Change your Negotiation Habits

By RED BEAR February 17, 2021 | 4 min read

Every year people all around the world resolve to become better people. They look to build new habits or break old ones. Some pick up a hobby. Others hit the gym. In fact, there is about a 33-50% increase in the volume of gym memberships each January, with the second week of January being the busiest time of year. Unfortunately, 80% of those new memberships drop off by the second week of February. Change is difficult, but it helps to understand why.

In order to better understand habits and how they shape our personal and professional lives, I recently read The Power of Habit: Why we do the things we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg.

The book is an entertaining look at the mechanics of habits with many of its central themes aligning and reinforcing RED BEAR’s own approach to driving transformational change. For more than 30 years, RED BEAR has built powerful negotiation habits through a discovery-based learning methodology that also breaks down habits into component pieces in order to help participants quickly adopt new skills and behaviors to drive improved results.

Introducing The Habit Loop

The Power of Habit explains that the Habit Loop consists of a Cue, a Routine, and a Reward. To paraphrase, a Cue (a situation, craving, or fear) triggers a Routine (a series of actions, thoughts, or emotions) to achieve a Reward (some form of satisfaction). Over time, this loop repeats itself and eventually becomes a habit; whereby a specific cue triggers a specific set of actions to achieve a specific reward. Think of grabbing an afternoon snack or caffeinated drink to feel more alert in order to make it through the workday.

If we were to break it down, the Habit Loop would look like this:

  • The Cue – a run-down feeling in the afternoon
  • The Routine – a trip to the kitchen or the coffee shop for a quick snack or a drink
  • The Reward – a break from work & a boost of energy

Applying the Habit Loop to Negotiations

In order to apply this concept to negotiations, let’s create an example. Salespeople face a never-ending assault on pricing. RED BEAR’s research has shown time and time again, when facing price pressure, the average negotiator will typically make some common mistakes (dare we say “bad habits”), such as focusing too much on price, failing to create and reinforce value, or not executing on a strategic concession plan. The average negotiator may still walk away with the deal, but they probably left money on the table.

Let’s illustrate the Habit Loop using this negotiation misstep:

  • the Cue – a sales negotiation hinging on price pressure
  • the Routine – a seller offering a discount to win the deal
  • the Reward – successfully closing the deal

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

Throughout the book, Duhigg provides example after example of good and bad habits and breaks down how each works. He carefully dissects each habit; studying the anatomy of each scenario to find the secret formula. What he discovers, in study after study, is something he calls the Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only replace it.

Consider our negotiation example. In our story, the Seller is motivated to close deals. The habit the Seller wants to change is offering unnecessary discounts to close deals. They might try to resist the urge to discount, but when the Buyer continues to hammer away at price, what do you think that Seller is going to do? They’re going to discount, especially if they fear they may lose the deal.

The Golden Rule proposes that our Seller just needs to figure out a different routine. Sounds easy, right? It can be. It helps to have a plan of attack.

The RED BEAR Approach to Changing Negotiation Habits

In order to unlock lasting behavior change, Duhigg suggests using a simple framework to diagnose and shape habits. The framework includes 4 steps:

  • Identifying the routine – what is it that you’re doing to achieve a reward
  • Experimenting with rewards – evaluate whether the reward is rewarding
  • Isolating the cue – what is it that is causing you to slip into autopilot
  • Have a plan – recognize the cue and substitute a new routine

This framework is similar to the discovery-based methodology used for more than 30 years in RED BEAR workshops. RED BEAR’s delivery method achieves a deep and long-lasting behavior change using discovery-based learning techniques and roleplaying.

First, we start with metaphorical negotiation scenarios to help the participants understand their negotiation habits or wrong turns. We introduce a cue, so to speak, in our case a negotiation, which allows participants to utilize their existing capabilities, in an effort to achieve the best deal possible.

Once the participants settle on the best deal possible with their partners, RED BEAR instructors debrief the case asking each side to reflect on their agreements and evaluate how well their existing negotiation habits helped them achieve the best deal possible.

As participants begin to realize some of the mistakes they’ve made in their mock negotiation, the 6 Principles of Negotiation are introduced and participants are given another negotiation scenario, this time based upon real-world scenarios they face in their day-to-day work lives. As the participants employ the newly developed skills and behaviors, they are essentially replacing their old negotiation habits with a new, more effective routine.

Unlocking Lasting Behavior Change

As with most challenges in life, the more we are aware and understand the nature of our challenges, the more powerful we become in affecting change.

If you’re interested in transforming yourself or your team into world-class negotiators, let’s talk!



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