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Serving Not Selling: Using Empathy To Negotiate

Sean: I want to jump into one other thing that is important for me. And as I was browsing your site, I was actually excited to talk about this, and that is ‘negotiation.’ I live in the Philippines and here in our country, we call businessmen or entrepreneurs – we call them “negosyante” – negotiators. That’s what we call them.

I’m going to ask you the opening question for that and that is what makes negotiation so difficult? Because a lot of people shy away from it. They would rather not do it, then have to negotiate. What makes it easier for you?

Bruno: There are two aspects of negotiation. So first of is the personal aspect of this negotiation process.

So this means the relationship. This is probably the most important aspect of the negotiation process. So the personalized negotiation, then you have what we call the substantive aspect of negotiation. This means price, quantity, quality. Things that its condition should be negotiated, and this could be – if you are negotiating with an employee; it will be salary, time for working, and so on.

Many people tend to focus only on the substantive aspect of these negotiation processes. This means get in there, for example, if they’re selling a product, getting the higher price and obviously to get more profits, bigger volume and so on. Now in practice, we have to understand that we need to care for both personal aspects of negotiation and substantive negotiation.

And we do so when we care for the relationship, as well as for the condition to be negotiated. Many people throw their relationship out to the negotiation process and they focus only on the transaction. This is what we call a transactional approach of negotiation. Not good. Because in some cases, individuals at one party tend to win at the expense of others.

It’s not a good approach. In the negotiation process, the only type of agreement that counts is win-win agreement. This means that both parties are benefiting from this agreement. When you have win-win agreements, you are more prone to the available long-term relationship. Because when both parties are satisfied, the relationship might not be only for this agreement, but also might be going on for other agreements.

Now, the biggest mistake in negotiation is not identifying the needs of others. Because you cannot satisfy each other’s needs in a mutual way, if we don’t know the needs of each other. So a very important question is; what is this party trying to achieve? What are their main needs? What are their main interests? And also we can express our interest too, to see if there is a common ground.

The common ground is very important. Why? Because there should be a common ground that is preserving the relationship despite disagreement, despite any conflict, or despite different views of the business transaction. Companies and individuals should always keep that in mind to preserve the relationship. The relationship is the most important aspect.

So I always like to quote a very famous author in negotiation, who observed that you have to be – hard with the problems, and soft with people. Hard with problems, soft with people. I like this approach. This is a book that was written a long time ago, and the author observes that you can get a bit emotional during negotiation that you can say things that are offensive to others.

You can get a bit aggressive during the negotiation process. You won’t be compassionate, you won’t be empathetic, and this is not good for the relationship and also not good for the transaction, and the negotiation, and the potential agreement. So this means that emotions should be unnoticed during the negotiation process.

And they’re likely to come up in some cases in a very disruptive way. When these emotions come during the negotiation process, when they come, I always tell my clients to get a cool off period. That means, leaving the room or interrupting the process for a while for the parties to reflect on these and always try to treat others in a caring and compassionate way.

Try to look for these interests that are related to the other party, and try to look for ways to connect, not only from the business perspective, but on an emotional level. Why this person or why this company is trying to get these interests, what things are important for them, what is relevant for them. But also try to use terminology like  “we”, “our agreement”, “our goal”. Not terminologies that show individualism, such as “I”, “or my interests”.  We can always say “our agreement”, “our potential agreement”, “our sharing of this information”, but also try to always to look for other ways to satisfy the other party’s interest.

So the interest kind of be satisfied only in one way. There are generally, many people tend to be non creative, that they try to focus only on one way to satisfy their interest. In some cases you can find creative ways to satisfy each other’s interests. So negotiations should be; for some recognizing the person with their emotions, recognizing that person with their interests, but also taking into account that.

The only way for this to succeed from the long term perspective is, an agreement to be win-win and is mutually profitable. I’m not sure, in some cases you look for creative ways to approach the negotiation process. I will also say that it is important to understand the other person’s view even if it could be conflicting with ours. Because what makes negotiation interesting is that we have different views on the transaction and decent reach in the relationship.

Enrich our relationship, if we can be available in win-win agreement, I also have observed that there are some higher goals, some much more specific goals – where we have disagreements. For example, there is agreement regarding the price; one would say that the price is high and the other one would say the price is low. Very clear disagreement there.

Well, we have to go to higher level goals. This means we want to preserve that relationship. We want that relationship to continue. We want to do business together for a while. So always look for higher level goals, when there are some specific disagreements regarding lower level goals, this means much more specific goals. And try to obviously relate to the person not only from the business perspective. I always say I have a full chapter on natural conversation. Try to know more about them. What are their fears? What are their expectations? What are the negative past experiences that they have that they might be preventing from obtaining a good agreement with you.?

So what are their dreams about this company? What is the most important aspect of their mission, their business mission in the case of company to company. So it’s important to understand that again. In negotiation, we are dealing with individuals, and in some cases representing their own companies and other cases representing themselves.

We have to focus both on the substantive aspect of business, this mean price, quality, quantity, and so on other conditions. And personal aspects of business, their fears, their expectations, they’re interests, and their desires. So what they really want, what is meaningful to them?

Sean: Awesome. There’s a lot of stuff that I got out from there.

And, you know what I think would be exciting. And this is the first time that I’m ever going to do this on the podcast; one thing that we can do is to have a little fun demonstration. So I don’t know if you’re game, but I have a budget in mind. Let’s say I have a budget in mind and you’re trying to sell me your coaching.

Let’s say you have a coaching package or coaching services for helping me to change my organization, to be more compassionate. So I have a budget in mind. I can’t go over that budget. You obviously have your selling price. There may be a bottom or the flat price that is your, you know, the lowest you can go.

And how do we play it out? So,that our audience could benefit.

Bruno: First off, let me correct you. I won’t try to ‘sell’ you. I will try to ‘serve’ you. And this is a very important difference. When for example, a seller is approaching a customer, my perspective will be not on selling them anything, but try to see if I can serve them.

You can say, but this sounds similar. No, selling is focusing on me when I sell and trying to focus on me or my interest or my goals. When I try to serve you, I will try to focus on your interests, on your goals, on your what is a value for you? And also when I am approaching you, I won’t try to be pushy.

Why? Because when you are in the selling mode, many companies tend to be pushy. They tend to get the best agreement. They tend to get, sell the best product for the company, not for others. So I won’t use the selling mode. I will use the serving mode. This means serving, trying to know what is a value for you.

So I will ask questions such as “what type of training are you looking for?” So, I will ask, for example; “What type of training did your company have in the past?” I will try to talk much more about you, than about my services at the beginning to discover a lot in order to see there is a match between your expectation, your needs, your interests, and the products.

I won’t try to force you into buying my products. What many companies try to do instead, I will do a little informal reset. I will tell you. What is interesting for you regarding training? What type of training did you have in the past? Did you have online training?  Do you have individual training or a training for groups and also did it work for you?

If not, why? Tell me more about this, because many companies tend to classify customers in groups. We call segments in marketing and they believe that all customers in this segment are the same. So for example, or is it more companies have –  we’ll say stereotyping companies will probably have budget and not necessarily true, or all companies in the sector have these difficulties maybe, maybe not.

So I will try to know the individuals and this specific company, try to know their specific needs. And then I will try to see if I can match your expectation with my product. Because I have knowledge about my products, but you have knowledge about your needs and interests. We have to make this compatible with your needs, your interests, and my products, there might be compatibility or not.

Many companies do not understand that if there is no compatibility, it’s better to let the client, the customer go away and look for other options. If there is no match, I will tell you as a potential customer. I say, “unfortunately, I cannot offer anything to you, now at this moment. You can take other companies in the market, such as this, this, this, maybe they are suitable for you, maybe because there are no match from my products to your needs. So we’re always open to discuss this again.”

Not selling but serving, but also we’ll try to push in that, you’re not convinced that the price is too high. I would say, “well, this is the normal price, what is too high, according to what further we’ll try to, for you to offer me some references, according to objective criteria, what do you mean high as compared with others?”

I will try to know more about why it’s high and also we’ll try to also be generous, and  I will say, “okay, well, if this is too high for you, you want to have a half an hour to one hour free training to see if there is any, any match. So to see if you feel comfortable; to see if you can, for example, feel that this is for you.”

Well, this is very important because with no strings attached. In some cases, this customer will say, okay, “Oh, these sounds have no strings attached. Sounds reasonable to me. We, we might think about this. Not pretty sure, many sellers, many companies selling their products trying to pressurize customers, and I call this manipulation – manipulatory marketing.

This means that, in this case the company is not interested in others. They are interested in their profits, the company profit, the company sales, the company market share. And obviously this is the wrong focus. So, also. If we get into an agreement, I will try to preserve this relationship and I’ll try to increase the level of satisfaction.

Supposing that you were pleased with the training that you received. I will say, “can you please provide us with feedback? What and how can this be improved? Many companies fear negative feedback. There was a no, you don’t want to receive any negative feedback from customers.

This is the wrong approach, because I always tell my clients, negative feedback is gold. When you receive some feedback, I don’t call negative feedback. I will call constructive feedback. When you receive negative feedback or constructive feedback from clients or customers, this will help you improve your products and services. It will get you much more innovative and you might be doing things that we’re not perfect at. No company is perfect. No individual is perfect. We might be doing things that are not correct or can be improved or tweaked.

Well, by knowing this, by knowing different feedbacks from users, you can prevent bigger problems because you will be obviously getting much more insights. You will say, “Okay, oh this customer said that this is probably the training is too short.”

And we can discuss with the team, can we make this longer or can we make this much more like oriented to this type of topic? Or can we provide more cases? It’s very important. So being oriented to their needs, being also open to feedback from customers. And also being appreciative. I always see companies that are very connected to customers when they want to sell the product.

And then when the product is sold, they forget about the customer, not even an email thanking the customer for their time or for their purchase. Completely  dismissive, that is not good. So we want to build the relationship. It’s not one off transaction. We want to build a mutual cycle of satisfaction between your company and my company, can we connect on a different level later on?

Can we discuss later on potential other agreements? Is it possible, but being appreciative shows that you care for them, you care for their time. You care for their decisions, and you care for their purchase overall.

Sean: Amazing. There’s a lot of gold nuggets right there. Because I’ve been doing negotiation for a decade now, as the CEO and founder of SEO-Hacker.

Let’s just say, I call you up one day and say, Hey doc, you know what? I think I want my organization to become more compassionate. I think we need what you’re talking about. And so let’s do a little demonstration, right?

Bruno: Okay.

Sean: Okay. Let’s do a role play.

And I say, how much would it cost me to get you as our consultant? Okay.

Bruno: I will say, well, before talking about the price, I will say, what are you looking for? Because we offer customized solutions for clients. So we want to add value and maybe we want to know first. What you’re looking for, for example, what are your interests? What are you looking for?

What type of training are you looking for? Or what type of consultancy activity do you have in the past? Can you tell us about the train that you have in the past for your company?

Sean: Sure. Well, I’m not entirely sure exactly what I’m looking for, but I can tell you what problems I have. So these are some of my problems right now, doc, some of my people are leaving.

I don’t know why I think that it’s hard to look for work outside, you know, because not a lot of companies are hiring. So I have no idea why some of my people are still leaving so turning over is becoming a problem for me. And then, there are people in my organization who are not leaving, but are telling me I need to improve in terms of compassion that I need to show more heart, more appreciation. I don’t understand why they say that because I do appreciate them. I do say thank you. I do say that, Hey, thanks for this work. Thanks for the project. I appreciate your effort in that, but that’s what they tell me. And so these are the problems I have. What do you suggest, Doc?

Bruno: Okay. Well, this is a preliminary view on your company, but also we might explore this further before giving you a specific quote or a specific offer. I might send you a list of questions. For example, some of this question might comment about this and more about this point. For example, I want to know how is the climate in the work environment?

Are people feeling supportive with one another? And I want you to give these questions to your employees, for them to answer. And then we kind of analyze this question to know further, because you’re saying that employees are being treated in a thankful way, but I want to know their opinions.

They are the one affected by all this, these turnover – high turnover rates. So. But I can send you a questionnaire.  Another question that we include in the questionnaire, for example, will be, are employees feeling supportive in challenging times? For example, during the pandemic, do they have flexibility to work from home, you have to give me permission because we cannot ask employees this question.

If we don’t have your permission as a CEO, but it’s important. Why? Because I want to tell you even when the feedback is negative, you will discover a lot of positive things to improve your work environment. Think about this, when employees give you negative feedback supposing that they do not like their boss or they don’t like the work that they are lead, you will be saving a lot of costs.

If you can correct these, these will be a win-win. Employees will feel much more supported, but also at the same time, your workplace will become much more enlightened and will become much more compassionate. And these employees will be working much more effectively. I included this question because researchers observed that when the employees are working in a much more competitive and compassionate way, the productivity tends to go up and also they become more creative.

Another question that I will include in this questionnaire that is very important, and this will take probably one week for you to bring back this question with answers; and we align this with my team – will be: “Are employees feeling recognized every day? Do they feel that they are doing something that is meaningful?” Because you know, what is the most important cost in employees leaving a company? They feel that what they’re doing is boring, meaningless, repetitive. And I will ask them, are you being trained in other areas in this company?

Are skills being enhanced through training, mentoring, tutoring? You have to give me permission because this question also will bring lots of insight and these things will help you improve the work environment. Maybe you have to do a lot of foundation work to improve the workplace, to improve training activity, to improve the recognition scheme for employees and to make them feel that they count.

Because of my feeling, my intuition, I cannot be sure yet because we haven’t analyzed the question and the employee might feel a bit dismissed. They might feel that they are doing meaningless job, even they are appreciated. Job rotation means employees working in different areas so that they can acquire new skills could be a good approach, but we cannot devise any plan until we get these little questionnaires that will show that. But this will be interesting for you to get some insight. Am I clear ?

Sean: Crystal clear. And doc you know, this all sounds good and swell, and I do believe that this is going to help our organization entirely, but I’m afraid I might not be able to afford you rates.

Bruno: Well, if you cannot afford my rates that you don’t know yet what the rates are. We can discuss.

And we might offer you that service that is smaller, but could approach the most important problems. We’re always open and flexible to offer things that are suitable. We don’t want you to force anything that is beyond your budget. So don’t worry too much about the economic aspect. The economic aspect will be discussed later on, I will try to find a deal that is good for you and good for us.

So it’s not only focusing on us. So all agreements that we signed with our clients are win-win agreements. If there is no win-win agreement, there is no agreement. So we have to be sure about this. You won’t be forced to sign an agreement that is not beneficial for you. So don’t worry. We’ll try to find a solution.

And also we’ll be open to your view on regarding the costs and regarding the fees to be paid.

Sean: That’s amazing. Thank you for that role-play. I’m happy about that demonstration and very happy about how we got to flesh it out and how you assured me that is going to be a win-win. I think that is something that a lot of negotiation counterparts don’t get that they have to win, doesn’t matter if their counterpart loses. But no you have, if you want to have a long-term relationship, it has to be a win-win.

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