Advice from a special forces expert negotiator for the brokerage world

Rodolphe Strauss
November 10, 2022
Advice from a RAID expert negotiator for the brokerage world

Imagine you’re an insurance broker about to enter into negotiations on a huge call for tenders. Insurance products, renewals, policy details, customer management… everything’s going well when suddenly, you hit a roadblock! 

Now what? What do you do? Bring your CEO into the discussion? Learn more about the contract? Get the full history of this specific deal? You’ll find all the answers in the rest of this article!

During the 2nd edition of the Inspire evenings organised by Seyna, Didier Gueguen, a 30-year police officer, 13-year RAID member, and crisis negotiation specialist, shared his field experience and his key tips to help us in our business negotiations. 

For this expert, effective negotiation is above all a method, and the essential concepts to know for success are the same whether you’re negotiating with madmen, faith fighters, or commercial partners. We’ve summarised them for you through the most commonly heard assertions in our profession! 

“This offer doesn't interest me. I want to talk to your boss”. 

“The boss never negotiates!”, explained Didier at the beginning of his speech. This is a central concept to keep in mind if your instinct to call your superior into a complex situation comes easily to you. 

The explanation is quite simple: whether it’s a hostage situation or a commercial negotiation, the decision-making authority should never take part in discussions directly to avoid any narcissistic inflation in the other party (“It’s the boss who comes to talk to me directly. I’m the one who dominates the discussion!”). 

At the same time, this precaution gives you some welcome leeway and allows you to be more subtle in your negotiations (“I don’t have all the decision-making powers. I can’t get you that, but I can offer you this…”). 

“That’s interesting. Let me discuss it with the team and get back to you”. 

That’s the typical response from someone who didn’t find your offer appealing or when you couldn’t get them to take action. Remember that the emotional aspect is at the centre of everything: there’s a reason why the word “emotion”, which comes from the Latin emotum, is very close to the notion of “motor”. In negotiations, you must always focus on the human aspect before focusing on the product: 80% empathy, 20% technique.

Whether it’s a crisis negotiation or business negotiation, you must sincerely seek to help and understand the other person. “Empathy means recognising the other person in their subjective world”, said Mr Gueguen. The person you’re talking to isn’t fundamentally right or wrong, but has their own view of things, which, just like our own, is based on personal experience.

How can you help this person? What do they want? What are their doubts? What are the issues at stake in the negotiations for them? To have all this information in mind from day 1, a lot of essential work needs to be done before the negotiations themselves. That’s what RAID negotiators call “situational pictures”: note everything that can serve the discussion, both positive (such as trust already established or signs of interest) and negative (such as an aggressive party or stalemates during a previous negotiation). 

Finding out about the person you’re talking to is obviously already an instinct for salespeople. The CRM is consulted to keep abreast of the latest exchanges. But I urge you to go through the exercise: organise a call with everyone who has dealt with your partner and share EVERYTHING you know about the organisation. That’ll allow you to have all the information you need to know about the other party’s business as well as your own and will ensure that you’re never taken by surprise during the discussion. 

Using previously expressed demands, objectives, and specific profiles of the negotiators you’re dealing with again helps you build rapport and offer genuine help.

“We don’t know you. How can we trust you?” 

The whole point of a negotiation is to understand the other person in their subjectivity to be able to create a bond of trust, however tenuous it may be: “You’re a fighter for your faith. I’m a fighter for the nation”, Didier told an al-Qaeda member in the midst of a hostage crisis. At that point, an initial bond was created. Giving the other person information that allows them to see themselves in you and clearly explaining it puts you both on an equal footing and makes the bond between you more tangible.

Likewise, it’s the fact that you’re genuinely and clearly trying to help the other person during the negotiation that reassures them of your true intentions. This obviously isn’t a 100% guarantee of success, but it’s an essential condition for putting all the odds on your side.

On the other hand, making it obvious that you’re only looking out for your own interests can only lead to mistrust or even a breakdown in the business relationship.

“We don’t want to work with you anymore”. 

In a negotiation, ego should never come into play. Among the main qualities of a good negotiator (foremost among which are empathy, listening, and communication), it’s essential to remain calm. If you don’t control your emotions, they’ll control them for you. 

Keep in mind that it isn’t you that the person is saying “no” to. Similarly, don’t interrupt someone who’s getting irritated or overwhelmed with emotions (even if they’re positive!). Instead, let them express themselves until they’re done to show your interest before proposing a reassuring solution. 

“It’s very important to recognise the other person in their subjectivity: who they are and what they do”, said Mr Gueguen. This recognition is essential to the connection between the two sides of a negotiation. Only when the other party feels understood can they believe that you can help them.

Active listening is also the cornerstone of a successful negotiation. This requires 100% of your attention from the beginning to the end of the discussion. It’s admittedly a rather exhausting exercise, but it’s one that really pays off. 

Negotiating in a bubble of comfort, without interruptions or interference and with phones off, and taking notes as the other party speaks are signals of interest you’re sending directly to them. Conversely, flipping through your papers while the other negotiator is talking (Are you preparing to strike back? Are you unprepared?), your tone, your gaze, and even your posture can quickly be interpreted as signs of disinterest.

This active listening allows you to analyse everything that may have been said or expressed during the exchanges. To put the odds on your side, two negotiators are better than one. “One negotiator speaks and listens actively, while the other just listens, also actively”, explained Didier. That way, if a detail is missed by the negotiator who’s speaking, the second negotiator will likely be able to spot it and pass it on. 

The second negotiator hears the discussions with their own subjectivity, experience, and emotions. In addition, their listening isn’t affected by the stress of the negotiation or by any tricky situations or words. When there’s a break in contact with the other party (meal, coffee break, etc.), they’ll undoubtedly communicate their impressions and feelings about the discussion in progress, and you may become aware of certain things you may have missed. Lastly, if a tough decision is necessary during the negotiation, it’s always easier when there are two of you! 

One last piece of advice 

In a negotiation, you’re first seen, then heard. In fact, it’s best to pay special attention to your appearance and attitude. In this respect, your first contact is particularly important. Being formal, polite, and courteous is key to making a good first impression on the other party. “If they’re aggressive, if they insult me, that’s a form of communication… I let them vent and communicate and then resume a normal conversation”, Didier explained. 

It’s also important not to take things personally, especially failures or any stalemates that may arise during the discussion. Rather than thinking you should’ve done things differently, keep in mind that the final outcome is, first and foremost, up to the other party.

If you want to get even better at negotiating, we recommend learning more about the behavioural change stairway theory. This will help you keep the other party’s emotions in check and bring the discussion to a favourable conclusion!

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