Use This Philosopher’s 350 Year Old Trick To Win Over Clients
Slip in the backdoor of their beliefs
Everything I know about negotiating with a client came from a book released in 1984. That was 12 years before I was born.
After Mark McCormack built a global sports enterprise with little capital and a desire to combine his education with his passions, the Chicago native distilled his knowledge into his best-selling book “What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School.”
I inhaled it in two days.
I thought he was a genius.
In his chapter on negotiation, McCormack highlighted the importance of acknowledging the other party’s feelings and using candour as a negotiation tactic. If things become tense, candour can disarm the other party: “Look, I really want this to go through.”
McCormack added that we should deal in psychological currencies.
For example, we should negotiate points that appear innocent on the surface but have an underlying psychological impact. The IMG founder advised us to use these points to break a deadlock. In other words, give your clients what they want while keeping them unaware of how much you’re getting out of the deal.
As it turns out, this use of emotion and psychology to get people to change their minds or lean in a particular direction was a concept established years before McCormack put his business mantras on paper. Centuries, even.
In fact, these negotiation tactics date back to the 17th-century.
A 17th-Century Philosopher Understood Negotiation
Blaise Pascal was a 17th-century French philosopher, writer, mathematician, and physicist. He is best remembered for Pascal’s Wager, a theory that argued believing in God — the Christian one — is the most pragmatic decision.
Essentially, Pascal argued that if we don’t know whether God exists, it’s better that we play it safe rather than risk suffering the consequences of not believing.
The original scare tactic.
But the philosopher also had a knack for psychology. As BrainPickings noted, nearly half a millennium before modern psychologists identified the three elements of persuasion — attunement is used by many marketers to sell their ideas — Pascal recorded the most effective way to persuade someone to change their mind:
“When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.”
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”
In layman’s terms, Pascal proposes that before disagreeing with someone, first highlight how they’re right about a subject. McCormack touched on this idea by stating that we need to acknowledge our client’s feelings when negotiating.
After, and to then effectively persuade them, help them discover a counter-point of their own accord.
Put simply, and according to Arthur Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, you have to lower someone’s defences and prevent them from backing themselves into the corner of the position they’ve already staked out.
“If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”
McCormack’s advice that we should give our clients what they want while keeping them unaware that we’re getting what we desire supports Pascal’s persuasion theory.
Pascal and McCormack were two vastly different individuals. The former was a 17th-century child prodigy, while the latter was a Yale law graduate who represented Arnold Palmer.
And yet, both Pascal and McCormack understood that the best way to negotiate with someone was not by telling them they’re wrong but by quietly slipping in the backdoor of their beliefs.
It’s been two years since I read McCormack’s book and a week since I discovered Pascal’s theory. With their ideas floating around in my head, I’m pretty sure I can talk my way out of and into anything. And now, you should be able too.
Pascal’s Negotiation Tactics
- Before disagreeing with your client, first, point out how they’re right
- You need to lower someone’s defences, so there’s an incentive to co-operate
- People are better persuaded when they think they’ve come up with the counter-points themselves
McCormack’s Negotiation Tactics
- Acknowledge your client’s feelings and use candour
- Give your clients what they want while keeping them unaware of how much more you’re getting from the deal
- Negotiating techniques can include sweetening a deal with things unimportant to you but important to them