement inevitably arises, it’s important to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Agreeing When You Disagree.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable is a strategy you can use to maintain your rapport and agree in principle, even if you’re finding yourself reaching a disagreement on some specific matter.

Begin by agreeing in principle by repeat the information that the other party has shared so you can show them your understanding of their position. Then, simply restate your purpose. This requires you to affirm your boundary and reinforce your intention, while allowing you to avoid repeatedly justifying your own position. In this way, you can sustain your resolve and grit while focusing on preserving rapport.

Maintaining agreement in principle and nurturing a healthy rapport while moving between surface and deep structures is the key to effective negotiation. As long as you think about rapport as an elastic process that can fluctuate, you will be empowered to enter into negotiations with the kind of grit and confidence required to be a great influencer. With these ideas in mind, you can boldly go forward as you continue developing these skills on your way to becoming a master of persuasion, influence and negotiation.


Stephen McGarvey

Stephen McGarvey is an international speaker, an expert on persuasion and influence, and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Solutions In Mind. He assists corporations and audiences around the world in solving difficult communications problems by guiding them on an engaging, fast-paced, fascinating journey inside the unconscious mind. His new book is “Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior“.