In both improv and negotiation, confidence often comes from having fallback routines. Improv performers buy time by resorting to “physical business” – pouring an imaginary glass of beer, for example. Seasoned negotiators use similar gambits to slow down the clock and get their bearings:
Make others responsible for their words.
- Negotiators can borrow this common therapeutic technique to buy time to think. Suppose you’re selling a valuable antique desk. A potential buyer says to you, “That old desk is ratty and run-down. You can’t possibly think it’s worth that much.” Rather than escalating matters, you might merely repeat, “Ratty and run-down?” to mark your counterpart’s outlandish statement.
Don’t feel obliged to answer every question.
- Shifting to another issue or making a process suggestion can give you time to reflect on the offer or demand. “Let’s step back for a second,” you might say, “and review what we’ve already agreed to.”
Role-play before important negotiations.
- Instead of merely asking a colleague to model the other side’s expected behavior, ask him to throw in some surprises – an unexpected compliment, an insult or two. With a little practice, you’ll be prepared to improvise.