Alex Kouts (@akouts) is a teacher, adventure technologist, Chief Product Officer of Countable, and — as you’ll soon discover — quite savvy in negotiation. This is part three of a three-part series. Make sure to check out parts one and two!

What We Discuss with Alex Kouts:

  • Why the post-mortem of the way a negotiation plays out rarely finds tactics to be responsible for the outcome — and what actually is.
  • What we should remember about the human beings on the other side of the negotiation table in relation to our own ability to leverage a desirable outcome.
  • The toolbox of tactics that opens up to us when we can put ourselves in the shoes of the people with whom we’re negotiating rather than focusing on our own emotions.
  • Questions we can ask someone on the other side of the table to understand who we’re dealing with, what motivates them, and put them in a position to react to us rather than the other way around.
  • How to better look outward rather than inward when under the stress of a negotiation in progress.
  • And much more…
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During a negotiation, pay attention to your internal emotional experiences. How do you react to certain situations? How does new data affect you? What choices are made for you instead of you actively making the choice? We tend to judge the success or failure of a negotiation by the tactics that were used (don’t accept the first offer, make them reactive, get to no), but the real reason a negotiation goes the way it does is usually based on very human, internal factors.

Business developer, startup veteran, Countable CPO, and professional negotiator Alex Kouts joins us for this final, extended third episode of our three-part series to share his expert secrets of negotiation with those of us who feel a little squeamish at the prospect of getting a “yes” in a world that actually finds it surprisingly hard to say “no.” Here, we’ll review some highlights and dive deeper into advanced negotiation.

This is part three of a three-part series. Make sure to check out parts one and two!

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More About This Show

Professional negotiator Alex Kouts joins us for round three of this three-part series to share his best negotiation secrets! If you missed the first two parts, make sure to check them out here: Part One and Part Two

Negotiation Emotions vs. Tactics

When we do a post-mortem of how a negotiation played out, in most cases the tactics aren’t found to have made a difference, according to Alex. In truth, there are a lot more discreet human factors that affect our ability to effectively negotiate.

“When we’re reviewing a negotiation and it went after the fact, we always end up pulling out things that we understand or that are obvious to us, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the real things,” says Alex. “The most important thing during negotiation, if you’re trying to get better at it yourself, is to really pay attention and look at your internal emotional experience. ‘How did I react to things that happened?’ ‘How did I react to new data?’ ‘What did that make me do?’ ‘What choices were made for me by virtue of the situation and the context that I was in as opposed to me actively taking a role in it?’

“In many cases the tactics can be important, but the bigger part of it, and the thing that stops us from being effective, tends to be what happens internally.”

And while it’s important to understand that our internal reactions play a large part in affecting the outcome of a negotiation, it’s also important not to overanalyze our own emotions to the point where good old-fashioned paranoia takes over. When this happens, we risk misinterpreting neutral intentions of the other party as something more than they really are and missing what might actually be meaningful data in the distraction.

Alex points out that people negotiating for a job offer often make the mistake of thinking they’re powerless to influence the outcome. The common reasoning is that they’re only one among many in competition for the job and they should be grateful for the opportunity and willing to accept whatever offer they’re lucky to get.

What gets overlooked in this reasoning is that the company is already investing the time and resources to find the best candidate and, if you’re among them, you’ve been found worthy of that investment — especially if you’re interviewing at a company that has a multi-level hiring process and you’ve made it beyond the first round. The people on the other side of the table are just as human as you and they have the same internal, emotional responses affecting their stake in the negotiation.

“There is some leverage there,” says Alex. “They’ve decided to invest in you — we just don’t think about it very often. And when we don’t, it makes it less likely for us to want to negotiate. We just psych ourselves out.”

By putting ourselves in the shoes of the people on the other side of that table, not only can we escape the trap of unworthiness that might be lurking in our own head, but we gain the perspective to see what it is they’re really looking for in us.

“By thinking a little bit less about my emotional experience and what I’m looking for, and more about the person on the other side of the table, a whole toolbelt of tools become available to me that makes it a lot easier for me to do this well,” Alex says.

Learn to Lead with Questions

“Often, someone will make you an offer and you feel the need to react to it,” says Alex. “I never react in the moment when anyone offers me anything. I always lead with questions: ‘Thank you; I understand the consideration. When do you need an offer by?’ ‘Is this negotiable?’

This tactic allows you to step back for a second, relax, get new data, and ask for new data from other people.

“Once you train yourself to do this, it forces you to look outward rather than inward,” says Alex.

Never Indulge Yourself

“I never react to offers, ever,” says Alex. “If the offer is three times what I’m expecting — it’s fantastic — I don’t act excited. I don’t go, ‘Oh, my gosh! That’s unbelievable!’ I’m not telegraphing emotions.

“My father used to say this thing growing up and I since had him paint this with graffiti markers and I framed it on my wall. It’s ‘Never indulge yourself.’ I think in a lot of situations like that, a lot of people have a strong feeling and they indulge themselves by expressing it to other folks; they need to get it out. They need someone else to get what they’re feeling.

“So in those situations, I think you need to play it slow. Play it smart. Don’t give an immediate reaction no matter what it is — if it’s three times you price, if it’s one-tenth of your price — ask some questions, ask when [they] need an answer by, consider it, and then come back.”

Asking questions like this not only buys you time to consider the offer, but it also shows respect to the person on the other side of the table.

Questions We Can Ask

Two of Alex’s favorite questions to ask people in a business setting — even outside of the context of a negotiation — are:

  • What does a win look like to you?
  • What keeps you up at night?

“It’s a great way for me to figure out how people are evaluating success, what their goals are, what they’re worried about,” says Alex, “because that gives me the bounds of the conversation. That helps me understand what their world looks like in a way that basic chit-chat is not going to do.”

When an offer has been made in a negotiation, Alex often asks:

  • Is there any flexibility here?

“That’s a hugely important question, because in reality, I’m not asking for anything. I’m just throwing a layup to figure out exactly who I’m talking to. Because what are they going to come back with? They’re going to say “no” and risk seeming unreasonable; they could say ‘yes’ and then they’re basically inviting you to counter.”

It also forces the person on the other side to react to you rather than the other way around, which is a valuable negotiation tactic we learned in the earlier episode of this series.

Listen to this episode in this entirety to learn more about ways to extract additional data from someone in a negotiation simply by rephrasing or asking them to clarify what they’ve already said, examples of clarifying questions, how to better look outward rather than inward when under the stress of a negotiation in progress, how to accurately gauge the emotional telegraphing of others without misinterpreting their signals, how you can benefit from being media trained even if you don’t ever plan on being the public face for your organization, the empowerment gained by testing boundaries, and lots more.


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