AKA: Tell me about YOU, What’s your story?
Description: This is not bragging — rather it is the opposite of “small talk”. These are big, open-ended questions that give him the opportunity to talk about his business philosophy, where he sees the industry going, how his business differentiates itself from the rest of the market, etc. Should be very low pressure — just move the conversation to serious but non-sensitive issues. It gets him used to talking, and allows you to subtly take control of the direction of meeting.
Sample usage (Alvin and Bob): “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Bob asked Alvin and sat back in the seat. This was one of his standard questions at the beginning of a negotiation.
“Running 3 major project teams, building a new navigation architecture for IoT devices, and opening a new branch in Seoul — or maybe Beijing.” Alvin stopped.
“Ok. Why Seoul?” Bob had no interest in setting up a branch in Seoul – but he was extremely interested in hearing Alvin’s reasons for wanting to do so…
Intent: Big Talk is a relationship builder that is designed to move the conversation where you want it to go.
Style: Collaborative at first. Can go anywhere.
Category: Information Manager
PIFH (Power/Influence, Fear or Hope): This will tell you whether Fear or Hope is the stronger motivator. If he is talking about growth, new products, and new markets, then he is influenced by Hope tactics. If, however, he talks about competition, regulations, taxes, or shrinking markets, use Fear tactics.
Counter: Have an extended elevator pitch that introduces or reinforces your agenda prepared in advance. There’s no logical reason to counter this, unless you think he is trying to stall or manipulate you. You should look at this as an opportunity to promote your interests.
Combination / Related: Control the Flow, Full Disclosure, Press Release, Wait at the Altar, Seed of Hope
Note: Every negotiator should walk into the room with 3-5 “big questions”:
- What are your plans for expansion and growth of the next 3 - 5 years?
- How do you define a successful partnership? What are you looking for from a good partner?
- Do you see yourself getting out of any products or markets you are now involved in?
- Do you have plans to add any products, services, or markets?
- What economic or market factors are going to drive the business.
These are NOT hard-hitting, sensitive questions, so if you deliver them in a neutral - friendly way, he should have plenty to talk about.
Should you believe him? Sure, why not. Nothing here is confidential or sensitive. You should believe him the way you believe PR announcements and the CEO letter in an annual report. This is the truth the way he sees it. If you look at negotiation as a duel between two stories, then this is like the summary or table of contents of his story.
Are his answers internally consistent? If he starts by talking about massive growth plans but then complains about the constraints and limits on the market, you may be concerned. This should be him at his best and most relaxed. If he doesn’t know his own organization’s growth strategy or market priorities, then maybe you are talking to the wrong guy — or there is something else wrong.
What if he is not forthcoming, evasive, or defensive? That’s great information to have. If you are negotiating for a simple transaction, then you may not have to worry too much — just inspect the goods carefully and count your change. But if you are looking for a relationship and he gets nervous talking about simple stuff, then you should take it as a serious warning.
Your next step:
Big Talk is about getting to know how he sees the world, aligning your agendas, and getting to know each other a little. But as he talks about his business story and view of the future, you should glean important information about how to influence him. Is he talking about a busy future where his challenges are growth, competition, and new markets? That’s a Hope story. Is he talking about constraints, challenges, and margins? That’s Fear.