Persuading and Influencing People - a Negotiator's Stock and Trade

The common perception among many is that businesspeople are set in their ways, and impervious to persuasion or influence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, people are easily influenced, easily persuaded, and easily manipulated in our society. Let’s look at how easily people can be influenced:

  • People are so easily influenced that many tattoo their skin, pierce virtually any part of their body, wear shoes that make it difficult to walk, and eat goldfish.
  • People are so easily influenced that many salespeople will willingly work long hours several days a week, accept 2 weeks vacation and very little pay, and be elated with a plaque and applause at an End-of-the Year-Banquet.
  • People are so easily influenced that fundamentalists in America routinely deny evolution and abhor having a drink of wine or dancing.  In certain parts of the country they handle poisonous snakes, and they do all of this for no money and no fame.
  • People are so easily influenced that police and firefighters work long hours, put themselves in harms way and run the risk of leaving their families abandoned.  They do this for very little $.
  • People are so easily influenced that workers who live well and are secure will go on strike and cripple a company, ruining a mode of living for themselves, management, and depriving customers of the opportunity to purchase their products.
  • People are so easily influenced that many will spend a career underemployed, underpaid, and disgruntled at a job that is not fulfilling or creative.
  • People are so easily influenced that tens of thousands study for degrees (even in America where dropouts like Bill Gates, Stephen Speilberg and Steven Jobs do fairly well) to be “Qualified”.
  • People are so easily influenced that they willingly strap bombs on their bodies, walk into restaurants and public buildings and blow themselves up.
  • People are so easily influenced that many depend on The Wine Spectator to decide what they like to drink, Vogue to decide what to wear, and ministers to decide what to believe.

As I go through the above, it’s got to strike you that some of these are just crazy. Why would anyone perform stunts like these, especially for free?

They all do this to satisfy an internal need.

Many people think that negotiation is about tactics and strategies. Those are just the tools, much as scalpels and forceps are the tools of the physician. Those aren’t much use if the Doctor doesn’t know which ones to use, where to use them, when to use them, and how to use them to best effect. The finest scalpel in the hands of a barbarian is still just an axe.

Understanding what drives people is the stock and trade of the negotiator. When you understand what drives someone, selecting the proper tools for the job isn’t really that difficult.

There are always two negotiations taking place simultaneously - the obvious, conventional one on top of the table, concerning issues:

What’s going to happen? Where? When? Who? How much? How many? How big? How long? What color,? How fast?...But the real negotiation - the subtle, complex negotiation - goes on “under the table” and isn’t about issues at all.

It’s about Who-You-Are, and Who-They-Are.
— Bob Gibson

To come to agreement with people, you often don’t have to give them what they say they want.  Give them what they want “under the table”. Many people say they want the same thing. The truth is – they want it for very different reasons.

An example might be a group of young women in Los Angeles, all of whom want to go into acting. Secretly, Amy may not enjoy acting per se, but wants to be famous and a celebrity. She dreams of stepping out a limo onto the red carpet with the flashbulbs popping. Britney may want the riches and envy the earning power of the stars on top of the heap. Carol may truly enjoy the acting experience, the process of getting inside the head of another – of capturing that individual. She considers herself an artist and would act for nothing.

These young women all want the same thing – a career in acting – but for very different reasons.  They are driven by different forces “under the table”.

In business (and life) we are driven by different forces as well. Many want power and control. Many want wealth. Many want security. Some want Harmony.

To others, being right drives their actions. Approval is a motivator for many, as is attention.

Find out what’s “under the table” and you have access to the levers that work the top of the table.

Click here to download a printable PDF version of this post.