The answer to the question of why will your creditor negotiate you then is fear that you won’t or can’t pay. We need to let them convince themselves that you can’t pay. Notice that I didn’t say you need to convince them – an important distinction is to bend their reality so that they convince themselves, which is more effective. We will be coaxing them to this conclusion and then giving them a way out. The way out is part of what you must decide before the negotiation starts.
Exploiting the emotional - an approach to negotiation
"It is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish and their tastes are anything but stable." Kahneman.
We are going to adopt the fundamental techniques of selling to win our negotiation. How do we sell? In this case, we are going to try and get through three steps with the person we are talking to:
1. Establish rapport
2. Gain trust
3. Persuade (tactical empathy)
To achieve this, we are going to exploit the findings of Kahneman and Tversky in their study of cognitive bias in individuals. They found that we are primarily emotional animals, which distorts the way we view the world. Two separate decision-making processes are going on in the brain.
1. Fast, instinctive, and emotional
2. Slow, deliberate, and logical
The key here is that when we think we are using process #2: slow, deliberate, logical; that part of the brain has already been influenced by process #1, which is mostly emotional. We can exploit this in that if we can affect their process #1 thinking – their emotions – then we will guide their system # 2 thinking without them being aware of it.
When we are approaching this negotiation, it is in a different way to what you might expect. You are not pumped up and ready to ram your offer down their throat. Totally the opposite. You are going to be friendly and calm, apologetic that you need to bother them with your problem. Keep your approach friendly, apologetic, and self-deprecating. When you speak, remember to smile, although no one can see you, it will come through in your demeanor and keep you in the right frame of mind.
The approach will help gain their empathy, will make you seem unthreatening, and put them (apparently) in control. This is the key. It is the judo throw of negotiation using their weight and momentum against themselves. If everything goes to plan, they will finish with a warm, fuzzy feeling about themselves, that they have helped a fellow human being.
How do you think I can do that?
The means to go through this process and come out the other side with the solution that we want is to give them your problem to solve. That problem is how do you pay this debt? We want them to come to an answer not to try and provide them with the solution.
What we aim for initially is an opening into the conversation that allows us to ask a carefully calibrated open question
“How do you think I can pay for that?” This gets them working on your problem, and ultimately, if we manage it right, they will start to bid against themselves.
You may have to share information about income and other loans in this process, and that is why you need to be prepared (also covered in the next chapter), and reveal only what you want to reveal.
Assessing Your Counterpart
The fundamental part of this negotiation approach is to gain empathy with your counterpart: the poor collections person sitting in some office or soul-less contact center which is doing this 8 hours a day, five days a week.
Chris Voss says that empathy is “ the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart and the vocalization of that recognition”.
Their job is to get the metaphorical blood out of a stone, and they are probably subjected to rudeness and abuse on a regular basis. They have probably also heard every artificial sob story ever. Therefore, adopting a friendly and empathetic approach will create openings.
Suppose we were to consider that these employees will generally fall into one of two types. Either they don’t like their job and find pressuring people to pay money they don’t have stressful, or they will be hardass types who consider debtors to be feckless scroungers who shouldn’t have borrowed money they couldn’t repay.
The former type will be more easily influenced as it will be more straightforward to gain their trust. But in either event, you must listen carefully and try to assess the person at the other end of the phone. The more you know about someone, the more power you will have in the negotiation.
When they are initially retrieving your information, try to get in some general questions to find openings. They will be half distracted by retrieving and reading information.
You can say something like “ I bet this is a tough job?” or “Has it been a rough/ long day today?” or a more neutral “I expect you had a lot of calls already today – how do you handle it all?”
Then this can be followed by “I don’t’ know how you manage if people are angry or abusive.” This will stir their emotional pot.
You can finish the exchange with “ I expect you get lots of people like me who get in over their heads.” Planting a seed of the view that you want to cultivate.
Your opening Statement
At some point, after they have retrieved your details, usually they will ask how they can help, what it is you want. This initial opening is crucial to getting on the right track. We want to exploit their offer of help and make them do the work, not provide answers. First, however, we need to give them a reason and to set the scene.
So your opening has to run something along the lines of:
“I am afraid I have got into debt over my head and find that I can’t pay any longer.”
You will have to provide a reason that triggered the change. I would avoid lying where possible. Here are some reasons:
· I / my wife/husband/partner just lost my / their job
· As above but (we) were forced to take a pay cut
· Our business has dropped off a cliff since COVID because….[we work in travel]
· I / my wife/husband/partner got sick and we are paying for treatment and medical bills
· My parents were helping us/me out but they just got sick/ made redundant.
The next part of the conversation will depend on your offer and whether you want to try to settle it or negotiate better terms, and how many creditors you have. If you can convince them you can’t pay, then one of the points of leverage is threatening to use what money you have to pay someone else, leaving them with nothing. We will discuss these approaches in the next chapter as I want to turn now to how you manage and control the negotiation using different tools.
5 Active Listening Techniques
I am now going to outline the 5 critical techniques that you are going to use to generate rapport, which will build trust, which will allow you to influence the result.
What you are applying here is a toolbox for active listening – this is not a passive activity you are reacting all the time to what the other person says.
“To quiet the voices in your head, make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say.” Chris Voss - Negotiating as if your life depended on it.
Mirroring is the technique of repeating back the last three keywords used by your counterpart. By repeating their own words back to them, they will feel that you have understood and internalized what they are saying. They will, in turn, feel that you are on the same wavelength as them. This is a similar technique to adopting the same body language as your interlocutor in a face to face situations. It builds rapport.
For example, they say, “I see that your last payment was in June and your account is 60 days past due.” If you mirror this back “60 days past due”, it demonstrates to them that you hear them and you are listening intently.
It is a more powerful technique than it may sound, it sounds straightforward and perhaps fake, but it is very important to building the rapport, and should not be underestimated.
Try it with your partner or spouse or spouse for a while to practice. They will subconsciously notice and that you are more attentive, and you may begin to feel a difference in your relationship.
Silences – effective pauses
The purpose of using silence, not responding to a statement or request, is to pressure the other party into filling the void. They will feel the need to continue speaking and thus are likely to reveal more information than they intended. This could be about how they are thinking and feeling, not just facts.
The power of silence comes from the fact that most people, especially extroverts, are just not comfortable with silence, especially in phone conversations where there are no other mediums to substitute. Therefore, people feel immense psychological pressure to continue speaking.
The converse is also true. Once you have made a point or statement, do not feel tempted to over-elaborate. This just makes you seem weaker and less confident and you may go on to reveal something you didn’t intend to.
If they make a statement, you can simply respond with minimal encouragement. For example, you would say “I see”, or “ Yes”, or “Uh-huh” this puts the ball back in their court to continue and elaborate. This pressure can make them start to negotiate with themselves in an effort to fill the space.
Think about it another way. Who do you trust more, the fast-talking salesperson who doesn’t shut up to let you think of the person who gives you the space to make your own decision? The second person will appear to be listening to you more, so will appear more trustworthy. Remember, our goal is to build that trust, so we can influence others.
Also, remember that you can’t make a mistake or let something slip if they are talking. The person doing the listening is the person in control of a conversation. This doesn’t mean you should say nothing if they make a statement you disagree with. We will look at ways to say no without saying no in a moment – and why it is advantageous.
Again practice on your partner or in other conversational settings by using just encouragers to keep the conversation going. Become comfortable with being with people and being silent.
The power of giving objections a name - labeling
This technique is the hardest to learn because to apply it, you must identify the other parties underlying objections/emotions and then be able to respond by labeling them. The importance of this particular approach is that giving the objection or the emotion a name allows the other person's mind to process and then sidestep the issue.
For example, if you said, “It seems like you are feeling angry?” then the very act of attaching the label of anger to the emotion allows the other party to recognize it for what it is, and process (get over) the emotion. They realize that you know they are angry, and thus it allows them to move on: they no longer need to feel angry. Otherwise, they will continue to feel angry but without being able to place it.
This is how it works in terms of the brain. You can reduce the negative impact of feelings by giving them a name and increase your acceptance and understanding. When you experience any strong emotion, your amygdala becomes active – this is the part of the brain that processes emotion. The amygdala triggers a wave of physical reactions in your body, like increased sweating, anxiety, increased heart rate, and so forth. When you attach a label to the emotion, the frontal cortex (analytical part of the brain) kicks in to process it, and the amygdala calms down.
A study by UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory showed how this works. Subjects were connected to an MRI machine, which monitors brain activity. When the subjects were shown, photographs of faces expressing strong emotions, their amygdalas became active. When they were asked to label the emotion they saw in the picture, the amygdala became calmer.
So, if things are becoming a bit tense and agitated, you might say: “It seems like you are worried that your supervisor might not be able to accept this deal.” This could cut to the heart of their concern and force it into the open, where they can process what to do about their boss. On the other hand, labeling can be as straightforward as saying, “it seems like you had a difficult day today”.
Lastly, you can also use labeling as a form of flattery. “It seems like you're the sort of person who….”
· Gets results
· Is good with people / understands people
· Prides themselves on being fair.
Paraphrasing and Summaries, getting: “That’s right”.
In his book, Chris Voss says that the words you want to hear in a negotiation are, “That’s right!”
If you get “yes” from your counterpart, it could actually mean several things: compliance, or I agree with, but I am not committed, or even be a counterfeit yes. As in, I’ll back out later under some pretext. However, he says that when you hear “That’s right” it means that you have convinced your counterpart in the negotiation that you have heard and understood them and that they start to trust you. It is far more meaningful and powerful than yes.
Once you hear “That’s right!” it means they are ready to move on in the negotiation from some sticking point and to hear and agree to your proposal. They have emptied the emotion and believe you have gained empathy. It created a realization point with our adversary when they decided on a point without the feeling of giving in. It’s a stealth victory, and they embrace it.
There are two techniques for drawing a “that’s right” from your opposite party. The first method is to paraphrase. Take what they have said in the last couple of statements and then regurgitate it in your own words in a more condensed form.
Again, this achieves empathy and trust as replaying their thoughts without judgments will demonstrate you have been listening and absorbing their perspective.
The second method is a bit similar but comes into play when discussions have been lengthier or more extended, and points have been made over more time. You simply summarise the other side’s negotiating position for them, including any labels attached to specific underlying reasons. You may also use mirroring phrases. When they hear this played back to them accurately, they will be inclined to give you a “that’s right” response.
To produce an accurate summary apply the following guidelines:
· Delete irrelevant or trivial information.
· Delete redundant information.
· Select the key points.
· Provide labels.
· Use mirroring phrases
Calibrated questions: Saying no without saying no
The next and one of the most important techniques in negotiating is the ability to use very open-ended questions. Chris Voss calls these calibrated questions. Calibrated questions often have no target for your opponent to object to. The question is directed, so it aims to elicit their help in solving or answering the question, rather than you putting a counterpoint that can be disagreed with.
“ They educate your counterpart on what the problem is rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is” Chris Voss
The forms of questions are usually who, what, where, when, why, and how. Do not use forms such as can, do, and “are” as most of these can be answered very simply with a yes or no or are not valid. The two preferred forms of calibrated questions are “how” and “what” as these questions cannot usually be answered simply, and your opponent's brain will immediately be opened up trying to solve them. Furthermore, playing dumb and I don't understand are also valid techniques and can buy time for you.
When using calibrated questions, pay attention to your voice to ensure that the tone of voice is requesting help. How can I help you make this better for us? How would you like me to proceed? How can we solve this? How am I supposed to do that? Control your emotions when confronted with an unpleasant demand or statement. Without control of your emotions, you can't control the negotiation. Use a calibrated question to diffuse their position. Hostage mentality is a reaction to a loss of control so that you become hostage to your own emotions instead of being able to engage.
The benefit of using a calibrated question is that it doesn’t directly challenge the other party but gets them engaged in solving your problem, which in turn results in them potentially starting to negotiate with themselves and break down their own position to move towards yours.
Another benefit of this approach is that it is an excellent way to say no without saying no. When confronted with a situation where the other side's demands are quite unpalatable you use two or three different types of calibrated questions one after the other to effectively block their request without actually saying no.
For example, if you have explained why you cannot pay, then during the course of the negotiation, they come back with “We think you can pay $343 per month”. You would respond with, “How am I supposed to do that?” They now have to engage with you on a complex interaction around how you can implement that.
Remember, during all interactions to be positive and smiling, and this will help maintain the right tone of voice and give a trustworthy impression.
Slow it Down – make them impatient
Your counterpart likely has some sort of time pressure on them. Either to get a result, get to the next call, or even to go home. Use that as leverage. The power of deadlines is due to fear of future loss, but mostly it is artificial. I have lost track of the number of times I have been told if you sign the contract before the end of the quarter, we can give you this price but only until then. Once an offer is on the table, I have never known it to be successfully taken back.
If you allow the variable of time to trigger such thinking, you have taken yourself hostage creating an environment of reactive behavior and poor choices where your counterpart can now kick back and let an imaginary deadline and your reaction to it do all the work for him.
If you slow it down by using lots of calibrated questions, summaries, paraphrasing, and all the other active listening techniques we have discussed, your opponent will become more impatient for a result. This can be turned to your advantage. Ask to go over things again to ensure you have understood and then turn the screw a bit more. Remember, no deal is better than a bad deal.
Use what we call an accusation audit early in the negotiation to disarm your opponent. In an accusation, you bring out and state all their objections to your proposal. For example:
“I expect you think I am just a feckless scrounger, who never intended to pay back the money, I suspect you think I am just smoking and drinking away all my income. I am just managing to put basic meals on the table for my children, and I don’t smoke or drink. You might think that somehow I can pay these loans, perhaps I should get a third job to pay them…..”
By getting all their arguments onto the table at the beginning they cannot use them as leverage later.
Bend their reality
"Bend their reality, so it conforms to what we want to give them, not what they think they deserve.” Chris Voss
The final point I would like to make on negotiation is that the idea of building rapport, gaining trust is to influence. Once you have done these things and your counterpart feels like they trust you, then you are ready to ‘bend their reality’. This means that what they would have seen as a ridiculous outcome at the start of the negotiation they will now be thrilled with. You have moved their whole frame of reference during the negotiation.
The F-Word - FAIR. It's a bomb: “I just want what's fair”. Use this judiciously. It is quite powerful and will trigger feelings of defensiveness and discomfort. Conversely, they might try “We have given you a fair offer!”
You are attempting to frame your vision as the perfect solution. Anchor all their emotions in preparation for a loss they will seek to avoid. We naturally try to avoid losses more strongly than we will seek gains. i.e. Say “I will use the money from my parents to pay another lender instead.”
Here are the key takeaways from this chapter:
• When negotiating with creditors, use techniques such as paraphrasing and effective silences to show your opponent that you are listening to them.
• Use accusation audits to disarm your opponent during the negotiation and make them more receptive to your point of view.
• Slow down the negotiations with calibrated questions and summaries to heighten your opponent’s anxiety and make them more impatient for a conclusion.
• Always try to show empathy while also being firm with your creditors and make them understand that you are willing to walk away if you do not get the outcome you are looking for.
Chapter Seven: How to Get What You Want In Just 3 Steps
When it comes to controlling debt, knowing how to negotiate with your creditors can be a priceless asset. Negotiating with your lenders can help you to reach a reasonable settlement plan and avoid negative outcomes such as wage garnishments, bank levies, and foreclosures. Before you initiate negotiations with your creditors, therefore, it is important to understand the strategies that work in order to increase your chances of success. In this chapter, I am going to share with you a 3-step approach on how to get what you want when negotiation with creditors. Although before we start looking at that you need to know how to handle the actual bargaining part. Once you have established rapport, built empathy, and gained trust to bend their reality it will come to the nitty-gritty negotiation.
How to Negotiate with Creditors -The Ackerman Method
The Ackerman Method is a bargaining system that was developed by Mike Ackerman. This model can be applied in a wide array of situations, including bargaining when shopping for everyday items and hostage negotiations. The premise of this model is very simple. You have a target price that you want to arrive at. Once you have determined that price, you want to begin your negotiation with a price that is 65% of your target price. The idea is to make three raises, which will eventually get you to the target price that you have set. Your first increment should be 20%, the second 10%, and the last one 5%. With each raise, you are cutting down the increment by half.
When you get to the final figure, you can throw out an odd number and also throw in a non-monetary object to give the other person the impression that they’ve tapped you out and you can’t go any further. This makes them finally capitulate to your final number, and you end up saving more money than you would otherwise pay. So, let us suppose that your target price is $20,000. The first thing you would need to do is to set your anchor price, which should be about 65% of the amount you are willing to offer. In this example, this would be $13,000.
This price is likely to get a strong reaction from the party that you are negotiating with, but that shouldn’t phase you at all. The idea here is to devalue the other party’s perception of the item’s worth. However, when setting your anchor price, you should be careful not to offend the other person (by having the price too low) since this is likely to put them off and possibly cause them to walk out of the negotiation. On the other hand, if the figure is quite reasonable, they will probably engage with you and start bargaining by stating some facts about the item in an effort to make you raise your bid.
Once you have established that the other party is responsive to your bid and open to negotiations, then hopefully they will make a counter offer. Eventually, after saying no without saying no, and using the other techniques we discussed in the last chapter you can raise your anchor amount to 85% (increase it by 20%). Doing so will lure them and make them start warming up to your offer. Do not raise your offers too readily, make them work for it. If they give you a counter, raise your offer to 95 % (an increase of 10%) and finally follow up with a rise of 5% to achieve the 100% target price that you had in mind initially. Do not be afraid to walk away between these steps and come back later. Remember also that any time you don’t get an outright no, then you are making progress.
The Ackerman Method is very powerful and can yield fantastic results if you know how to apply it correctly. There are two things that you need to ensure when employing this negotiation strategy. First, do not let their anchor price throw you off balance and cause you to change your strategy. Second, make sure your opponent understands that you are willing to walk away if you get a raw deal. If you feel trapped in the negotiation, you are much more likely to become intimidated and capitulate to their demand or offer. So, if you happen to feel pressured during the bargaining process, you should request your opponent for a break so that you can recollect yourself and become grounded again before proceeding with the negotiation.