Isn't it amazing to discover that the most simple of concepts can produce the most dramatic and powerful results. Perhaps there's no better example of this in a negotiating setting than the technique of uttering those two simple words, "I'm sorry."
There's no mystery to this technique. It's just the insertion of a sincere "I'm sorry" apology when opposing sides encounter conflicting positions.
It's well known that how people feel personally about their negotiating opponent can greatly impact the progress and the outcome of any negotiation. We've all encountered people we find abrasive and even borderline disgusting. Our dander is up and we double our efforts to 'win at all costs' and even put them in their place. In such a situation, our emotions trump our strategies, our words and our focus. We need to guard against doing something that would offend or cause our opponent to have bad feelings about us.
Injecting the "I'm sorry" comment can be tremendously disarming.
It also prevents our coming across abrasive and fosters a positive feeling toward us even if our position is contrary to what our opponent had hoped for.
So when, as negotiators, do we say "I'm sorry"?
The opportunities are limited only by our imagination.
When you want to flinch your opponent upon hearing their proposal, an "I'm sorry" admits our failing to understand, it prompts further explanation on their part and all the while coming across in a positive light. "I'm sorry. Did you say you wanted _____?"
"I'm sorry" is an effective way to communicate that you can't accept their proposal. "I'm sorry. I can't think of a way that would possibly work for me (us)." It's clear. It's decisive.
"I'm sorry" can also be the opening words to calling a time out in a negotiation. "I'm sorry. I'll have to run that by our ______ (board, attorney, engineering department, etc.)" Again, who can be offended by a pause in the negotiations that is preceded by an apology?
"I'm sorry" can be a softening phrase that introduces an aggressive proposal - one that you expect will shock your opponent. "I'm sorry, but I think the only thing we can offer you is something along the lines of a _____ price." The apology communicates that you're aware that the proposal might be significantly less than they expected and that you'd hope they would not take it personally. When personal affronts are removed, productive negotiations can continue.
I use that "I'm sorry" phrase continually and most especially on the phone. Whatever I'm trying to accomplish on the phone (buy insurance, secure a discount of service costs, extract an earlier shipment, etc.) I apologize for being a bother, not understanding the process or being ignorant of their systems. I can't tell you how often the tenor of the call changes when I "put the blame on me", which an apology clearly communicates.
I just bought tickets to a Las Vegas show and I had trouble getting a discount on their website. So I called them directly, apologized for not being able to get the job done online and hoped
they could give me the "courtesy of some of their time". This
"kill 'em with kindness" approach worked wonders. Not only did I get the discount, the agent suggested an even better discount and told me they could improve my theater seating.
In this age of everyone playing the blame game and being curt and/or disrespectful to others, I've found the power of an unnecessary and unexpected apology is a winner.
One guarantee...you'll be sorry if you don't use the power of the apology as you Keep Negotiating.
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Negotiating Tip 113: Activating Our Opponent
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Negotiating Tip 112: Misconceptions
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