Addressing negatives outright helps diffuse them. Before you begin a conversation, get a cold read as to what your client may be thinking about you. To do so, imagine how they would describe the situation to a group of friends over a drink, accounting for factors such as body language, history, environment, and circumstances.
For example, imagine walking out of a store just in time to see a meter maid writing you a ticket. Maybe your meter just ran out; maybe the store clerk held you up longer than you anticipated; maybe you always pay for parking but couldn’t find any quarters. You’re probably annoyed and may feel like you’ve suffered an injustice at the hands of this good-for-nothing paper pusher (and so it snowballs).
In order to get an accurate cold read, put aside your justifications and emotions and focus on your counterpart—in this instance, the meter maid. As enforcers and bearers of bad news, meter maids are likely accustomed to angry confrontations, despite the fact that they’re just doing their job.
Maybe they have ticket quotas to reach each day, and that puts pressure on them to be less forgiving with the rules. If it’s cold out and early in the morning, maybe they’re uncomfortable and tired because they just finished writing tickets for all the other cars in your row.
Use all this information to conduct an “accusation audit,” i.e., predict what positive and negative emotions your counterpart is experiencing and generate some labels to preemptively address them.
Consider the opening statement, “It’s awfully cold out and you’re just trying to do your job—it must be draining to deal with idiots like me who manage to screw up something as simple as paying a parking meter.”
This statement acknowledges a few powerful negatives right off the bat, demonstrates understanding, and defies the listener’s worst expectations, paving the way for an agreement. Sales negotiations are no different than countless other negotiations we navigate every day.
If you can anticipate your counterpart’s negative emotions, then you can diffuse them more quickly and effectively.