Learn to Act: Disarm a Psychological Attack by Drawing Attention to It
Thus far we’ve been discussing strategies that will help you to get what you want when negotiating. In essence, we’ve been lighting fair. Everything is aboveboard and out in the open.
However, sometimes you’ll get into a negotiation that’s dirty. The other side may not play by the rules of good conduct. The other side may resort to psychological warfare.
You’re a woman and you’re presenting an offer to buy a property to a male seller. He is very nice to you. He pulls out the chair for you to sit down. He asks if you’d like some coffee or other refreshment. It’s nice, but a bit irritating. There are two agents present and he begins addressing them and ignoring you, even though you’re the principal, the buyer. You hear remarks such as, “She probably can’t understand this, so let’s see if we can make it simpler,” or “Let the lady talk before we get on with things,”” or, after you make a comment, “She’s sweet, isn’t she?”
Yes, the remarks are obviously sexist. But more important to the deal, they are condescending. Their real intent is to neutralize you as a force, a power in the negotiations. They aim to reduce the value of your opinions and arguments. If you let. them continue, you won’t be able to participate as an equal member and will ultimately get a much lesser deal.
This is a psychological attack on you. The way to counter it is to bring it out in the open. You might say something such as, “I can’t help but notice that many of your remarks are disparaging toward my gender. If you’re hoping to get a better deal by belittling me, I’m afraid you’re wasting your time. I’m the buyer and you have to deal directly with me.”
I don’t think you’ll hear many more condescending remarks.
Or, let’s say you’re a seller whose property has gone up in value enormously since you bought it 20 years ago. Just by chance, the area turned into one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the state.) You paid $25,000. Today, it’s selling for $970,000. Of course, that’s a lot of money to you since your income has never been over $35,000 a year.
You’re starting to negotiate with the buyer’s agent, who smiles at you and says, “It’s amazing isn’t it. You’re going to get nearly a mil lion dollars for your property. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Of course it’s wonderful, and you smile back. Then he continues, “I know you don’t know about big money. This is sort of out of your league, isn’t it? Why don’t you sit back and let me handle things?”
Again, this is a psychological attack. If it happens once, you can ignore it and just figure the other party is a jerk. If it continues to occur and begins to affect your ability to negotiate, you can end it by bringing attention to it.
“You seem to be suggesting that because this deal involves a large sum of money, I’m somehow less capable. I consider this a friendly, though rather obvious, attempt to gain a psychological advantage. I assure you I am not going to settle for less just because of the amounts involved.” Having said that, there’s every chance you will get every penny you deserve.
Psychological attacks usually are intended to belittle you in one way or another. As we’ve seen, they might be aimed at your gender or background. They could just as easily be targeted at your intelligence or your experience. For example, as a buyer you insist on presenting your own offer. You sit down to negotiate and the seller’s agent immediately asks, “Are you a real estate broker?”
“No,” you reply truthfully.
“Are you at least a real estate salesperson?”
You hear a “Humph.” You shrug and begin presenting your offer.
As you are doing so you hear, “Someone who had experience in real estate would never make an offer like this.” Later, “The terminology is all wrong; we’ll have to rewrite it.” Then, perhaps a little more directly, “Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable having an agent or someone who knows what they’re doing present this?”
Please keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether your offer is good or bad or whether you know what you’re doing or not. You are being psychologically attacked at the level of your experience and knowledge. The other party isn’t saying, “I don’t like your offer,” or “I want to negotiate some of the terms or the price.” He or she is saying, ‘You’re too naive or too stupid to be in this game.” The attack is personal, and if you let it continue, you may soon feel embarrassed and may find yourself accepting terms, conditions, and a price that you don’t want.
Again, the way to disarm this attack is to bring it out in the open. “Am I hearing correctly? Are you saying that I’m too ignorant to make an offer on your property? I’m the first to acknowledge that I don’t know it all, but I’m ready and able to learn. If there’s a problem with my offer, something you don’t understand or that you find is presented in an unclear manner, tell me what it is and I’ll explain it further. In the future, however, I suggest we stick with the issues and avoid personal attacks.”
If you allow the other party to continue a psychological attack unhindered, he or she may press it to the point where you will lose in a deal.
As soon as you unveil a psychological attack for what it is, its power vanishes and the other side will be forced to stop using it.
The real trick, of course, is to avoid succumbing to the psychological attack. If you believe that you are weaker because of your gender, or that you don’t know how to handle “serious money,” or that you’re stupid or ignorant, then you lose automatically. On the other hand, if you’ve a bit of self-confidence and recognize the attack for what it is—nothing more than a weapon (albeit a dirty one) in negotiations—you can neutralize it by bringing it out into the open.
I’ve had some small experience with computers and am occasion ally called upon to help teach people the rudiments of how to use them. Very often these people are totally computer illiterate, and worse, having never worked with a computer, they are very intimidated by them.
I have learned that the first thing I must do is get rid of their intimidation, or else they’ll never learn anything about computers. So I always tell them, “If you think you can’t learn to use a computer, you never will. On the other hand, if you believe you can learn to use one, I can have you up and running in 30 minutes.”
In negotiating real estate it would go something like this. “If you believe the psychological attack the other party makes, you’ll never get the deal you want. But if you believe that it’s just a weapon used by the other side and disarm it by bringing it to everyone’s attention, you’ve got a good chance of getting everything you want.”