By Marty Latz
This is the first post in a four-part series regarding negotiations. Marty Latz will host a one-day seminar in Saskatoon on Thursday, March 26. This seminar qualifies for 6 CPD hours and will be live streamed. Click here for more details.
It sounds crazy to learn from con men, but they know how their communication produces results. Best of all, these skills don’t require you to be unethical. In fact, your mother would likely agree with this advice. Without breaking the law or lying, these skills will help everyone get better negotiation results. Learn the top (legal) communication lessons from con men.
One of my favorite movies is The Sting, an Academy Award Best Picture winning movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman about two confidence (“con”) men who team up to get revenge on a ruthless crime boss who murdered their friend. (There’s even a clue to their secret persuasive powers in the origin of the word.)
It’s a great movie (it’s been rated as the 39th best screenplay ever written by the Writers’ Guild of America). But it also contains an important negotiation lesson that all successful con men and great negotiators put into practice: it’s not just what you say and do that matters, it’s how you come across and say it.
Let me be clear – I am not recommending you lie or cheat or steal (common practices among con men). But we can learn about negotiation from unexpected places.
I thought about this last fall when I read The New York Times article “How to – Literally – Sound More Confident and Persuasive.” It describes the following two important negotiation lessons and is something I occasionally bring up in my negotiation trainings and keynotes. I will also add two related suggestions to their list.
The New York Times notes, “according to a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, you can come off as more persuasive by speaking slightly louder than you normally do, and by varying the overall volume of your voice (i.e., speaking both more loudly and softly).”
Doing this will “make you appear more confident when you speak, which has a positive impact on your overall persuasiveness, according to the study.”
Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at Wharton and the co-author of the study, indicated that this also works regardless of whether the listener consciously recognizes the change. He says that in conversations, according to The Times, “we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to say, and we spend some time thinking about what our partner is saying. . . We allocate a lot less attention to how we’re saying what we’re saying.”
Pay attention to both.
Berger also notes that “being physically present – as to opposed to, say, writing a text or sending an email – can also have an enormous impact.”
He explains that “[t]here’s work that shows people seem more human when we hear their voice. . . . We give them more sense of mind, we think of them more as real people when they use their voice. Our research also suggests it can make people more persuasive.”
I agree. So consider phoning instead of just emailing or texting. It can be much more persuasive.
When I was growing up, my Mom sometimes came up behind me and gently put her knuckle in the middle of my lower back. I would immediately stand up straighter and pull my shoulders back. In fact, she still does this sometimes!
Why? Because standing up straight communicates to the world – and to your negotiation counterpart – a sense of confidence and belief in what you’re doing. This increases your persuasiveness and negotiation impact. (For more on this, see my columns “Preparing your body & mind can calm nerves” and “Body Language is Critical to Successful Negotiations“)
Psyching yourself up has a similar impact, even if you don’t really feel it. A passionate, positive attitude makes a difference. Even though it may seem artificial, doing so will change your body language, your words and phrases, and your entire way of coming across. Walking into a negotiation believing that you deserve to achieve X will increase your chances of achieving it.
At the least, your counterpart will likely think “I wonder what you know that I don’t?” Their doubt will increase your effectiveness.
The writers and directors of The Sting knew this very well.
Latz’s Lesson: Modulate your voice, stand up straight, and sometimes just pick up the phone or meet in person. Your results will improve.