Happiness. Some people pursue it. Those who have it radiate with an inner joy.
There are various techniques to develop a more positive attitude, ways to train yourself to be content. The people I would describe as the happiest aren’t those with the most things, or even the most friends, but those who have a deep faith.
“Worry can rob you of happiness but kind words will cheer you up.” –Prov. 12:25
What separates effective communicators from truly successful persuaders?
Since I read hundreds of books each year, I am always talking about them. Some books are quickly forgotten and others stay with you. And then there are a few books that are so extraordinary that they merit a second read and deserve a prominent place on your closest shelf. Not to impress, but to be there when you need to refer to an idea or refresh your mind.
“Every battle is won before it is fought.” -Sun Tzu
The book I’m talking about in this post is in that rare category. The author, Dr. Robert Cialdini, is best known for his groundbreaking work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which is a perennial bestseller. It’s so good that it’s become part of our collective thinking. From social media to sales to leadership techniques, it’s a classic.
You spent time infiltrating the training programs of numerous companies. What was the biggest surprise for you during this time?
You’re right. As a kind of secret agent, I once infiltrated the training programs of a broad range of professions dedicated to getting us to say yes. In these programs, advanced trainees were often allowed to accompany and observe an old pro who was conducting business. I always jumped at those opportunities because I wanted to see if I could register, not just what practitioners in general did to succeed, but what the best of them did. One such practice quickly surfaced that shook my assumptions. I’d expected that the aces of their professions would spend more time than the inferior performers developing the specifics of their requests—the clarity, logic, and desirable features of them. That’s not what I found.
Research: high achievers spend more time than others preparing before making a request.
The highest achievers spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request. They set about their mission as skilled gardeners who know that even the finest seeds will not take root in poorly prepared ground. Much more than their less effective colleagues, they didn’t rely merely on the merits of an offer to get it accepted; they recognized that the psychological frame in which an appeal is first placed can carry equal or even greater weight. So, before sending their message, they arranged to make their audience sympathetic to it.
Surprising findings from Dr. Cialdini:
You are more likely to choose a French wine if you’ve just been exposed to French music.
You are more inclined to buy inexpensive furniture if the website wallpaper is covered in pennies.
You will likely be more careful if you just viewed a picture of Rodin’s The Thinker.
You are more likely to feel someone is warmer if they have just handed you hot chocolate.
You are more likely to purchase a popular item if you start to watch a scary movie.
How Seating Arrangements Influence Your Perception
Let’s talk about our point of view. Even the subtle change of seating arrangements or the view of the camera changes everything. What are some implications of this finding?
Imagine you are in a café enjoying a cup of coffee and, at the table directly in front of you, a man and woman are deciding which movie to see that evening. After a few minutes they settle on one of the options and set off to the theater. As they leave, you notice that one of your friends had been sitting at the table behind them. Your friend sees you, joins you, and remarks on the couple’s movie conversation, saying, “It’s always just one person who drives the decision in those kinds of debates, isn’t it?” You laugh and nod because you noticed that, although he was trying to be nice, it was clearly the man of the couple who determined the movie choice. Your amusement disappears, though, when your friend continues, “She sounded sweet, but she just pushed until she got her way.”
Dr. Shelley Taylor, a social psychologist at UCLA, knows why you and your friend could have heard the same conversation but come to opposite judgments about who produced the end result. It was a small accident of seating arrangements: You were positioned to observe the exchange over the shoulder of the woman, making the man more visible and salient, while your friend had the reverse point of view. Taylor and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments in which observers watched and listened to conversations that had been carefully scripted so neither discussion partner contributed more than the other. Some observers watched from a perspective that allowed them to see the back of one or another discussant and the face of the second; other observers’ perspectives allowed them to see both faces equally (from the side). All the observers were then asked to judge who had more influence in the discussion over its tone, content, and direction. The outcomes were always the same: These ratings of responsibility corresponded with the visibility of the discussants’ faces. Whoever’s face was more visible was judged to be the more influential.
This means that, if we can get people to direct their visual attention to a person, product, or event, it will immediately seem more influential to them. People believe that, if they’ve paid special attention to an item, it must be influential enough to warrant that attention. But that’s not true because attention can be channeled to an item by factors unrelated to its significance, such as distinctive colors, which nonetheless increase observers’ estimation of the item’s significance.
Research: directing visual attention can influence perceptions.
I love the personal example you share about the geography of influence. When you wrote on campus, it was radically different than when you wrote at home. It immediately resonated with me, too, because I’ve seen styles change when writing at a courthouse, in a corporate office, or at home. Based on your research, to maximize effectiveness, what recommendations would you share?
When I began writing my first book for a general audience, I was on a leave of absence at a university other than my own. Of course, I filled my campus office there with my professional books, journals, articles, and files. In town, I’d leased an apartment and would try to work on the book from a desk there, too. But the environment around that desk was importantly different from that of my campus office–newspapers, magazines, tabletops, and television shows took the place of scientific publications, textbooks, filing cabinets, and conversations with colleagues.
Writing in those separate places produced an effect I didn’t anticipate and didn’t even notice: The work I’d done at home was miles better than what I’d done at the university because it was decidedly more appropriate for the general audience I’d envisioned. Surprised, I wondered how it could be that despite a clear grasp of my desired market, I couldn’t write for it properly while in my university office. Only in retrospect was the answer obvious. Anytime I lifted or turned my head, the sightlines from my on-campus desk brought me into contact with cues linked to an academic approach and its specialized vocabulary, grammar, and style of communication.
Research: what you say or do immediately before the appeal affects success.
It didn’t matter what I knew (somewhere in my head) about the traits and preferences of my intended readers. There were few cues in that environment to spur me to think routinely and automatically of those individuals as I wrote. From my desk at home, though, the cues were matched to the task. There, I could harmonize with my audience much more successfully. So here’s my recommendation for leaders: When writing for any particular audience—clients, colleagues, employees—put a photo of a typical member of the audience in the corner of your computer screen as you write. That photo will be an automatic, unconscious reminder of your audience and their communication styles, which will allow you to write in a way that is aligned with those styles. I do that regularly now, and it works for me.
Writing Tip: put a photo of a typical audience member on the corner of your screen.
After enlisting in the Marines Ken Marlin worked his way up to become a captain and infantry commander. After the Marines, Ken has led a technology company and finally an investment bank on Wall Street.
Be prepared to walk away from the table. This is a great place to start. Do you have an example of when someone wasn’t willing to walk away and how that hurt them?
I have many examples both positive and negative. That’s because negotiating is much more about psychology than logic – and it has very little to do with finance. The negative examples aren’t fun to talk about. But we have had clients who simply weren’t willing to walk away from a prospective deal. Inevitably the other side took advantage. One that comes to mind resulted in a sale that I strongly advised against. Our client was a seller. The price offered seemed quite strong, on the surface. It was significantly higher in total value than those we received from other bidders – but a significant portion of the price was to be paid over three years based on the company’s future earnings. We’ve worked with so-called “earn-out” structures before and often they are fine. But, in this particular case, I believed that the upfront portion of the purchase price was much too low and the protections for my client post-deal were too weak. We pushed back of course, but the buyer touted the total value of the potential deal and was unwilling to move. I advised my client to walk away and negotiate with one of the other bidders – leaving the door open for the first one to get more reasonable. But my client was also focused on the total theoretical value and – perhaps – a bit too sure of himself and his own abilities. He was not willing to negotiate hard – and take the risk of losing this deal. He took the deal. The results were predictable. Within a year the senior management of my client’s company were out – and the sellers never received most of the earn-out. There were lawsuits. But the lawyers are about the only ones who came out ahead.
“Discipline is critical to proper preparation.” –Ken Marlin
There must be less depressing examples of the where the approach did work.
Sure, there are lots. For example, a few years ago, we had a VC-controlled client that had been negotiating the sale of their company for months with a very qualified buyer before they came to us for help. The offer was all-cash at a fair price by any measure. At the same time, it was clear that the buyer would merge the organizations and fire at least half of my client’s personnel. The VCs were mostly interested in the money, but they were sympathetic to the CEO’s desire to protect his people. The CEO had tried to negotiate, but the buyer said that their offer was “best and final” and would expire in 3 weeks. Further, the buyer said that if there were any solicitation of other bidders, they would walk from the table. The buyer was using their leverage better than my client. They assumed that the VCs would not risk losing a high all-cash offer.
I told my client that they could not negotiate if the other side perceived that they were unwilling to walk from the table. Otherwise we would just be begging. We knew that if we solicited other bids we might lose the first buyer, but that was a risk we had to take to improve the terms. My client agreed to take the risk. Once we had other bids coming in and the first buyer saw that they might lose the deal, they materially improved the cash portion of their offer. But they put even more emphasis on cost reductions. Fortunately, we had identified another interested bidder, and we were able to use our leverage – including the specter of sale to the original buyer – to obtain an offer for more money and protections for the employees. That was win-win.
About a year ago we had a similar experience internally, as the lease on our office space was expiring. We were the sole occupant of the top floor of a prestigious New York office tower. It had terraces, great light and views, and it was all built to our specifications. We were willing to stay. But the landlord asked for a rent increase that was clearly above market. He may have assumed that we would not walk away. We pushed back. We showed him that rent for comparable spaces was lower. But logic did not work. He declined to offer more than a pittance. So we went out and found another great space and used the specter of staying in the original space as leverage to negotiate great terms with the new building. When the first landlord saw that we were willing to walk from the table, he finally got reasonable. But it was too late. We moved to the new space. We love it.
“Staying safely at your home port is narrow thinking.” –Ken Marlin
Tell the truth. I love this one as part of your rules. What’s the Marine definition of lying?
I’m not saying that you can’t lie to an enemy who is trying to kill you or your friends. This is about negotiating in normal business environments – or in Marine environments when you are negotiating with so-called “friendlies” (such as local villagers). In this context, the Marine definition of lying goes beyond the standard definition of asserting something as fact that you know to be otherwise. It includes making statements – or failing to make statements – as part of an express intent to deceive. It’s an extension of the concept that my word is my bond – with a focus on being honest with those who expect that of you. Reputations are built over time and will outlast the negotiations at hand. A reputation as a liar will eventually catch up to you.
Negotiation Tip: don’t make promises that will be challenging to keep.
So in that context, how do you bluff in negotiating? Doesn’t everyone bluff?
It’s true that, in my business, many people bluff. And more than a few lie. Lying is always bad. Bluffing usually is. It is also dangerous if your bluff is called. It can cost the loss of major negotiating points – and sometimes kill the deal. That’s why I prefer the truth.
“Discipline can help ensure successful execution.” –Ken Marlin
Recognize when you have leverage-and when you don’t.How do you know what the leverage each side has? How does this impact your deal making?
In the Marines, leverage comes from a combination of superior force combined with moral certainty. Moral certainty was one of the key ingredients in how Americans won the Revolution against the superior forces of the British Empire. It was key to winning World War II, and it was also key to the US losing the War in Vietnam. Sure, there are many exceptions where superior force trumped all. See the Russians in Chechnya. But 150 years later, that war isn’t completely over yet. In deal making, the best leverage comes from a combination of being on the moral high ground and being willing to walk from the table. That leverage increases the more the other side wants to get the deal done. It’s usually not hard to recognize. In the book I relay a vignette about the CEO of a very large firm that had made an offer to acquire our client’s company. After we shook hands on what appeared to be a very fair purchase price, he began to dictate deal terms – and even to change some that had previously been agreed. The CEO acted as if he had all the leverage, when actually, by his bullying tactics, he had squandered the moral high ground. He was then left with the assumption that my client was desperate to complete the deal. They weren’t that desperate. The CEO was surprised when we walked from the table.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” –Sun Tzu
Remember the peace. Most non-military experts will pause on this one. What does it mean and why is it so important?
Most statesman learned long ago that after most wars end, there is wisdom in finding a way for the formerly warring parties to live with each other. After the Civil War came what was supposed to be reconstruction. After WWII came the Marshall plan. When people forget that basic rule of remembering the peace, it can be bad. That’s what the allies did after World War I, forcing impossible reparations on the Germans. The result was resentment that fermented and eventually boiled over. And then we got World War II. The consequences of scorched earth policies in business negotiations may not be quite as dire. But still, the smart move is to recognize that the completion of a transaction is usually not the end of anything. It is a phase point, after which it is better if the formerly battling parties (buyer and seller) can continue to work and live with each other in peace and harmony. Otherwise, life is long, resentment ferments, and bad things may happen.
9 Negotiation Rules from Ken Marlin
Rule 1: Be prepared to walk away from the table.
Rule 2: Know where you are going.
Rule 3: Recognize when you have leverage—and when you don’t.
Rule 4: Tell the truth.
Rule 5: Remember the peace.
Rule 6: Negotiate big things before little things.