Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
I think I want my high pass
How to negotiate, and what to do first. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
During my first year of law school, we had to take a course called Lawyering Process. It was a unique course in that there were no cases to study, no legal concepts to learn.
Instead, it was supposed to be all about the "process" of being an attorney: things like confronting ethical dilemmas, learning strategic planning, and developing negotiating techniques.
Unlike all the other classes—which were super-competitive with people angling for the best grades, because your marks determined your class rank, which in turn determined your likelihood of getting the best or highest-paying jobs after graduation—this class was taught, "pass/fail."
Come to think of it, during the semester they changed it from "Pass/Fail" to “High Pass / Pass / Low Pass/Fail," which correlated pretty nicely to the A, B, C and F grades they used in every other class.
But that's another story. This story is the one about how I nearly failed this class anyway. And I was near the top of my law school class, otherwise!
The whole thing came down to an assignment in which the class was divided into groups of two, and told to conduct a videotaped, mock settlement negotiation.
A classmate named David and I took opposite sides in a pretend construction contracts case. This is where we got into trouble, because the professors reviewing our videotaped negotiation later said they were insulted that we didn't seem to take the exercise seriously.
For certain: About 90 percent of the negotiation involved us just chatting and joking around—much more small talk than anything else.
We thought it was silly, and we laughed through the whole thing. We complained about law school in general and this course in particular.
Toward the end, we closed the deal after I suggested that if David would give up his last sticking point, I'd buy the first round of beers at the campus bar.
The professors were not happy. We had at least two or three meetings about the whole thing. It turned into one of those big stressful moments of life that seem like they mean the world in the moment—but that ultimately become nothing but fodder for the email newsletter you start decades later, after they invent email newsletters.
Sadly for me, it also all took place years before the publication of a study out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business that shows that doing things like “joking about who buys the first round if you close the deal” is EXACTLY the kind of thing that good negotiators know to do.
The Stanford study involved setting up two groups of student negotiators:
First, a group that was assigned to conduct almost all of their dealings over email, and
Second, a group that was told to arrange a friendly phone call that didn't discuss the agenda items at all before they got into the nitty gritty over email.
Since I'm citing it as support, you'll likely guess the result:
Even though the telephone conversation was strictly nonbusiness, schmoozing negotiators anticipated and planned a cooperative, positive negotiation experience from the outset, and they attained better economic and social outcomes.
Also, fifty percent of them got free drinks in the post-negotiation trip to the bar, I'm assuming. (Although I should point out that in our case we weren't really going to a bar afterward; it's just a joke I made in order to move things forward.)
Now, why does banter and small talk work? Well, here we get into my own theory, which is something I'm rather proud of. I call it the difference between parallel responses and convergent responses while building empathy. In short:
Parallel responses are ones that suggest that you believe your process of achieving empathy is complete, on the basis of something else you've brought to the interaction (often, past experience).
Convergent responses suggest that you believe the process of achieving empathy is incomplete, but that you want to work to make it complete (by continuing the discussion and finding common ground).
To use an example, imagine that a friend confides that he had a very hard time coping with work during the pandemic.
A parallel response might be something like: "I've had a hard time too. I understand exactly."
A more convergent response? Maybe: "Tell me more about what made it so difficult."
So, my theory is that the more convergent your small talk is, the less awkward it will feel, and the more rapport you'll build. The more you’ll get along—and ultimately, the more fake construction contract cases you'll settle.
Honestly, I think we might have deserved the "high pass."
7 other things worth knowing today
Bitcoin is off nearly 55% from its November peak, and 40% of holders are now underwater on their investments, according to new data from Glassnode. I don't normally write much about crypto and the like here, but the 40% underwater part seemed worth mentioning. (CNBC)
Related: Last year, El Salvador adopted bitcoin as legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar, and began buying the virtual currency as part of its national financial strategy. So far, El Salvador, which ranks 136 out of the world's 216 countries in GDP per capita, has put about 2 percent of its total reserves into bitcoin. They're down 28% so far, but El Salvador's president is doubling down and "buying the dip," he announced via Twitter. (CNBC)
Key decision-makers in Finland and Sweden are set to announce their positions on NATO membership this week. If Finland’s president and the Social Democrats who govern both countries ignore Moscow’s warnings and come out in favor of accession, NATO could soon add two new members right on Russia’s doorstep. (AP)
Tom Brady has made his plans for life after football—whenever that is. According to multiple reports from a Fox corporation investors call, the seven-time Super Bowl champion has agreed to a $375 million deal with Fox Sports. He will serve as the network’s lead NFL announcer after he retires from the sport. (Mediaite)
The Air Force is investigating the case of an airman who was apparently told by a senior officer or sergeant—via text!—that he was not selected for an assignment because the service needed "somebody of white complexion" instead. (Task & Purpose)
How remote work could nix the sick day. (BBC)
A House subcommittee will hold a hearing next week about UFOs, the first open congressional hearing about UFOs in more than 50 years. (Vice)