No I’m not arresting you, yet I will absolutely punish you if you forget this rule.  In negotiation everything you say delivers information to the other party.  The more you say, the more information you provide.  Make no mistake, INFORMATION IS POWER!  When you are negotiating there are three levels of information available voice, verbal, and visual.  I am going to explore the information provided in the verbal content during discussions.  Verbal content is available in both face to face and telephone communications.  Quite simply, the verbal content is made up of the words someone uses to transmit an idea.  The verbal aspect is “How” you phrase your sentence.

When negotiating you want to pay particular attention to the words someone uses to deliver a proposal or answer a question.  These words will provide you key insights into the flexibility of their proposals and honesty of their answers.  Obviously you’ll need to incorporate elements from all aspects of the communication to verify your conclusions (non-verbal, micro expressions, emblematic slips, etc.), however, today we are just focusing on cues and clues provided in the transcript of the dialog.  Because of the increased stress associated with lying, misrepresenting, or omitting information, during a negotiation the other party’s language will  reflect their internal conflict.  It is at these “crunch points” you need to listen to the words carefully.  Taking notes is essential.  Capture exactly what was said as they deliver their proposal or answer your question.  You are listening for the words that soften, obscure, or change the meaning.  Internally the speaker is trying to soften their answer in order to align their actions (lying to you) with their values (honesty) by using words like “about”, “in the region of”, “hoping”, etc.

A verbal slip occurs when someone uses unnecessary modifications to pad or soften the intent of their statement.  A bit like a Freudian slip without the sexual part.  Example, “I can only afford about 200k”.  The use of the word “about” indicates the other party’s offer is flexible.  My personal favorite slip is “To be completely honest with you”, because it can only mean one of two things; 1) Everything you’ve just told me is a lie or 2) Everything you’re about to tell me is a lie.  Here is a list of common slips during a negotiation:

  1. I was hoping for……
  2. I’d like….
  3. I’ll start with….
  4. The market price….
  5. My opening offer….
  6. I could probably do….
  7. In the region of…………
  8. About………
  9. Maybe ………..
  10. The fair price would be……
  11. I can really accept ……
  12. To be honest with you…. (Frankly, honestly, etc.)
  13. I was thinking….  (or anything in the past tense)
  14. My offer is basically …….
  15. I don’t think that is acceptable….
  16. probably can’t agree……
  17. You are getting closer…..
  18. That’s a little too high…..
  19. How does that sound?….. (any proposal stated as a question)

There are a lot more of these as well. Add your favorites in the comment section!

I’ll give you 2 methods that will help eliminate your own verbal slips from your language.  First, plan out all your proposals and answers before you get into the negotiation.  In real-estate they say location, location, location.  In negotiation I say PLANNING, PLANNING, PLANNING.  Yes, write down exactly what you are going to say in response to possible questions and then practice it out loud.  Record it if you have the equipment (an iPhone would even work) and listen to the playback.  Re-write and refine.  Do the same for all your proposals – practice, listen-back, re-write, and then deliver.  Second, in the meeting before you answer a question or spit out a proposal, take a moment to mentally rehearse your line in your head.  You can think a lot faster than you can talk, so this only takes a couple of seconds.  Make sure your answer/proposal is concise and precise with no verbal slips.  Now deliver in a slow and consistent manner.  Do this with every response/proposal to ensure each answer is consistent.  The added benefit of slowing yourself down is that you increase the gravity of what you are saying, just by adding that little extra pause.

Add your own verbal slips in the comment area……….