Power to the … person?

November 7, 2015

Whether it’s the latest sales deal you’re trying to clinch, a colleague you’re trying to persuade, or an un-shiftable stakeholder whose support you need to get an initiative off the ground, it’s easy to see why the process of negotiation can become a minefield for the unequipped.

Even the most experienced business people tend to shy away from avoidable deal tussles that they fear may become protracted or divergent, fearing the process of deal making may lead to deal breaking.


Di Capri-Dont

So why do we hate to arm wrestle with our colleagues in business?  Hollywood would have us believe that every business person is a ‘Wolf of Wall street’ in sheep’s clothing, but the truth of the matter is that we are at our core relationship builders.  We want rapport, connections, and congruence – not conflict; our worst fear is that a negotiation might lead to conflict.

The truth of the matter is, no one’s ever died at the negotiation table, nor have many left the boardroom with much more than the occasional bruised ego.

At its heart, every negotiation has much less to do with the product or the price, and much more to do with the people.

So, if we want our negotiations to get better, we need to get personal.


‘Tis Better to Give

As challenging as you think your latest sale might have been, think how much harder it might have been if you were seeking the same amount of cash from your client and were offering no personal or professional benefit to them.  No tangible product, or even an experiential service. Nothing.

This is the challenge faced day and daily by the charity sector, and it’s why it’s become a hotbed for best practice in the psychology of persuasion and negotiation over the last fifteen years.

Think that Oxfam, Barnardos, and their counterparts can’t teach you anything about increasing your sales – think again.

Let’s first look at how the charity sector have used the ‘get personal’ principle to their advantage, and then we’ll explore how you can use the same technique to get the best out of your next negotiation.


The Power of One

Bullying is often classed as the least ‘sexy’ wing of the fund-raising arena.  Unlike Cancer, MND, or Alzheimer’s, bullying is harder to point out and pin down, and as a consequence Bullying Prevention charities tend to struggle to drive up their income.

Recently though, in the United States, Karen Klein’s case bucked that trend in an extraordinary way.  She was publicly and savagely attacked by a gaggle of students and when a clip of the heinous incident went viral, received donations totalling nearly $1million from 30,000 donors in over 80 countries.

Stephen Sutton, Claire Squires, Alan Barnes, and other examples will likely be vaguely familiar to you as being cases that fit this mould (and if these names don’t ring a bell, check them on your favourite search engine – you’ll recall them instantly).

Through cases like these, and many others, researchers recognised that a single identifiable story is more impactful, engaging, and ‘sharable’, and as such is much more likely to cultivate action.

When we get to know the person, we feel like we’re involved in their story, and feel compelled to act.  It becomes more than a headline – it gets personal.



Doctors are rightly revered.  We hope to avoid them all year round, yet when we need their consult they ride in on horseback and save the day – every time.  What happens, though, when we apply the ‘personal principle’ in the clinical setting?

Examining the types of decision making taking place in CT scanning rooms across the country, one explored the impact of attaching a photograph of some patients to their scan imagery.

In doing so, the researchers went some way to create a personal connection between those interpreting the scan, and the patients themselves as individuals.  While still technically ‘strangers’, this connection had a profound impact.

Those whose photographs were attached were prescribed dramatically and observably better aftercare.  They were handled with more warmth and consideration, and were objectively rated as receiving overall better care.  The patient stopped being a ‘case’, and instead became an identifiable individual.  For these physicians, it got personal.


Bank on It

Since learning of the power of this principle in other sectors, we can now see it’s negotiation and sales applications – deliberate and incidental – all around us.

Experience tells us that the three most stressful times in our personal lives are getting married, moving house, and getting divorced.  The last six months has taught me that there’s an analogous trilogy of hell in business: Moving premises, moving accountants, and moving bank.

When I look back on how I made each of these important decisions, I realise that it was the ‘personal principle’ that sealed the deal every time.

Danske Bank didn’t bombard me with interest rates, product proposals, and spreadsheets.

Instead, they got to know my business, my lifestyle, and even my family, and tailored any discussions we had around them.  I was sold, and today couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Even as I go for my morning coffee, Starbucks ask for my name to identify me, even though I had been finding my coffee just fine for years before they started ‘getting personal’ to make me, and all customers feel like an identifiable individual.


Back in the Office

So how do we use this simple principle to maximise our persuasiveness?  The applications are clear.  Instead of talking about the many features and functions of your offering during your pitch, talk about what practical and tangible difference it will make to the individuals in the room, and those that they work alongside.

Where you might have said “…our copiers will save your admin team £9k per year on printing costs”, instead say “…our copiers will save Mary’s department £9k in the first year alone which she can use to replace the iMac’s she’s been hoping to upgrade”.

Or, when pitching to your Financial Director to fund an experimental expansion plan, don’t just talk about the 300 new customers you could be serving.  Focus instead on one key customer initially, outlining the impact this new offering will have on them, and the impact their business will have on your bottom line before talking about the bigger picture.


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