Street Smart

Lawyers are always a subject of my interest. I admire their abilities to rapidly detect loopholes in a proposition then counter attack by solid arguments in a snap. This god-like skill is brilliantly illustrated in a scene (S02-E06) of the famous TV series Better Call Saul in which… [SPOILER ALERT] Kim Wexler passionately protects the elders from being bullied by their own nursing home — the rich and evilSandpiper Crossing. Although she’s fighting up the hill, she still represents her clients with confidence and conviction. Eventually, the judge rules in favor of Sandpiper but Wexlerdefinitely wins our heart.

Based on that inspiration combined with some others, I composed a list (not yet to claim as comprehensive) of negotiation tactics under the topic of “Street Smart”. First and foremost, to fully make use of them all, you’ll need a“thick skin”: don’t take anything too seriously or too personally. Only by then, you have the necessary level of self-control and inner peace to focus on dealing with theactual arguments.

Principled negotiation — Roger Fisher

  • Separate the People from the Problem
  • Focus on Interests, Not Positions
  • Invent Options for Mutual Gain
  • Insist on Objective Criteria

What to do if it turns negative? — Kathleen Kelley Reardon

Anyone can stir a ship when the sea is calm. But how about moments when the fight becomes ugly and dirty. Here’s the list of comebacks that you can use:

  • Reframe: shed new light on the problem, look at it in another aspect
  • They: “I don’t want to fight about this”. You: “No this is not a fight, it’s a debate
  • Rephrase: replace the negative words with less negative ones
  • Someone blames you for coming too strongly in a meeting, you can say: “I was just passionate”
  • Revisit: remind the other party of past good results
  • We have a good track record working together. No reason to change that now.
  • Restate: ask the other party to restate their arguments so that they can see how ridiculous it sounds
  • Give them a chance to do the right thing. “Surely there’s another way to say that” or “Did you mean what I think I heard?” are useful ways to encourage a person to reconsider and alter what was said.
  • If you want to win an argument, ask the person trying to convince you of something to explain how it would work.
  • Too many people are very sloppy with their opinions. They didn’t think it through once they picked a side. Sometimes, those decisions were just a result of biases, emotional reactions, following the crowd… Therefore, more often than not, once you ask them to explain how it works, they will soften down and back out.
  • Besides, you can use this technique to shift the burden of explanation to the other party.
  • Request: Ask a question.
  • When in doubt about a person’s intention, one sensible approach is to check your perceptions by querying them before reacting negatively: “Would you clarify for me what you meant just then?”
  • Rebalance the power:
  • If you lose this negotiation, what alternatives do you have?
  • Developing alternative opportunities is the way to gain power
  • Think about their opportunity cost as much as your own.
  • If you lose the opportunity cost battle, use ethical principles.
  • Reorganize: adjust the game rules
  • Emphasize the real problem you’re debating. Sometimes, it can easily go off track.
  • If they play dirty, using fallacies like personal attack or being dishonest… explicitly state that, then go back to discussing the game rules
  • Reject: don’t forget that ultimately, you can disengage

Some tips:

  • Differentiate: convince versus persuade
  • Convincing is using logic and data
  • Persuading is broader. You can use these to persuade a person: Logic (logos), Authority (ethos) and Emotions (pathos)
  • Must separate facts versus opinions
  • Facts are supported by objective data
  • Opinions are just deduction, induction, interpretation… thus may be biased.


Hopefully, these tactics (and more to come) can help you a wee bit street-smarter.

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