When people hear the word interrogation, it’s usually associated with crimes or just accusations in general. But what if you can use interrogation skills used in investigations to also close a business deal? Michael Reddington is a Certified Forensic Interviewer and the President of InQuasive. He explains the techniques used in interrogations and how they can be utilized in business negotiations. Michael also details the key differences and similarities between the two and their use in different contexts. He highlights the importance of maintaining the self-image of the other and focusing on listening rather than attacking. If you’re interested to learn more and get some tips along the way, then this is the episode for you.
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Bridging The Fence: Using Interrogation Skills To Negotiate And Vice Versa With Michael Reddington
Welcome back to another awesome episode of the show where we help you, the small and mid-sized businesses, elevate your negotiation skills. We do that by bringing awesome guests to you and this episode is no exception. I have Michael Reddington. When we talked in our pre-interview, I was super transparent with him and said, “I’m a little skeptical. How does a certified forensic interviewer and negotiation come together?” He’s going to have us get a better understanding of that. I have listened to a couple of things that he’s done before and he’s got some great insights as a negotiator for your organization or even if you are negotiating in your personal life, which you are all the time. Michael’s going to have some great stuff for us. He is a certified forensic interviewer and the President of the company InQuasive. Michael, thank you for being here. I’m excited to have you.
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Tell us how did you become a certified forensic interviewer and what is that?
My career started as a teacher, working with 7th and 8th grade special needs students, coaching baseball and I thought that would be all I would ever do. I had friends who are making a lot more money and I was susceptible to peer pressure. I was thought into trying the financial industry where I lasted for 2 years, 1 month and 2 days to be exact and decided that was it for me. I juggled any number of random part-time jobs. One of them was in investigations. Noticing a pattern, a friend of mine said, “Do you need another job?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Come work with me.” I said, “Okay.” Fast forward many years, here you and I are.
My career in investigations was a part-time job that got completely and totally out of control. It hit the like four-alarm fire level the first time I was asked to interrogate somebody. I know when people hear the word interrogation they generally have 1 or 2 reactions. Some people are like, “Tell me more,” and the rest are like, “Stay away from me.” There are not a lot of middle ground between the two. The first time I was asked to interview somebody who had stolen from the company that they worked for, I tripped, fell, stumbled, bumbled and ended up getting a confession into some of their theft. I’m sure there’s more they did that they didn’t tell me but I at least was able to confirm some of their theft.
I was like, “That was interesting.” I had a supervisor at the time who is still a great friend of mine. If he reads this, I can jokingly say, “He either believed in me or was lazy,” but in either way, “Why don’t you start doing the interrogation so I don’t have to come down?” I’ve got sent to my first interrogation training program and that’s where the clouds parted, rainbows came out in the sunshine and I’m like, “This is for me.” I pursued it. As I look at interrogation, it’s like a mechanic who has to know how every component of a car works and knowing that I had a technique that would work wasn’t enough. I was fascinated with, why do people sit down with complete strangers with absolutely opposing interests and motivations who choose to not comply but commit to sharing sensitive information that brings consequences associated?
I dove into the research, not just in interviews and interrogation but across the spectrum of business communication. On the interrogation side, that specific education for me culminated with earning the certified forensic interviewer designation, which is a designation like a CPA for accounting. It’s not necessarily a job in and of itself. It’s a designation of expertise in the field. The way that I like to explain it is a certified forensic interviewer should be able to get dropped out of a helicopter into any conversation and conduct a morally, legally and ethically sound investigative interview. That’s the background that we come from.Interrogations, much like negotiations, are all about achieving commitment over compliance. Click To Tweet
For me, even beyond earning the CFI, I continued my research, especially on the business communication side. I made two key realizations that changed my direction entirely. The first is that the very best leaders and interrogators capitalize on the same two core skills, vision and influence. The cognitive process that interrogation suspects experience when they can commit to truly saying, “I did it,” is essentially identical to the cognitive processes that customers experience when they commit to saying, “I will buy it,” and employees experience when they commit to saying, “I will do it.”
All we are doing is moving people from some level of resistance to commitment but it’s called these different things, areas or professions. For me, that was it. I stepped away from full-time interrogation. I still do it occasionally because I think it’s fun but the vast majority of what I do now is I serve as an executive resource and I teach people how to apply strategic, ethical observation and persuasion techniques with our disciplined listening methods.
One of the things that you talked about in The Sales Evangelist podcast that I thought hit home and for me, it’s even taking what you have said about how you’ve got to where you are at that summarizes it was this notion that we should be looking for intelligence, not information. I talk a lot about effective questioning and how to use effective questions. I have a mentor named Blair Dunkley and a lot of people have read about him on the show. He’s a master at effective questioning. I took a course from him, which is called Igniting the Buying Conversation. It’s a sales course but there is no selling and it is similar in concept to what you are talking about in, “Gather intelligence and not information.” Tell us more about that.
When we get into, whether it’s a sales conversation like you referenced, negotiation, formal or otherwise, or performance management conversation within our own organization, it’s very easy for us to set expectations based on our perspective and our lens then if we have a destination in mind where we are thinking, “This is where I know I want to be at the end of the conversation.” It’s very easy for us to fall into a verification mentality as opposed to a learning mentality.
This is part of where the difference between information and intelligence comes in. If I’m in this verification mentality, I’m thinking, “This is where I want to be at the end of the conversation. I need to hear Christine say these 2, 3 or 4 things.” In sales, it might be the stereotypical, “What’s their pain?” In negotiation, it might be, “What’s their interest or priority?” As soon as I hear that piece of information then I’m going to fit it into the pre-determined box that I have built onto, how I’m going to pitch this idea to somebody? When we do that, we end up literally just listening for information, check the box and verifying what we already believed. We kick ourselves out of that learning mentality and we are not listening for intelligence.
Often in intelligence, the more valuable components of the information can be unexpected. It can be in the tone or delivery of somebody’s message or their word choice. I was working with a group. We are talking with somebody in another organization and they say, “We have all met and agreed this is the direction we need to go,” that means one thing. If they say, “I guess we have to do this,” that means something entirely different but if we are in this verification mentality, we hear that as, “Check. Here we go.” Now we are delivering what we wanted in a way that could be completely suboptimal based on the mindset that somebody else is in. Being able to capture, whether it’s the nonverbal behavior accurately not falling prey to all these myths that we have all been forced fed, picking up on the tone of voice, word choice, volume, speed of delivery, changes all of these things within the greater context and having that situational awareness, all of that creates intelligence.
The starting point for that is understanding not just where I want to be at the end of this conversation but what am I greater alternatives. Instead of being myopically focused on, “This is what I have to get but what are the greater alternatives we can achieve and how can these potential nuances I pick up on maybe open the door to a better opportunity than I’m originally thinking or if the opportunity I’m originally thinking isn’t there, even as there another step in the right direction that the nuance opens up. I can take that door, and then come back a week or a month later and start working my way towards the opportunity I wanted.”
There are a couple of things in there that I like. One is around the listening aspect. I talk about how listening is a full-body activity. It’s not something that just happens with your ears. I will use this example of when somebody walks into a room, the clothes that they are wearing, “Are they wearing perfume or cologne? How are they walking? What’s their gait like?” Those are all communication cues. Often people don’t pay attention to those communication cues because they are so focused on what it is that they want to say that they are not open to exploring what the other person is communicating to them even before their mouths were even open.
The episode that I did with Jeff Harry and Lauren Yee on Bringing Play To The Negotiation Table where curiosity. What you are talking about is curiosity. When we are asking questions and already preceding what we think they are going to say or anticipating what we are going to say, we are losing that opportunity to be curious. Curiosity from being persuasive is about embracing that curiosity. Talk a little bit more about that.
One of the things that make me stop in my tracks is when I hear somebody say, “I’ve got it all figured out.” “You do? Explain this to me.” We are both from or spend time in the same general area in the Northeast so sarcasm is my native tongue. I’ve almost got myself in trouble in one investigation where literally on the phone they told me, “We don’t have any evidence and time to do the investigation. We need you to come in and interrogate this guy. If you can get them to confess, we are going to fire him but if you can’t, we are going to make him vice president.” I go in and I’m sitting with their VP of Risk in their investigations team that told me they don’t have any evidence.
One of the guys looks at me says, “We’ve got it all figured out.” A lot changed in two days. I looked at him and I said, “You do?” He said, “Yes.” Here’s where my sarcastic mouth got me in trouble. I said, “You have been participating in the fraud.” They talk about cartoon-like red face eyes and smoke out of his ears. It didn’t go too far. I was like, “Rhetorically, who knows more about any incident? The criminal that perpetrated it or the investigator that’s investigating it? Unless you were there, there are questions we don’t have the answers to. We’ve got to learn more.”
The same thing happens with sales teams, negotiators and leaders, “We’ve got it all figured out.” We might get close but we never do. Forcing ourselves to maintain that learning mentality is important. I know you love questions. One of the things that I love to say is, “Questions can be perceived as invitations or attacks. If they are perceived as an invitation, people will generally open up. If that’s perceived as an attack, people will typically get defensive.
Asking questions with not just a curious mindset but with that curious tone so it doesn’t come across as, “I’m lining you up for what I’m going to do next,” then I ask it with curiosity in a way that helps people protect their self-image and let them feel like they are educating me. It’s even better if I already know some of the answers because now that can serve as functional ground truth and I can use that to assess the direction of this conversation and to the degree, they are being transparent with me. We have to force ourselves to keep that curious mentality. I’m not a scientist but our brains are wired to confirm what we already think and believe. To look for information that contradicts that takes that intentional effort, there’s a little rule that I like to follow where if I talk to somebody for at least ten minutes and didn’t learn at least one, that’s a me problem. I probably wasn’t open to learning for whatever reason in that conversation.
My rule is if I walk away going, “That was the best conversation ever.” I go, “You talked too much.” Usually, that’s the case. If somebody says that to me, they will go, “Christine, this is the best conversation ever.” I’m like, “Yes because you did all the talking.” People love to hear themselves talk. We all know Chris Voss is huge in the market and that’s great. He’s done some great things. He and I have some very different perspectives. One of my philosophies about negotiation is that negotiation is a conversation about a relationship and you cannot win a relationship but you can get more value out of it.When people lie, they're not lying to hurt you. They're lying to protect themselves or somebody else. Click To Tweet
One of my reluctance about having you on the show was about not wanting to mix this concept of interrogation because we have so many people including in Hollywood who put position negotiation as an interrogation. It’s all about getting somebody and winning more versus my philosophy after many years of negotiating experience across the globe saying no in business because I’m not talking about criminals or hostage crises. You would not want me negotiating a hostage crisis. I don’t want hostage negotiators negotiating multi-billion dollar transactions either. Those are two very different skillsets. Talk a little bit about your view of interrogation versus negotiation. Where do you see them overlapping and how you see them being different?
There are very important similarities and differences. First, I want to take a step back and an offhand comment you made about Hollywood. If people saw videos of mine and my former teammates’ interrogations, they would probably shut them off within the first five minutes because it has none of the theatrical entertainment confrontational value that Hollywood forces on us. Unfortunately, like many industries when interrogation makes the news, it’s for all the wrong reasons. That is a fraction of a percent of interrogations and interrogators go that way. One of the other things I love to hear you say is the difference between hostage negotiation and business negotiation. I have never done a hostage negotiation, I want to make it clear there but there are contextual factors that are super important when you look at fields of operation.
There are going to be common pieces that are going to contribute to success across the board, and specific pieces and opportunities that are going to be more effective in an individual context. For me, interrogations much like negotiations are all about achieving commitment over compliance. Compliance is essentially obeying a command. Oftentimes, whether it’s parents, leaders, negotiators, salespeople or whoever, we feel like, “We told them what to do. They said they would do it so we win.” We don’t realize the resentment that that builds and the potential sabotage it might set up earlier or, “How this cut off your nose to spite your face,” as my mom told me a million times when I was growing up. How all of these things can happen. Commitment occurs when somebody can at least take some idea or ownership of a decision because they have been able to line their self-image up for their decision.
I come from a world of non-confrontational interviews and interrogation, which is a very big differentiator. The vast majority of the interrogations I have ever participated in look and felt like a regular conversation. They happened to end most of the time with one person writing a written statement to whatever it is they said or did at the end. Other than that, it just feels like a regular conversation. The number one component, the motor that makes those interrogations work is allowing people to save face and protect their self-image. The number one reason that allows people to come to agreements in most contexts is having the opportunity to save face and protect ourselves image.
Looking at those key components, there are very real alignments when you look at having a conversation with people that may to some degree have juxtaposed intentions, goals, motivations or fears. The process of obtaining the truth, the information that we need and then executing an agreement at the end is going to be driven in large part by our ability to help the people we speak with save face and protect their self-image throughout the conversation. How we prepare to do that, engage in a way to do that and follow up after the conversation to maintain that is going to be very important between the two. Something that happens in a lot of interrogations that shouldn’t happen in a negotiation would be the accusation but there are even ways to accuse people where there are soft accusation techniques I will use in some negotiations but I’m not accusing somebody of anything.
It’s like interrogating the process instead of the person. If it’s a manufacturing deal, I’m not going to ask them if they can manufacture 5,000 items in the next six months. I’m going to ask them, “How long does it typically take to manufacture 5,000 units?” I let them answer that question and go from there. In theory, I’m accusing them of being able to manufacture 5,000 units but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Now that same soft accusation, assumptive style question, not used at the close but used in some of the procedural components helps us acquire more information and intelligence along the way.
We talked briefly in the pre-interview about when somebody is lying to you at the negotiation table, which obviously in your situations as an interrogator when you were doing that work, people would absolutely be lying to you. I do it differently depending on the person. It’s 100% dependent on the person with who I’m engaged and how that person is reacting, responding and, whether or not I think that I will be able to discover the truth without being confrontational. An example I use and this is from many years ago, I have matured a lot as a negotiator over this time too. I remember when I was younger I was negotiating with SAP. For those who don’t know, SAP is a huge technology company, enterprise resource planning tools with links. It’s a German company and its customers are massive.
I was negotiating a deal for a large oil and gas company. They came in and said, “We can’t do this because there’s a revenue recognition issue.” I scratch my head because I know enough about finance. I’m like, “This doesn’t make sense to me.” They wouldn’t back off of it. We tried asking questions differently. I literally went and pulled their financial report. Their 10-K was what their revenue recognition policy was. It had hit a point where I took the annual report into my next meeting, put it on the table and I said, “Here’s your revenue recognition policy. What you are telling me is inaccurate because what we are asking for does not violate your stated revenue recognition policy.”
It was a watershed moment in a negotiation because it put them on notice and he was much older than I was so there was a huge imbalance of power perspective. He thought he was going to get one over on me. I’m like, “No, we are not going to play that game that way.” How would you handle that kind of situation versus what I did? Some might say that was confrontational. It wasn’t like we were screaming or yelling at each other. It’s like, “I’m going to name this.” I’m going to call it out to Blair Dunkley’s language, “I’m going to name and label it. This is what it is.” How would you do deal with something like that when somebody is lying to you?
There are a couple of answers there. First, I wouldn’t classify that as confrontational. I love situational awareness, accessibility. We talk about using the truth to your advantage. We know that the truth is out there. How do we use it to our advantage? The confrontational aspect could have occurred with how it was presented but just presenting itself is not confrontational. How it’s presented is what could have made it confrontational. To me, it doesn’t sound like those lines were crossed. You say the guy felt like he had more power. I’m putting my toes into your world a little bit so correct me everywhere I need to be corrected. When we think about the general concept of power in negotiations, probably the oldest one is, “Who’s the biggest dog in the fight?”
That could be the size of the company, how many years of experience or how much money somebody has or their political position. I know you are quite familiar with the BATNA concepts. It changed from, “Whoever has the biggest dog in the fight to whoever has the best plan B? Whoever is willing to walk away and understands their best alternatives in that negotiated agreement?” One of the things I loved about your story too was representing the underdogs and fighting for the underdogs. That’s a huge part of where I come from as well. Oftentimes in the underdogs, not only do we not have the big dog position, we might have a BATNA but not a great BATNA.
In that situation, developing the ability to influence is where our power comes from in any negotiation or conversation. To me, it sounds like that was an operationalization of that approach where maybe the size may or may not have been an issue with the organization. Maybe the BATNA was there or wasn’t there so how are we going to influence somebody’s thought process to commit and seeing things from a different perspective and moving this conversation forward? You found the information and used it. For me, one of the biggest or most important lessons I learned in the world of interviews and interrogation is people are supposed to lie to you.
Many of us are brought to have this like moral and ethical attachment to lying and, “Lying is evil,” yet we are all liars to some degree. There’s research that shows that pro-social lies in some contexts do a much better job building trust than the truth does. There are plenty of opportunities where lying not only is wrong but maybe morally appropriate. There’s plenty of research that shows that far more often than not when people lie, they are not lying to hurt you. They are lying to protect themselves or somebody else. The very first thing for me is when somebody lies to you is to realize that’s what they thought was their last good decision at the moment. It was the last good choice they feel like they have.
Let’s not get mad about it, let’s stop and think. I’m taking away the medical diagnosis. The vast majority of adults will lie for one reason. It’s to avoid a consequence that is either real or perceived. For me, the lie is not important. The consequence they are trying to avoid with the lie is important. If we maintain a curious mentality and an elevated level of situational awareness, when we start to believe that we have somebody who’s being less than honest with us, many times I’m going to let that go and focus on what the motivation of their lie. I’m going to address that motivation and not confront them on being a liar. There may or may not be research to support this but at least through experience, it is exponentially easier to get somebody to admit to saying, “I did it,” than it is to get them to admit to being their fault.The best way to maintain control of any conversation is to let the other person feel like they have it. Click To Tweet
If we go for, “It’s my fault and I did it,” at the same time we are going for two admissions instead of one and the, “It’s my fault,” is harder for people to say than the, “I did it.” If we are going to triple down and try to get the, “I did it. It’s my fault,” and I previously lied about it, good luck because nobody likes being called a liar. Norman Anderson did a research study where he may have overshot it but he had people categorize how 555 different words or labels would make them feel if they were called these words or how these labels were put on them. Do you want to take a guess what word came in rank 555th? Liar.
If I’ve got it right, 6 of the bottom 10 were some derivation of dishonest and 4 of the top 10 were some derivation vision of honest. Nobody likes being called a liar, especially liars. While there are certainly contextually appropriate examples to call somebody on it in different ways to do it, more often than not if they are trying to protect their self-image, I’m going to let it slide then come back and address the motivation. It’s, whether I do it now or later as you did because the consequence they are trying to avoid is the most piece we have to address.
There’s a great TED Talk by a woman named Pamela Meyer called How to Spot A Liar. The average human being lies between 10 and 100 times a day. Her research is amazing and it’s a great TED Talk. I highly recommend everybody go listen to it. Lying is part of humanity. When somebody is lying to you especially in a negotiation, it’s because they are trying to protect their self-interest and don’t get mad about it. What’s the value of getting mad about it? Figure out what’s the rationale behind it. What’s causing them to do that and what is it that they are afraid of that is pushing them to behave in that way?
Don’t judge the person, look at the behavior and figure out, “How do we create a solution that makes that fear either go away, reduces, addresses it or gives them comfort that the negative outcome that they most likely perceive. Most of the time when we lie, there is a perception of what would happen if we told the truth is far worse than what would happen. What is that and explore that? Tell us about something that you in the course of what you have been doing that has surprised you? What have you learned about interrogation and what you have done that’s surprised you and when you see you go, “I still can’t believe that that’s the way that is.”
I’m a geek. If I showed you the floor of my office, it is covered in research papers that are neatly organized on different topics. For me, I’m a nerd and I’ve got some additional resources based on some things that you have mentioned. I probably have to go back to something that I already said that was the most surprising and then go from there. The thing that knocked me off my feet figuratively, thankfully, was when I realized the cognitive process that leads people to say, “I did it,” is essentially the same that leads people to say, “I will do it and I will buy it.” That was the one that had me go, “Wait a minute.”
I’ve got into investigations by accident. In my first management role in that industry, I called my parents after I took it and said, “I’m moving to Connecticut. It’s just going to be one year. I’ve got to get this on my resume then I will come back and do something else.” When I’ve got to Connecticut, they said, “If you do a good job, we will promote you and we will move you back to Boston. Don’t even worry about it.” Then 364 days later, they sent me to New Jersey. I let other people decide if that was a promotion or not. All my friends in New Jersey rolled their eyes.
I had got into investigations by accident. All of my persuasive communication, evaluation techniques and questioning techniques were born in that investigative interviewing world. As I started to interact with people from the business world and attended a seminar at your alma mater that opened my eyes to a lot of the similarities, to me that was like, “There is so much more to this. There are perspectives, ideas and techniques that people aren’t sharing because there are these fences built between interrogators and everybody else.” We’ve got to start bridging those fences. That to me by far was the most surprising.
There are still times where I laugh and my wife will do it as well where we will kind of laugh and be like, “I can’t believe that still works.” One of the phrases that we live by to get back to questions is, “Illustrate before you investigate. Demonstrate some understanding of the situation of the person you are, in this case, negotiating with and their perspective before we ask the question.” I don’t have the science to back this up so this is my belief. Eighty-five percent of that battle at least is helping align their self-image with what we want them to think, say or do. The science is clear that we have this fiendish need to remain consistent with how we see ourselves thinking, acting and behaving in any given situation.
If we want someone to change how they think, behave or act, we have to align their self-image up with that change before we ask them to do it. That, “Illustrate before we investigate,” is probably the one that to this day will make me smile and the one that I will feel my wife nudge me when we are out together. Not only will you be surprised what people will say and do just when you are nice to them including confessed to committing some pretty serious crimes. You will also be surprised by the shifts they will be willing to make when we allow them to save face and align their self-image with whatever it is we are asking them to do first.
How do you do that? Negotiation is about and from a negotiator’s perspective, our skillsets overlap but still slightly different. If you have listened to Chris Voss, he and I have opposite views on this. He goes to no. In his perception as a hostage negotiator, giving the terrorist or the hostage-taker the authority to say no creates power for that person when they have or don’t have power. For me as a business negotiator, negotiation is about accumulating yeses. The more yeses I can accumulate faster, the easier it is to deal with conflict, which is inevitable in any relationship if you believe negotiation is a conversation about a relationship. When you talk about the illustration component, how do people do that? How do you create that alignment? What’s your experience with that?
What you are seeing now are five competing chains of thoughts, eating up all the available brain cells that I have at the moment. I will do it this way. I’m guessing that you and many of your audiences are likely familiar with Robert Cialdini’s work. He is the godfather of influence and persuasion. Readers, if you haven’t read his stuff, stop, go listen to his stuff and then come back. He has the seven automatic mechanisms of persuasion. With this, “Illustrate before we investigate technique,” it’s easy to argue where we are using at least three and potentially even five of them when we do this.
Oftentimes the word you are one of the most dangerous words in the English language because it’s directly attached to our self-image. If you and I are negotiating and I’m sitting here stating, “Christine, I’m sure in this situation you are likely focused on maximizing the opportunity for your group and you likely are worried about having your team come back and say, ‘How did this happen?’ I’m sure you do want a good agreement but at the same time it has to be on your terms for your organization.”
Every time I say the word you, I’m attacking your self-image. If we have a great relationship, it’s not so risky. It will be longer for that damage to start accumulating but if we don’t, it’s like a boxer taking body shots. It’s not too long before that becomes a real problem. There’s a funnel analogy that I like to use in a lot of different places but specifically when we talk about, “Illustrate before we investigate.” We don’t use the word you until we asked the question at the bottom of the funnel. Everything else is illustrated on top of that where we use social proof and we use labels that people like to be included in because of the power of in-groups, out-groups and protecting self-image and not feeling personally attacked.
This also enhances the perception of our credibility because it doesn’t sound like this is the only time I have ever had this conversation. It sounds like this is something we do often. We are helping them protect their self-image. We are injecting social proof, leveraging consistency, building our credibility and there is some reciprocity and liking that works in this well, including scarcity because of nobody he’s ever talked to them this way before, it’s not the offer that’s scarce. It’s our relationship that is scarce.Life is a series of solvable problems. You can choose to focus on the problem, or you can focus on the solution. Click To Tweet
Since negotiation is all about a relationship, if there is scarcity within our relationship, not in that we are threatening to take it away or talking about what a unicorn we are but talking with people in a way that they have never been engaged with before.
Now, we are in a very credible way using scarcity as well. An example of this goes back to the very vague and general example I did before. It could be we know from experience at this point in the conversation when the deals are on the table and being considered that each organization has to look through it from their lens and the opposite person’s lens at the same time. They have to start weighing, “What’s best for our organization, reputation and greater goals,” while to some degree trying to account for what is good for the other organizations greater goals as well. Where do we have the opportunity to still try to connect those regardless of the preconceived notions we brought into the conversation? With that in mind, as we look at what we have currently discussed, where do we think we may still have room for even a little bit of conversation?
An investigative example of that is from my former teammates and I, the vast majority of times when we’ve got called in, we were given cases with multiple suspects, no evidence, everybody had already been interrogated at least once in denied. A couple of weeks or months have gone by and now the fire is so far out of control. They need someone else to come in. In one particular case, two managers within one organization were literally abusing another man that worked at the organization. They would already have been interviewed, denied and eight weeks go by I go in. I talked to the victim first. He’s absolutely telling me the truth.
There are no two ways about it. It was an emotionally exhaustive conversation for me to even be a part of. Now, I got to sit down and talk with these two guys one at a time. When I sit down with the first guy who was the senior ranking of the two suspects, I know he’s already been interviewed before. I can see that he’s this close to telling me the truth but he’s not doing it yet. It finally dawns on me that the reason why he’s not telling me the truth is he’s already lied to the previous investigators that talked to him. Telling me the truth essentially means admitting to being a liar. Instead of saying, “I know you already lied to the first team of investigators. It’s okay to tell me the truth.” I will never get the truth after that ever.
What I said was, “Oftentimes when we come in after people think investigations have been concluded, people believe that means that all the evidence has been collected in all the conversations have been had and therefore they need to stick to whatever explanations they’ve previously given. Thankfully, we come in from the outside to give people the opportunity to capitalize on the ongoing investigation and be more forthcoming about what happened and more importantly why so we can do the most important thing which is to start putting it behind us.” As I said that you see him start to do the Math in his head, nodding his head, eyes go side to side and like, “I guess it’s okay for me too,” and right after that is when he started telling me the truth. Thankfully he snitched on the other guy that was participating in this with him as well. That concept of helping people save face, protect their self-image illustrates before we investigate is core to everything that we do.
I shared this story in Jeff Harry and Lauren Yee’s episode. In the context of that show, we were talking about it in terms of taking risks and about play as adults is not just about child’s play. It’s about being curious and taking risks to move things along and conversation in particular. I shared a story and will share it again because I’m curious about your reaction to this story. I had been negotiating with a large professional services company and the guy was terrible.
It was a terrible situation. He was aggressive. He wouldn’t get on the phone and send emails full of personal attacking language. He treated everybody that way. He was an abusive human being. It was part of a divestiture. The contract that was in place with the company prior made no sense. It didn’t mirror anything about how anything worked. He did not want to negotiate. He wanted it all to stay exactly the same. He didn’t want to make any modifications to it but it didn’t make any sense. We kept going round and round trying to get this guy to the negotiation table and every time we would try, he would come back with this vitriol. It turned out that we had some common connections in our network. I reached out to those common connections and their reaction was, “I’m sorry. You have to deal with this guy.” After one, the final straw that broke the camel’s back, for me. I was like, “We are getting nowhere. We have been trying to engage this guy for six months. Nothing is happening.” My executive team has tried escalating it. It was a mess.
He sent me a terrible email and I responded, “It’s nice to know that our mutual acquaintances are correct about you.” That was all I said. The next morning, I get into the office, he had sent a 5 or 6-page email to the chairman of the board, president, CEO, the senior vice presidents of sales and distribution. “I’m never going to deal with her,” but we’ve got into the negotiation table. I didn’t tell my bosses that I was going to take that tact but I did it anyway. What happened was I removed myself from interfacing with him but I was still running the whole negotiation.
He was in Ireland. My chief counsel would be on the phone. I would hit mute and tell my counselor, “This is what to say. This is what he’s saying.” The same process took place. Being from Montana, I stepped on the rattlesnake because it’s like, “What do I do when I’m getting stonewalled hard and he’s angry all the time? How do I feel that anger to get a reaction so that we can maybe loosen something up to move forward?” What’s your reaction to that as a tactic and your thoughts around that?
I love it not only because of how you did it but when you did it. One of the things I love to do is let people declare, let there be no doubt. If somebody is being angry, aggressive, bully or whatever word you want to use at the beginning of the conversation, “Maybe this is about me. Maybe this is about the issue of the conversation is their default style. Maybe they have had a terrible day.” Five minutes later, the email or next phone call might be a little bit different. I am going to look at it as, “If you are emotional, upset and you feel like this narrow juvenile path is the only path that you can take, then I’m winning because I still have lots of other opportunities and you have locked yourself in.”
Generally, I’m a big believer that the best way to maintain control of any conversation is to let the other person feel like they have it because if we get into this wrestling where some we are trying to wrestle control from each other, now we are not trying to add value. We are trying to win, to wrestle control. If I’m not perceived as trying to wrestle control from somebody, they don’t have to wrestle it from me. If they don’t have to wrestle it for me, now I can be patient. I can let the conversation come to me, leverage my situational awareness, use great questions or smart illustrations and nudge it over time where I want to go. This isn’t always in our control but the more time we allow ourselves in the negotiation process, the less stress and pressure we feel so therefore the more we can use these techniques.
A lot of times people don’t realize that as an underdog, time is a great equalizer. The more time we can build into this, the more alternatives we have and the more we can start building leverage into this conversation. For me, pushing back for all our readers here in the United States, especially in the South for Texas residents, it’s the Alamo. It’s where we make our last stand and where we find God. “I have exhausted every other option. I have let it go and offered additional value. I love the resourcefulness I’m hearing. Go to your network. What other options might there are other people of influence that I might be able to get involved here?” No. I clearly can’t make the situation any worse than I already had. I’m glad my contacts feel the same way as I do.
Now you even make him declare further. That was enough of a push not to derail the entire process but get him to declare, “I will negotiate, just not with you,” which the average person might be like, “That’s terrible.” That’s a huge win because now we’ve got them where we want him, which is at the table and you are still very much involved in the conversation in a behind-the-scenes role. I love everything about it. I even love the fact that you didn’t ask permission. You did it because you knew it was the right thing to do.
At the time my mentality on it was I knew what I was saying but I was curious about how he was going to label himself because everybody in the divesting company all had the same view of this person. I was curious to know how he labeled himself. If somebody had sent an email to me like that, I would have said something like, “That’s great. Who are our mutual acquaintances?” I would have asked a different question. He dove right down to the negative, which was informative. It was intelligent to say, “This person feels very negatively about himself because his reaction was disproportionate to a one-sentence email.”
To spend that much energy writing 5 or 6 pages of email complaining about me I’m like, “Dude.” I want the audience to know there are times that I have had people throw things at me, spit at me, pat me on the head when they are trying to be condescending to me, sexual advances in negotiation. All this stuff happens. If you are listening not just to your counterpart but to yourself because it’s a two-way thing, Blair Dunkley talks about self, other and situation. If you are paying attention to yourself, to your counterpart and to the situation that you are in and you are processing that, then that helps you move forward in the conversation. You mentioned this in the Sales Evangelist Podcast, too. You are talking about comfort and Blair talks about comfort versus safety. A lot of times we think that we are not safe when we are uncomfortable and figuring out how to resolve those situations requires some creative solutioning.
Life is a series of solvable problems. We can choose to focus on the problem or the solution. A lot of times too in a negotiation, you can literally listen to somebody’s words and figure out what mindset they are in. If you are hearing words like don’t and won’t, they are in a problem-focused mindset. If you are hearing words like do and will, they are in a solutions-focused mindset. That’s where our ability to go through a great preparation that gives us a good strategy, freedom within the framework, we know where we want to go but we are not myopic to then quiet our internal monologue to fully focus on what’s happening in front of us with those goals in mind. The only way we can separate information from intelligence is if we have goals to tie it into. That’s where the value association comes in, which is completed through our preparation.
This has been absolutely fantastic. How does the audience find you?
What are some last words that you have to say to the readers?
I will leave it at this. The goal-oriented mindset makes all the difference. Stay within yourself, regulate your emotions. No matter what tactics other people are trying to use, if we can separate the message from the messenger, the emotions from the goal and approach this as these are a series of tasks that we have to complete morally and ethically to negotiate the relationship and achieve our goals, then we will be much more successful.
Michael, I know that you have a free gift for our audience but we are keeping it a little bit of a suspenseful thing here. I’m excited to have you here, Michael. Thank you so much for being here. It’s a great conversation. To the audience, thank you so much for reading. I always appreciate the time that you spent with me on the show. It is the greatest gift that you can give me. If you like the show, please subscribe, rate and review. We would appreciate that. I can’t wait to see you next time on another episode of the show. Remember, negotiation is a conversation about a relationship. You can’t win a relationship but you can get more value out of it. Have a great day. Take care of each other. Thank you.
- The Sales Evangelist
- Blair Dunkley – Previous episode
- Igniting the Buying Conversation
- Bringing Play To The Negotiation Table – Previous episode
- How to Spot A Liar – TED Talk
About Michael Reddington
Michael Reddington, CFI is an expert at moving people from resistance to commitment. As a Certified Forensic Interviewer, he achieved the highest professional designation available in the field of interview and interrogation. Michael has been invited by companies, government agencies and executive groups to facilitate his programs across the United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He has led over 1,500 programs and educated over 15,000 participants from over 50 countries. With Michael it’s never a presentation, seminar or advisory session, it’s always an experience.