Erin Davis: Hi, I’m Erin Davis, your host of REAL TIME, the podcast for REALTORS® by REALTORS®, brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, CREA. We’ve an amazing episode in store for you today. Fotini Iconomopoulos is an internationally recognized high-stakes negotiator and instructor of MBA positions at the Schulich School for Business, and the author of the book, Say Less, Get More, Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want.
Throughout her career, she’s inspired Fortune 500 leaders, teams, and entrepreneurs to achieve their business goals, increase profitability, and gain a competitive edge using the principles of persuasion. On this episode of Real Time, Fotini shares tips and strategies to help realtors do the same, and yes, there’s even an exercise we get to do together. Let’s go. Oh, thank you so much for joining us today, Fotini, and I love even your backstory. As a kid, you were known for being a negotiator. Can you set the table for us here today? That’s a wonderful tale.
Fotini Iconomopoulos: It was my dad who sort of foreshadowed an entire career unknowingly, and so as a kid when you grow up in the big fat Greek wedding household, so strict Greek father, and as a child I wanted to do all the things I was told I couldn’t do, or the patriarchal society told me I couldn’t do, so you have to negotiate your way out of the house. It got to the point where he would say to me, we don’t need to hear from your negotiator.
It was cousins and sisters and all these other people who would push me to the front and go, you ask them. Maybe it was because I’m a little more assertive, or maybe I was the youngest and the cute one. For some reason, I was always at the forefront of whatever needed to get done in order to work our way out of the house. Here we are today.
Erin: Yes. It’s so amazing how so often as a child, your personality or your traits or your habits then can portend who you are going to be. Here you are now, as I mentioned in the intro, you’re recognized worldwide as the high-stakes negotiator and instructor, and of course, author of the amazing book, Say Less, Get More. I’m just wondering, how did you get from that child to where you are now? We’re going to have to do the X-length version, or Twitter as we used to know it. Just how does one become a negotiator?
Fotini: It was a little bit of nature and a little bit of nurture. I think I was probably born with a little fire under my belly. Then part of it was also just wanting more. When you are constantly pursuing what is that next big achievement, you don’t want anything to hold you back. I ended up pursuing a degree in arts and science because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then I ended up getting an MBA in organizational behavior because I thought, well, I don’t have the formal business education yet.
I was recruited into companies like L’Oreal, where I was negotiating with Walmart on a regular basis. That was an amazing training ground because they’re known to be some of the toughest buyers in the industry. Eventually a consulting company that was hired to train me to be a better negotiator went, you should really be doing what we do. I was like, yes, sure, someday when I’ve got more experience because I hadn’t even hit 30 yet.
They said, no, seriously, you should be doing what we do. I joined this British company, and I was traveling all over the world. All of a sudden, I was training everybody from CEOs of massive oil and gas companies to junior account managers and some of my former employers. Then clients kept going, well, it’s great that you trained our team, but we have a billion dollars on the line or we have a hundred million on the line. What do we do? What do we say?
It sort of evolved into this practice within the practice. I found myself really enjoying it and getting even more immersed in the research behind what makes people do what they do. Then that led to teaching at the Schulich School of Business where I teach MBA negotiations occasionally and guest lecturing everywhere else. Then Harper-Collins going, we think you have a book in you. I went, okay. I just kept saying yes to these things because people started to recognize some of the skills that I had. I also kept nurturing a lot of those skills just because it was a big passion and interest for me.
Erin: Let me just backtrack a little bit before we talk about the present and the future. You mentioned international negotiations and we will find out what a negotiation actually is, Fotini, but do Canadians negotiate differently? Does that stereotype of us being more polite actually show up at the table?
Fotini: I wish I had formal statistics to back this up, but anecdotally, I can tell you that there’s a difference when I train or consult folks in Canada versus in other parts of the world, particularly when I compare to our US neighbors. I find that negotiators in Canada are less assertive. We are very polite as a society. I think that’s pretty stereotypical of Canadians. We say I’m sorry a lot, which doesn’t help in negotiations because we also know that when people are conciliatory in negotiations, that makes the other party just more aggressive and it can put us into a position of weakness. A lot of times I see Canadians backing off of stuff where there is a different appetite when I’m working with folks outside of Canada.
Erin: That is interesting. How do you define negotiation? What is negotiation? Let’s get down to basics here.
Fotini: I’d say most people assume that negotiation is two people beating each other up, yet that is a common misconception. All it is two people trying to reach an agreement. It’s two people who actually want to find a solution together, whether they realize it consciously or subconsciously. If we didn’t have to have this conversation, we’d already be in agreement. It doesn’t have to be combative, it’s just a conversation full of curiosity and hopefully some empathy in the mix as well.
Erin: When you talk to groups, you have an exercise. We’re all warmed up. Would you take us into one of your exercises?
Fotini: Yes. This is one where I wish I could see your face right now, Erin, because all I want is all of the listeners to take their dominant index finger and then I want you to draw the capital letter E for empathy on your forehead. Draw the capital letter E on your forehead. Then once you’ve done that, there’s no right or wrong answer here, by the way. This is just a little exercise about where your brain tends to go first. This is your autopilot mode. You either drew it one of two ways. Either you drew it so that if I was looking at you, I could read it perfectly, it would make total sense to my eyes. Or you drew it so that your own eyeballs would make sense of it, but the observer would see it looking backwards to them. Now, one of these E’s is associated with higher levels of power in the workplace. One of these two E’s is associated with people who are more powerful, more senior in the workplace. If you think it through, the E that is written for your own eyes means you are most likely automatically primed to think about your own objectives. That’s what gets people to the top of their fields. Those who draw the E for their own eyes tend to be more senior in the workplace.
Now that doesn’t mean that if you’re drawing the E for me and others who are reading it that you’re never going to be a success. That’s totally not true. I did tell you that there’s no right or wrong answer here. What it simply means is this is your autopilot mode. We’re all intelligent enough. We’re all in control enough to be able to override that mode. If you are drawing the E for me and others who are reading it, then you need to pause to ask yourself, “Hey, am I putting my needs on the back burner for the sake of others?”
If you are drawing the E for your own eyes, this is not a guarantee that you’re going to be super successful in negotiations. Because I have seen so many people, I’ve done this exercise for thousands and thousands of people. I even included it in the book. I’ve seen plenty of folks over the years draw the E for themselves, but still never become the senior leaders they wish to be. Never become those massive successes they want to be.
The reason being, they have forgotten what the reflection of that E is like. They’re forgetting about what’s in it for the other person. What is that other person going through? Why would they care to listen to me? If you are the person listening to this and drawing the E for yourself, congratulations, you have the ability to consider your own objectives, but you need to pause and consider what’s in it for them. Otherwise, why would they bother listening to you? Why would they even engage in this conversation with you?
Again, if you’re the person who is drawing the E for the observer, for others before yourself, then it’s time to make sure you pause and make sure that you don’t become what I call a victim of your own empathy. You have to pause and ask yourself such an important question, which is, what can they afford to do for me? You’re not asking them to go bankrupt. You’re not asking them to do something that’s going to get them into massive trouble. You’re just asking, what is in the realm of possibility that these people can do for me? How can we make this a collaborative exchange rather than making it all about them? If you’re the other E, then making it all about yourself.
In order to be an effective negotiator, you need to make sure you’re keeping both of those E’s in balance. That’s what makes for a great negotiator.
Erin: That was incredible. Thanks for sharing that with us. My E was facing outward. This is the thing about talking with you and about your book. It does not only encompass the world of negotiation. It encompasses so many parts of our lives, because when you think about it, whether you’re a realtor and you’re trying to get your clients to be happy, or whether you’re having interpersonal relationships in your own life, or you’re trying to maybe get the best price on a refrigerator, negotiation is so much a part of our everyday lives. I don’t know how much people realize that, Fotini.
Fotini: I hope they’re starting to realize it because I meet so many people all the time who say, oh, I don’t negotiate. I’m not a salesperson, but do you have children? Do you talk to people? Do you have a dog even? Are you interacting with people? Even if you’re getting on a streetcar or a subway, you’re negotiating for your physical space without even opening your mouth. We have these interactions all the time, but we need to make sure that we’re balancing the needs of others as well as our own needs in these processes.
Erin: I love, too, that a lot of your message is about putting yourself in the shoes of others, which of course is a great life motto anyway, but how that works in negotiation. I think it goes back to the E and the empathy and what’s in it for them while keeping in mind what’s in it for you at the same time. It’s so important.
Fotini: Yes. No one’s going to want to work with you if you’re not considering what’s in it for them. You’re not going to hit all the records of being the world’s greatest realtor and selling everything and listing everything if you’re not wondering, well, why would they want to, why would they want to work with me? Why would they want to list it at this price at this time and so on and so forth. You really have to consider everybody’s needs, not just your own, in order to be successful.
Erin: Back to Fotini Iconomopoulos in a moment. We all want to be liked, right? She’ll point out where that may be tripping us up. We’re glad you’re liking our podcast and we have 43 other insightful episodes just waiting for you to dig in and be inspired. There’s a new one every month and we’re grateful to have you joining us here in our REAL TIME podcast community. Now back to Fotini Iconomopoulos, world-renowned speaker and author of the fantastic book, Say Less, Get More. Unconventional negotiation techniques to get what you want on REAL TIME.
You have said that being likable during a negotiation can be an advantage. Now can you unpack for us the correlation between likability and influence?
Fotini: Likability is a piece of influencing. If I don’t like you, I’m not going to want to work with you. I’m not going to allow you to influence my decision maker. In fact, I’m going to actively resist trying to work with you or trying to allow you to influence my decision-making process. The fact of the matter is, though, every single one of us at some subconscious level, we all want to be liked. This goes back to our primitive cave person ancestry. We were meant to travel the world in packs. That’s why we were not surviving as lone rangers. Because of that, we have this innate need to be liked.
One of the things that I see happening, the big mistake that I see happening when it comes to negotiation and influencing, is we try to buy that ability. I’ll just do that little thing because I don’t want them to hate me. I’ll just let them have this extra little bit that they’re going after because I want to protect the relationship. I want to be able to influence them in the long term, so I’ll let them have this one win now, but that can get really dangerous because it can set a very dangerous precedent for us.
It’s the same reason why if you spend time around children, the world’s greatest negotiators, they will be relentless about getting what they want. If you set a dangerous precedent and trying to buy their likeability, you end up with a really spoiled kid. There’s a really cool study that was done specifically around likeability and negotiation where they took two different groups of Ivy League MBA students and they put them into two different groups with two different sets of instructions. They told the first group, I want you to get down to negotiating right away. Time is money. They told the second group, I want you to spend a few minutes just getting to know each other first.
In that first group who got down to negotiating immediately, 55% of them managed to close a deal. Now that’s not too shabby. That is the majority, but in the group that got to know each other first, 90, that’s nine zero percent managed to close deals. Some people are probably thinking, sure, they made friends. They probably wanted to be liked so much that they sweetened the deal in some way. We know that’s not true because of that 90% group, they ended up closing deals that were 12% greater in value. They ended up closing more deals and they ended up closing better deals all because they spent a few minutes before the negotiation even started just getting to know each other.
When I get to know you, you have more influence over how I want to steer my dollars, how I want to steer my energy, my decision making, and so on. According to persuasion theory, there’s a few things that really stand out in terms of being able to influence people. It’s not by giving them everything that they want. It’s not by sweetening the deal. It is by doing simple things like finding something in common, building a bridge between you, removing some of that fear of the unknown from people’s brain. It is finding a compliment, a genuine compliment for people because we in our subconscious brain can suss out the slimy, fake compliments that are out there, we can sense those things. Then the last thing is we like cooperative people. We don’t want to be pushed around by someone who says it’s my way or the highway. We don’t like aggressive negotiators. We like working with people who seem familiar to us and who seem genuine in how they handle themselves. That’s why I’ve always taken a collaborative approach to negotiation wherever possible. That is going to gain you far more influence. That’s the likability factor that many of us find ourselves in the crux of being stuck between being likable enough and not being so likable that we get taken advantage of. It’s that buying likability factor that’s going to land you in the taken advantage of category.
Erin: You want to be the person people want to work with. You, I imagine you’ve talked about living around or working around the world. Do you do your own negotiations like in, say, real estate transactions?
Fotini: Happily, I do not. I say this as somebody who I’m very comfortable negotiating. I know, however, that when it comes to negotiating, information is power. I know that when it comes to specifically real estate, there’s going to be stuff I don’t know. I’m not an expert in that industry. I’m an expert in the principles of negotiation, but I’m not an expert in the specifics around what is required in order to create a really great deal. I know, just like everybody else does, that you need to have an expert who’s going to be able to represent you.
That being said, I am a tough customer. I have an agent that I’ve been working with for years. We’ve done at least five transactions together. I trust that he knows what he needs to know about the geographies that I’m going into about what’s going on in the market and all that kind of stuff that I don’t have the time or energy to be an expert at because I’m too busy doing other things for a living.
We get on the same page about what should the strategy be. Should it be listing at a certain price and trying to get somewhere else? Should there be a decision about when to time it and how to do it? Those are all things that we need to get on the same page about because I’m an expert in strategy. He’s going to have the information required in order to make it a super successful negotiation.
I would make sure that all of the listeners who are paying attention are also making sure that they can communicate that to the folks that they’re dealing with. That you’re not insulting people by saying, hey, I’m an expert at this. I know you’re really great at this other stuff. I want to make sure I help you get to the best possible deal based on these unique circumstances we find ourselves in.
Erin: Let’s talk about high stakes negotiations, Fotini, which, of course, are very relatable for realtors. What are some of the best ways to prepare before a big negotiation?
Fotini: There’s two ways of going about it. First is preparing mentally, and the other is making sure you prepare tactically. The mental piece is, you can have as much preparation as you want, all of the research in the world and all of that kind of stuff. You can be the best at preparing and having all the market data and analysis. If your head is not in the game, then things are going to fall apart. Because you have the ability to either psych yourself up or psych yourself out.
When it comes to getting there in the moment, when you’re about to talk to a client for the first time, or you’re about to talk to the other agent for a first time, or you’re about to come up with what is that listing price that I’m going to put on paper, or that proposal, that’s when I need everybody to just take a relaxing breath. Maybe it’s breathing in for four, holding for six, and out for eight. That meditative breath is going to make a world of difference in terms of the clarity that you have. Because when we’re really anxious, and negotiation makes a lot of people anxious, all the rational energy leaves our brain, and it goes to our limbs, and that’s what makes our heart start to beat a little bit faster, and our palms start to get a bit sweaty, and our breathing starts to get a bit more shallow.
That’s what makes you have those moments that go, oh my God, is that what I just said? Why didn’t I say this other thing? Why couldn’t I think of that in the moment? In the moment, we need to clear our heads and make sure we collect our thoughts and give our brain the space to do its job. Now in order to get there, we need to prepare. We need to prepare what is that market data? What is that analysis I have to have done? What else is going on in this neighborhood? All of the wonderful things that I’m sure everybody in the audience knows how to do, as well as maybe even rehearsing what is going to come out of our mouths.
If you’re pitching a client for the first time, if you’re going to say something to a client that they’re not going to like, maybe you want to practice that in the car before you get out of the car. Say it in front of a mirror or something like that to make sure you’re giving yourself some of that muscle memory that is going to make it a little bit more comfortable when it’s coming out of your mouth for the very first time and a little less foreign to your brain in the moment so that you don’t have that moment of fight or flight kicking in when it’s time to speak to that client.
Erin: The sound of silence. You could write a song about it, but it’s something we often try to avoid and it can be used to your advantage. We’ll dig into that in just a moment. In talking with Fotini, not only was I grateful to have read her book, but I just wanted to tell everyone I know about it. That’s how everybody at the Canadian Real Estate Association, CREA, feels about REAL TIME. We invite you to like and share this podcast with everyone, among your realtor community and elsewhere. Anybody you think might also gain some wisdom from the words of Fotini Iconomopoulos, and thank you. Now back to our guest, educator, negotiator, renowned speaker, and author of Say Less, Get More on REAL TIME. When you say less, get more, which is a great book title, one of the things a lot of people are uncomfortable with is silence. That can be perceived in many different ways. Let’s talk about the silence between the notes in the concerto of negotiation. Let’s talk about that and how important it can be and how you can use silence as a power tool.
Fotini: I have such a big smile on my face because I’ve never heard anybody describe it so eloquently like the notes in a concerto before. I love that.
Erin: Thank you.
Fotini: I’m going to steal that. The beauty of silence is we all feel uncomfortable, or at least most people feel very uncomfortable with silence until you get used to it. Now if you’re somebody who’s listened to this podcast or read the book or seen the research around what silence can do for you, you will notice that they’re going to be far more uncomfortable with it than you are, because at least you’re familiar with this concept of saying less and getting more.
Now most of the people that I interact with go, but if I don’t say something, if I’m not quick on my feet, then people are going to think I’m stupid. That is not true. They’re going to think you’re stupid if you’re thinking and talking at the same time and having this verbal nonsense come out of your mouth because you’re trying to get through this garbled mess of what is my brain even trying to spit out right now. You’re going to look far more confident when you can say something like, I need a moment to think that through, or give me a second to make sure I’m giving you the right information, or I want to make sure I’m as crystal clear as possible.
Let me just think through what it is that you need from me right now. Any one of those phrases is a way to frame the silence. If you’re super uncomfortable and you are worried about looking stupid because you’re too quiet, then take ownership of that pause. Show up and say, I need some time. You’re not asking for permission. You’re not going to say, can I have a minute? You’re going to say, you know what? I need a minute to think that through.
Now all of a sudden you look so confident, you look so credible and so sure of yourself. At the same time, the person on the receiving end of that statement is waiting on the edge of their seat to go, ooh, whatever comes out of her mouth next is going to be super good because she’s taking the time to listen to me and consider my needs. Man, is that going to be great. I’m going to challenge her a lot less. All because you took that quiet, confident moment and you framed it as something that you own versus asking for permission or feeling conciliatory in that moment.
Erin: I think it projects a respect as well. It’s like, I hear you and we all want to be heard. I hear you and I want to contemplate that. It is to me, it’s a sign of respect.
Fotini: Absolutely. It’s also a sign of acknowledgement, right? You are acknowledging the other person. You’re not ignoring them. It’s not, hey, did you hear what I said? Are you going to answer me? It’s just saying, I need a moment to think this through. You’re commanding that space rather than allowing them to steamroll all over you either.
Erin: Can you do it physically? Again, putting to use the suggestion that you just made where you don’t say, could I please leave the room and get some water? Or can my client and I discuss this? Just say, we’re going to need a moment to go and have some refreshments and we’ll reconvene in 10, 15 minutes or whatever. Is it okay to actually physically leave the room if that comes to that?
Fotini: Absolutely. I think if you’re framing it in a collaborative, polite way, then why not? Why would it be impolite? If you were to be in the other person’s shoes, would they see it as impolite to move things forward a little bit faster simply by having a private conversation? Because I think it would look more rude if you’re whispering back and forth at one another sitting at the table. It looks more suspicious and furtive if you’re doing that versus saying, you know what, we’re going to have a quick conversation so we can speed this up. We’re just going to step out of the room for a moment and figure out what needs to happen next in order to help move us forward.
I don’t see there being anything suspicious about that. I think it looks a lot more furtive when you’re just trying desperately to speak in code at the same table or in the same room.
Erin: All right. We’ve talked about physically removing our bodies from the room, but let’s talk about the language of the body and the physical presence while you’re in the room. I think you’ve got some great ideas on this, Fotini.
Fotini: Yes. We communicate in a number of different ways without even opening our mouth. According to communication theory, a third of our message comes in the words that we choose, a third comes in the sound of our voices, and a third comes in your body language. What are you saying before you’re actually physically saying it? When it comes to taking up space, there’s a really fantastic book and accompanying TED Talk by Dr. Amy Cuddy called Presence. She talks a lot about power poses. I’m sure folks out there listening are familiar with the Wonder Woman pose, my personal favorite. If you’ve ever run a race, the first thing you want to do when you cross the finish line is put your hands in the air in a big V for victory. Any of those types of poses that take up more physical space are going to not only send a message to the other party that you deserve to be there and that you own that space, but also it gives your brain a chance to catch up to what your body is telling others.
Then what happens is, according to research on this, within two minutes, anybody who adopts one of those power poses feels much more confident. As a result of feeling much more confident, there’s plenty of research out there that tells us you get better results. If you are sitting across from them, it could feel adversarial versus sitting adjacent to them, like on a corner, it could feel like you’re working together.
Maybe when you’re sitting with a client, you want to sit next to them instead of across from them so they know that you’re on the same team. Maybe if you’re sitting across from someone with whom you’re entering into this more competitive negotiation, you want them to sit across from you so that they can see the look on your face when you look shocked and appalled at what number is going to come out of their mouth. Or you want to make sure that you are clearly in their line of sight when you are delivering a crystal clear, incredible message.
Where you sit, how you sit, how much physical space you take up, all of these things make a world of difference in terms of how you are received and also how your brain is ready to catch up to it too.
Erin: Does it differ when you’re negotiating on someone’s behalf?
Fotini: It does and it doesn’t. The principles remain the same. However, the benefit of negotiating on behalf of someone else is that you get to take the emotional piece out of it. It is much easier to negotiate on behalf of someone else than it is to negotiate for yourself. In fact, there’s a lot of research out there that says women will negotiate harder for others than they will for themselves because there’s no fear of repercussion. There’s no fear of looking greedy. You know that you’re doing it for someone else. It’s a selfless thing. When you are not as closely linked to that outcome, then you can have more clarity. The fight or flight response isn’t nearly as strong.
One of the reasons why I am brought in by so many corporations, I work with a lot of Fortune 500 types of companies. They’re full of very bright people. I know because I trained many of them. Yet they bring me in to help them on these high stakes negotiations because sometimes they just need that objective clarity because they’re too close to whatever’s going on and it’s hard to disentangle their emotions from the outcome.
I can be that voice of reason that goes, hey, remember when you said this is what you want to accomplish? Here’s how it looks like you can do that based on the facts as opposed to based on my emotional outcome tied to this. The same is true for anybody who’s representing a client in negotiation. Now, maybe if you’re good friends with your client, you’re a little tighter connected to the outcome. The truth of the matter is, you’re still not nearly as connected as if they were doing it for themselves.
Erin: It sounds like you want empathy, but not to get too emotionally invested. That also sounds like a really good reason to have a negotiator like you on your side, because as we know, the real estate transaction can be steeped in emotions because it’s not just the biggest purchase most people will make in their lives, but there’s the emotion. This is the house where I raised my kids. We put so much work into that kitchen and you aren’t able to step back and have the perspective. Really, that’s where a good realtor comes in too. They know their clients’ needs and wants and feelings but are able to have that little bit of stepping back as well.
Fotini: Yes. That’s a critical piece is that you need to look like that objective, credible person. It’s okay to acknowledge that they have invested a lot of time and energy and years into this home, but you have to be really careful of acknowledging without necessarily agreeing with them. You have to also be careful of the fact that they’re going to be very defensive because they are so emotionally involved in this.
If you go in there and say, I think your kitchen is not worth that much, they’re going to go, yes, well, I’ll tell you what I think. The second you’re perceived as giving a feeling or opinion about something, now all of a sudden they’re going to get really defensive and they’re going to mirror that behavior right back. If you can come in with these two magic words, instead of I think, if they were to be replaced with something as simple as based on, based on the comparables in this neighborhood, based on similar kitchens, based on my experience in the last 10 houses that I have listed, now, all of a sudden, you’re coming across as credible and not personally attacking them with just an opinion.
It’s much harder for them to argue with based on. It sounds like, hey, this is set in stone third party stuff, as opposed to I’m personally attacking you. It’s not personal when you say based on. When you say, I think, now that’s a personal opinion, and I’m going to fire right back with my own personal opinion. If you want to make sure you avoid arguing with your client or even the folks across the table, that based on is going to be critical.
Erin: That’s brilliant. Thank you for that. When realtors are talking with their clients, you make a clear delineation between being curious and being condescending. Is that where based on comes in as well? Is that sort of a subtopic?
Fotini: I think it could come in very handy right there as well. Because no one wants to be talked down to. We have so much information at our fingertips. In Google now, you can Google a million different people and reviews are out there and so on. What you say and do is going to be out there forever. People will give you a review, they will talk about you, they will be on chat boards and Reddit threads and so on and so forth. That condescension is going to be something that we have to be very careful to avoid.
That being said, you also want to be perceived as this expert, this person who they’re not going to push back every single idea. They’re not going to overlook you for someone else who’s a family friend who may not actually be getting them the best possible deal because they’re doing this friendly thing that is not necessarily going to be in their best interest. This person doesn’t have anything to gain if they’re a family friend. If they’re leaving that commission on the table, well, then they’re not as invested in it and they’re probably not going to get them the best rate. They just want to get this done.
There’s all of these things to juggle and that based on can help remove some of that opinion. That likability factor is going to be really important here too that I mentioned earlier. Are you finding something in common with them? Are you paying them a genuine compliment? Are you doing something like that before you start negotiating with them, before you get into business to put them at ease and make them think that, hey, this is someone I enjoy spending this much time with, that I trust to put this biggest transaction of my life into their hands. Because for most people, that’s what this is.
Erin: What to do when the temperature is rising just a little too high in a negotiating situation. Some great tips are just ahead. For more great tips, whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned veteran, there’s always information to add to your professional toolbox at CREA Cafe. From legal matters to navigating technology, it’s all there for you simply by clicking CREACafe.ca.
Now back to our author and guest, Fotini Iconopoulos, on Real Time. How do you manage things when emotions start to get high during a negotiation? Fotini, I know you’ve seen this on the regular. How do you manage emotions? Say for your client, for example, you can’t control what people across the table are doing unless you say, we’re going to need a minute or take down the temperature or whatever. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so tell us.
Fotini: That’s really the most obvious answer is just taking that pause, that moment to say less, giving people a timeout. It’s like when you’re dealing with a toddler, and I use a lot of children’s analogies in my work because adults have just as bad temper tantrums, if not worse than children. We need to give adults a timeout the same way we have with kids too. Just saying, hey, let’s take a minute to think about this, and maybe stepping out of the room, or maybe going, well, let’s work this out. Let’s see what those numbers mean to us. Something as simple as that can make a world of difference for folks.
Sometimes you may have to do that for yourself too. Sometimes it’s because maybe that person across the table is so antagonistic and condescending that you’re like, I want to strangle them on behalf of my client. Maybe you need to take that meditative breath in the moment before you say something you might regret. I also tell people to write it down. Maybe you need a moment to think it through, have it physically come out of your hand, write it down, and then look at it visually and go, is that really the thing that I want to say? That can slow down your brain, your tongue, and what comes out of your mouth, rather than tripping all over yourself or tripping all over your tongue.
Erin: Yes, it’s a good idea because we don’t all need the Aaron Sorkin walking, talking script in order to be successful. One of the tips in Say Less, Get More, unconventional ways to get what you want, is that you don’t have to talk or be fast. What are some of the standout or unconventional strategies, Fotini, that most people, we just don’t consider?
Fotini: One of the silliest ones that we don’t think about, and the most obvious to me, but maybe not obvious to everybody else, is ask a question. Even if the answer, if you need that time to calm your brain down, to buy you some time to think, ask the other party a question, get them to do the talking. Not only is that you saying less, but it’s you getting more. It’s more information and if information is power where else are you going to get it but straight from them? Ask them a question about what are some of their motivators? Ask them a question about where does that number come from? Ask them a question about why is it that they want to do these things in this particular way or what is it that led them to that conclusion?
That will start to create a change in the environment. You’re going to be coming forth with more curiosity. It’s going to seem less adversarial, it’s going to buy your brain a lot more time to think and also process this information that’s coming across the table.
Even though it feels like you’re giving the microphone to the other party, the truth is the person who asks the questions is in charge of the conversation. Because you’re steering the conversation in the direction that you want it to go. You’re digging up the information that you want, that power that you want by asking appropriate questions that can give you everything that you need in order to be successful.
Erin: Are there strategies for both parties getting what they want? What tips can you use if it comes to encourage a compromise? Like especially as it applies to the real estate world, Fotini.
Fotini: Well, there’s a lot of things that are going to require compromise at some point in our world, but the more you can create value, the more creative and complex you can make things. Again, it sounds a little counterintuitive. Like why would we invite complexity? But it’s because the more creative you get, that’s not simple. That is creating value. It’s like the cliche value pie. The bigger we make the pie, the more value there is to go around and divide up, but what else can we put in the pie? Can we get creative with things like closing dates? Can we get creative with things like payment terms? Can we get creative about other ways to incorporate what would be important to one party or to another?
I remember the last time I sought a house, it was a quaint little neighborhood and I bought it from a woman who was twice my age and it was a very emotional thing for her to let go of. I told her she could come by for tea whenever she wanted and see the house and ask questions about it and so on. That was so reassuring to her. She wanted to make sure she sold the house to me.
I know this sounds perverse to all these people who are listening in the audience right now. It seemed bizarre to me too. I wrote about it in the book because it seems so crazy to me that this would actually happen, but this is an emotional security that this person wanted. It cost me nothing. It was no dollars in her pocket. It was just what is valuable to this individual, and we got creative about it.
Erin: Did she come by for tea?
Fotini: We exchanged some emails. She asked me some questions about it and then in the end she never came by. I had that house for four and a half years and it just never happened.
Erin: Well, she just needed to know that the door was open. Really that’s an important part of negotiation as well, but what happens, Fotini, if it looks like the door has closed? How do you wake up a negotiation if a little bit of time has gone by? Do you text and go, “Hey, we’re still here.” What do you do? How do you kind of reignite a talk that seems to have stalled?
Fotini: Well, hopefully, you’ve prevented it from getting down that path using some of these techniques, but inevitably it’s going to happen from time to time. This is one of the only instances where I will encourage people to ask a yes or no question. In fact, I will encourage them to ask a no-question, because, usually, I’m telling people ask a question that’s going to open up a conversation, but if they’re not open to having the conversation, maybe there’s a different way to trigger their subconscious brain. You might want to email them or call them, hopefully. I prefer to do things not over email.
I know it sounds super unconventional to everybody who’s listening because we do everything over text and email, but hopefully, you can ask them a question like, “Hey, did you move on? Did you find another house?” If they say, no, I didn’t, they’re going to go, “Oh, no, we didn’t.” We haven’t had a chance to, or things got away from us, or we were just really busy with this other offer or whatever it is. If they say, yes, we did, well, then now your curiosity is done.
You can case close and move on, but usually when you get that no response, that’s going to provoke the conversation to start all over again. This is the type of stuff I even use with my own clients when, or people use with me because I get so busy and it’s so hard to read all of the emails that are coming in and someone says, “Hey, did you forget about me? No, no, I didn’t. I’ve just been really busy and now, all of a sudden, I’m kick-starting that conversation again.
Erin: When you talk about your reticence to use digital communications, is that partly because it’s so hard to gauge somebody’s tone of voice or body language? Do these tools work against us when we’re trying to negotiate?
Fotini: Absolutely. I mentioned earlier that a third of your message comes through in your words. If you are doing something over text or email, that means there’s a 67% chance you could be misinterpreted. If you’re doing it on the phone, there still leaves a 33% chance that you could be misinterpreted. If you have a dry sense of humor, if you are somebody who is sarcastic, those things do translate well over email and text. That is the reason why we have emojis. Even those are often misinterpreted.
What do those two hands together mean? Some people think it’s prayer hands, apparently the origin of it is a high five. What are you sending to people? Do they even know? Those are the things that I don’t want to be misinterpreted. That condescension that we mentioned earlier, is that what’s coming across in your emails? Is it coming across as cold and aloof? Is it coming across as super eager and desperate? Those are the things that are difficult to read. You don’t want to leave them up to chance and misinterpretation if possible.
Erin: You have a rule of thumb about Post-it.
Fotini: I do. One of the things that I tell my high stakes clients, the folks I’m helping through these really intense negotiations where they’re sitting in these boardrooms, is you can send a really quick message to somebody across the table or under the table with a post-it note that says, “Pause, we need a time out,” or whatever. If you find yourself having to fill a Post-it with a paragraph’s worth of words, this is the time to take a time out.
Take a breather, think it through, because by the time you write it and by the time they interpret what the heck you’ve just written, there’s miscommunication galore even on your own team, between you and your client, or between you and your colleague. Take that time out to have the conversation before you get wrapped up in some more misinterpretation, even on your own side of the table.
Erin: Great advice. I would have the Post-its just so that I could mark parts of your book that I want to go back to because this has been an amazing conversation. As we wrap it up finally, Fortini, what are some of the most effective ways to be persuasive as a leader? What strategies can you use to help inspire and influence your team?
Fotini: Well, this is one of my favorite pieces of advice to give folks who are influencing others on a daily basis. It starts with a piece of research that I came across that came from Dr. Kelly McGonigal. Her book is called The Upside of Stress. They did this study at Harvard where, in 2013, they took a bunch of people and they made them sing in front of a group. Now, you and I are no stranger to a microphone, so I think we would have a good time if we went out for karaoke.
Not everybody feels that way. I believe microphones are the number two fear in America after death. I’m told it’s number three in Australia after spiders. What that means for people is that evokes a lot of anxiety the same way negotiation does. What they found in this study is they separated everybody into three groups with three different sets of instructions. They told the first group, regardless of how you’re feeling, I want you to tell yourself, “I am anxious.” They told the second group, “I want you to tell yourself I am excited,” and they told the third group nothing at all. That was our control group.
What they found was the group who told themselves, I am excited, outperformed the other two groups. We know it wasn’t because they were better singers, because they also outperformed them on a math test and a speech test in addition to the pitch test measured by a computer. Overall, they had a better performance. They changed their brains, they psyched themselves up, all because they told themselves, I’m excited. They gave themselves this little pep talk.
Now imagine what that can do for the people around you. If you are a leader, if you have people reporting into you, if you have people on your team, or maybe even with your own clients, if you want to lead them to a successful outcome, what if you were to say to them, “I am so excited for you.” “I am so excited for what the sale of your home is going to open up for you in terms of your future and what else that’s going to unlock.” “I am so excited for how this client is going to respond to all of this hard work you put into this proposal.” “I am so excited to see you flourish in your new home when we get this other party to accept this proposal.”
Now, all of a sudden, those other folks are going to perform differently. They’re going to respond differently to you and your leadership, all because you got their brains performing at a much better rate. They’re now not allowing all that crazy, irrational energy to take over because you just created that excitement for them. You can do it for yourself and improve your own performance, but you can also improve it for others. You can create a lot less resistance just by getting them excited about what is at the forefront of this transaction.
Erin: Well, we were so excited to be talking with you today and it was amazing. Thank you so much for your time, your insight, your wisdom, and just for a great conversation. Do you ever lose an argument at home?
Fotini: If you ask my dad, he might have a different response. Generally speaking, I try not to argue at home. In fact, people usually say to me, “Oh, your life must be so exciting. It must be like that show Suits.” I’m like, “Actually, the whole point of my life is to not have arguments.” Negotiations don’t have to be arguments. They can just be really simple conversations between two people.
It takes a lot of meditative breaths, depending on who I’m talking to.
Erin: That’s right. Thanks so much. We are so grateful for you today.
Fotini: Thank you for the wonderful questions. I certainly hope that this was helpful for everybody listening.
Erin: Oh, it absolutely was. Read more of Fotini Iconomopoulos’ wisdom in her amazing book about negotiation, not just in business, but in life. It’s called Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want. REAL TIME is a production of Alphabet® Creative, with technical magic and, yes, very little silence by Rob Whitehead. I’m Erin Davis, and we invite you to subscribe and download all of our REAL TIME episodes. Every single one of them holds the keys to our understanding and success in business and in life. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME.