Four ounces of force

Effective negotiations and problem/conflict solving are all about gently guiding instead of butting heads. That is unless you are at a car dealership, in which case butting heads without flinching is the strategy to go.

So how can you gently guide while gaining a deeper understanding along the way? You need to seek for common purpose and goals!

Finding common purpose and goals

It all starts with listening actively, trying to understand what the other party wants to achieve and what motivates and drives them. You must seek to understand their goals and purpose. Likewise, you need to explain your motivations, goals, and reasons-why so that the other party knows where you are coming from and what you are trying to achieve.

Chances are that you will need to take the active part for both sides – seeking to understand the other party and making yourself understood. Admittedly it is a lot of work, but the return is well worth the investment!

Listen to understand. Explain to be understood.

By listening actively, you will find common ground, shared goals, and win-win opportunities that will reveal a shared path forward. Furthermore, working together with your negotiation partner, you will find a solution that is better than what either of you had thought of in the first place.

That is the ideal scenario and hopefully how the majority of your negotiations will go.

But what if the other party doesn’t want to play ball, listen actively, and seek common ground? What if they are actively or passively aggressive? Well, then it’s time for Plan B.

Redirect their energy

Instead of trying to work against their energy – butting heads – lead it in a direction that will guide their momentum where you want it to be. Redirect them. If they want to jump on you, make sure they will instead propel themselves in the place where you want them to be.

There is an exercise in Tai Chi in which you learn to control your partner and redirect his energy (and attack) while never exerting any more than four ounces of force. It’s called Pushing hands, and it’s all about sensing, perceiving, and then connecting and gently redirecting. It sounds too good to be true, but in reality, it is just a matter of awareness and proper guidance at critical moments of a developing move.

The same can be said for artful negotiations or even playing chess (or anything else that requires strategy). You want to gently and proactively set the playing field such that the desired outcome will inevitably be reached while avoiding unnecessary blood baths. You want to be sensitive to developing strategies and moves and redirect them the desired way before they build up momentum.

A master works through soft redirection instead of aggressive confrontation.

In negotiations, you can do this by building a funnel of facts, evidence, reasoning, and logical conclusions that eventually doesn’t leave any other reasonable outcome than the one you desired to achieve. You set guardrails (for example, “These are the goals, do you agree?”, “Here are all constraints that I know of, are there any others?”) and let them narrow in through the negotiations, just like a funnel (for example, “Since we already agreed on A and B, C must be true as well. Am I missing something here?”). Know what outcome you want to achieve, and make sure the funnel points squarely to that outcome – plan ahead how you will start from a wide opening while deliberately narrowing down as you go.

Create a glide path that the other part can – and eventually must – follow.

The more you argue, the weaker your position will get

Also, keep in mind that the one who speaks the most usually has the weakest points. If we are insecure, we talk a lot and try to explain something we don’t fully believe in ourselves. If we are confident, we will make short and pointed statements. Others will pick on that. A sure-fire way to spot a lie is if someone explains their point with way too much detail. Humans are subconsciously tuned-in to those signals.

The shorter, crisper, and more pointed your responses are, the more you strengthen your position and credibility.

Shorter is almost always better – the more you talk and explain, the weaker your point, perception, and position. Of course, you can overdo this, and there is a point where your response lacks the necessary depth to be convincing. However, realistically only a few of us need to worry about that end of the spectrum. Most of us talk way too much and listen way too little.

Keep your comments short and to the point. Make every word matter and serve your goal. Let the other party talk while you lead with questions and build your funnel.

Don’t waste all your energy – let THEM run tired.

At the same time, you need to be persistent – dropping the ball or avoiding the discussion never buys you anything. Put the crisp facts out there, ask guiding questions, build your funnel, and pull the trigger when the other party has maneuvered themselves in the corner where you wanted them, and the outcome is inevitable.

Back to Tai Chi:

Only use four ounces of force. Put them in the right places at the right time and redirect the other person’s energy where you want it to be. You will make it impossible for the other person to break out of your lead.


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Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9798718017663

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