Episode 26 - Interview with Alex Carter - Procurement Zen

Episode 26 – Interview with Alex Carter

In this episode of ProcurementZen I interview Alexandra Carter, Director of the Mediation Clinic at the Columbia Law School a seasoned mediation expert and author of the book Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything.

Alex talks about her book, the 10 questions that are covered in the work, advice she has learned in her experience, and the power of knowledge and preparation. 

Phil Kowalski:
Hello, my dear negotiators. Today, I have a special guest on the show, Alex Carter, who is a seasoned mediation expert. Her book "Ask For More" is coming out this week, so make sure you get it. While we're at it, have you already asked me your question? It only takes three short minutes. Go to procurementzen.com/ask, click the green start recording button, and ask your most burning procurement question. I will answer a bunch of those in one of the next episodes. As always, you will find the show notes for this episode over at procurementzen.com/026, that's 26 for episode 26. That's 026 for episode 26. Now, let's dive deep into my discussion with Alex. Let's go.

Phil Kowalski:
All right. Our guest today is the Director of the Mediation Clinic at the famous Columbia Law School in New York. She is a world-renowned negotiation trainer for organizations such as the United Nations. She appeared on CBS' "This Morning" and MSNBC's "Live Weekend" and "Hardball", just to name a few. Please welcome everybody, Alex Carter. Alex, welcome to the show.

Alex Carter:
Thank you so much, Phil, it's a pleasure to be here.

Phil Kowalski:
Great! Wonderful! Alex, you are, for sure, very interesting to our audience who are also negotiation pros, but I think there is a lot that we can learn from you, especially when it comes to how to deal and how to structure negotiations. Maybe my first question, I know that there is a book coming out, maybe at the time of publishing it's already out, so can you tell us a little bit about why did you write a book about negotiation for people who don't think of themselves as negotiators?

Alex Carter:
That's a great question, Phil. I'm a professor at Columbia Law School, as you said, and what I work on day-to-day is mediation. People come to me when they are already in conflict or they haven't been able to reach a deal and the negotiation hasn't been effective, and that's when I come in and I help them to negotiate better, to bring their arguments, to raise the right questions, and to reach a win-win, a mutually agreeable solution. Over the course of my time at Columbia, I started wondering how might I help people before they get to me in mediation? How might I bring some of what I have learned helping coach thousands of people how to negotiate better and bring it to them before they get into conflicts to enable them to make better, stronger and more durable deals?

Alex Carter:
I wrote a book called "Ask For More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything", because I found that over years I have learned an approach to negotiation that I saw work and produce tremendous results over and over again, and I wanted to give people access to that framework.

Phil Kowalski:
Great! That sounds great. It sounds a little bit like you emphasized the power of questions. Can you tell us a little bit about why do you believe that questions are maybe one of the negotiation tools that are more, let's say, neglected?

Alex Carter:
Absolutely. I think, Phil, that too often were taught that negotiation means talking instead of asking. That it's about having all the answers and getting your way to prevent the other person from getting their way, and if we do ask questions that maybe we should only ask questions to which we already know the answer. It turns out that that performative concept of negotiation not only turns a lot of people off leading them to avoid it and say, "Well, I'm not a negotiator or that's not for me", it turns out that's also ineffective. You don't prepare to become an expert negotiator by looking in the mirror and rehearsing your arguments. I like to tell people that's not negotiation, that's public speaking.

Alex Carter:
Having worked with thousands of negotiators over the course of my career, I can tell who the experts in the room are and the expert negotiators know that their greatest source of strength in negotiation is not bluster, it's knowledge. Expert negotiation requires you to understand both yourself and someone else well enough to conduct a conversation that's going to produce a lot of value for both parties, but most people don't ask the right questions to acquire that knowledge. In fact, research shows that only 7% of people ask the right questions in negotiation even when sharing the right information about themselves or getting the right information about their counterpart could greatly benefit them in terms of their bottom line. If you start negotiating by launching into your arguments or asking the wrong questions, you not only missed the chance to create understanding across the table, you end up settling for less.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). That sounds very interesting and it sounds like a common theme that maybe our audience has also discovered, because in recent episodes and also in blog posts, we talked a lot about preparation, and I really like that you focus so much on saying, "Well, you also have to ask yourself because I, in an enterprise environment, often see that there is this common statement that yeah, you know, like negotiation and procurement, everybody could do this. Obviously, that it turns out that they can't because sometimes people aren't even aware what they're goals are, so looking at understanding yourself, understanding what you want as an outcome, what you want to achieve might be quite interesting. Would your framework, if I might call it like this, would that also have to identify our own goals?

Alex Carter:
That's absolutely right. You're right, Phil, and I know from the very beginning of this podcast when you were talking about the negotiation playbook, you talk about how important it is not only to do that preparation but to write it down. My book is 10 questions that people can use to negotiate anything. The first five questions are what I call the mirror section, and they are questions that you ask yourself. It's very important as part of that exercise that people take the time to write down their answers to those questions because then, as you said right from the first episode, they have committed themselves to their goals.

Alex Carter:
The questions in "Ask For More" in the mirror section will help people surface their goals and, by the way, I'm sure you've seen this over the course of your career, a lot of negotiation failures are not because people didn't define a solution, but because they try to solve the wrong problem. Making sure that you've established the right problem or goal that you're tackling from the beginning is really important. The questions will also help you understand what your needs are in negotiation, both what I call the tangible needs. I'm looking for contract where I'm going to have these terms but also the intangible, perhaps a sense of advancement in your career or progress or the overall mission of your department or company.

Alex Carter:
The questions will also help you identify anything that you may be experiencing in terms of emotions before you go in to negotiate, and identifying these is really important because it prepares you to better handle them once you are in the room. Last the questions will help you figure out how you have successfully tackled a negotiation like this before, and this is a great question because it acts in two ways. One, when you think about some of your prior successes, those are very often data generators. You might be able to figure out a tool or multiple tools that you use there to be successful that you might pull out of your toolbox again to use in this instance.

Alex Carter:
Finally, the questions in the mirror section will help you develop your next few steps forward. Sometimes I think especially were talking about a large contract or a deal or a very complicated relationship, people can feel stymied if they feel pressure to solve it all in one go. For very complex negotiations, that's often not possible. What we need to do is to find those next few steps forward and create some momentum and also some information so that we can move forward to tackle the rest.

Phil Kowalski:
Yeah. I like this approach very much because it reminds me a little bit of the, let's call it agile mindset. It's like developing a potential product, a potential solution without 100% knowing what the outcome would be, but more often than not we are positively surprised what the outcome is if we follow the few next steps approach rather than saying, "This is our goal, this is carved in stone, we definitely have to get there", and what if we only diverge from it only a little bit are we then then not successful? That is very interesting that you say this out.

Alex Carter:
Yeah, Phil. I couldn't agree more. In fact, people who have made a career tackling complex challenges like you will say that engaging in this kind of work is almost like climbing a mountain. You can't prepare for the conditions at the middle of the mountain until you've taken those steps at the bottom and you get up there and you can assess the conditions. Sometimes for very complex situations you do, in fact, have to take it one step at a time rather than just working towards some predestined outcome when you can't even see the top.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (Affirmative). This sounds a little bit as if you have to be very experienced to execute negotiation, so to say. However, from what I've heard from you before, you also seem to say that non-professional negotiators could also use those negotiation skills. Can you share a little bit about what you think of the benefits if they do this and what are the consequences for "ordinary people"?

Alex Carter:
Absolutely. I'll say, Phil, that I spend a lot of my time as a professor outside of the law school. I'm a clinical professor, which means that I practice with my students at Columbia. What this means is, we not only, yes, go to the United Nations and into companies and government agencies to train people, but we also go into Small Claims Court, and we are helping make negotiation accessible to people who may not have a college degree, who may not have a high school degree, who come from all over the world and may not have English as their first language. Over and over I have found that people, everyday people, can use these questions to improve their negotiation skills and not just in court or for deals. These questions will actually help people in their personal relationships, or even to figure out what next steps they may want to take in their lives.

Alex Carter:
It's 10 simple questions that people can use and you can follow them through step-by-step. I've written the book to be really accessible. It was important to me that people could use these tools, not just if they were in a law school or a business school or working for a large company, but that people like the folks that we are serving every day in Small Claims Court could also use these tools to make their lives better. We have helped people resolve hundreds and hundreds of conflicts in Small Claims Court using the same tools that we also use at the UN and elsewhere.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). This sounds very much like a similar experience that I have made, although I'm not a legal person, so I don't execute negotiations, let's say, in the court. As Chris Voss, the author of "Never Split The Difference", he says, "You negotiate. When you're communicating, more often than not, you're negotiating." I have experienced this a lot also in family affairs. I have two kids, nine and five, and I have to negotiate happily with them, and quite honestly, I can tell you, they are strong counterparts.

Phil Kowalski:
It happens everywhere and not only in these cases that maybe immediately come to mind when you buy a house, when you buy a car, but sometimes you simply try to convince people of your position, and that in itself, from my point of view, is already a negotiation. If you have these negotiation practice that you mentioned but also a negotiation approach that you can learn, that helps in everyday situations, common situations, if you want, from my point of view. Maybe, from your experience, maybe outside of academia, can you, maybe, share a few insights what are other common situations that, again, "ordinary people" or readers of your work might find themselves in?

Alex Carter:
Absolutely. I'm so glad you brought up the definition of negotiation, Phil, because that was something that I wanted to tackle right at the beginning of this book. I didn't just want to teach people a new and more effective way to negotiate. I wanted to redefine for them how they were thinking of negotiation in the first place. I think, too often as you point out, we're taught that negotiation is just a back-and-forth over money or other deal terms, usually in business, maybe also in politics. When I teach a negotiation, I teach that to negotiate is to steer, that negotiation is any conversation in which you are steering a relationship. That could be a personal relationship, it could be in the office, it could be any relationship in your life. Of course, that includes the relationship you have with yourself.

Alex Carter:
In "Ask For More", I have many, many stories from people who are using these tools in their everyday lives. For example, we have a father who is working with a daughter who has a learning disability. They're getting into really difficult conversations in the evening over homework. The father is exhausted from a long day of work, the girl is also exhausted from a long day at school, and helping them to use these questions to navigate that situation and produce greater understanding and trust in their relationship, you could also have it in a marital or a partnership conflict where one partner is working a lot and the other partner is feeling unhappy about the amount of time that they're able to spend together. What I'm trying to teach people is, in those everyday conversations, when we most want to start out by leading with our arguments are saying, "But isn't it true, rather to pull back and ask a good question", and you'll find over and over again that when you ask a question like that it produces tremendous benefit.

Alex Carter:
In fact, I tell a story in the book about how I used one of these questions with my daughter and her answer to me was something I never could've predicted, and opened up a world of understanding between us. Sometimes we think, Phil, that the closest people in our lives we know them so well that we know what they're about to say. Frequently, we don't and I'm sure with kids, it's very difficult to predict what comes out of their mouth, right?

Phil Kowalski:
True.

Alex Carter:
We could do a whole show just on that. I feel like having the discipline and the awareness to ask great open question, even if the people who are closest to us in our lives, can really produce a lot of benefits.

Phil Kowalski:
Yeah, that sounds exactly like the experience I have made. It's interesting because I've recently been to a conference which was more geared toward contract managers like managing the result of a negotiation. I was flabbergasted, at least a little bit, that people have perceived negotiators like we are in procurement or maybe also on the safe side a little bit like, "Yeah, these guys. You know, they come at the end, they ask for 10% off, and then they go." That's what everybody could do, and it's so easy.

Phil Kowalski:
I really like the statement that you made about steering a relationship and what I also, from the statement that I've mentioned previously about, yeah, everybody could do this is, yeah, everybody always seems to think they know what the outcome will be and then are totally surprised that the human mind and that personality and psychological factors kick in and all of a sudden the result is completely different. I remember discussions with existing vendors in my environment where they had a contract signed already and nevertheless were willing to improve it and from this, let's say, standpoint where you say, "Yeah, I know what will happen", the result would have been very clear. They won't do anything because they already have the signed deal. Why should they be motivated to do anything?

Phil Kowalski:
But they did, and this is especially interesting. I think this is a situation where the, yeah, good negotiation approach, the one that doesn't start with 10% off are always possible kicks in. I really like this very much that you that you approach this through questions. There's questions. That's also something I would dare to say that a lot of people have heard a lead with questions, but my experience also is that standard approach always ask why. Why? Why? Why? Why? Ask why five times. I think there are several approaches to this out there. Only goes a certain way, so can you, maybe from your experience and also from your research and from the work that you have done, can you maybe give us a hint? Is there anything better than why? Asking why?

Alex Carter:
Yes. In fact, I don't like to ask why questions in negotiation. There is research to show that when you someone why you tend to put them on the defensive. This happens both when we ask ourselves why. Why didn't I achieve a better result on that last negotiation? Or, why are you insisting on this particular deal term? In either instance, it produces distorted information, distorted, self-serving, limited information. Instead of asking why did you want this, I like to ask a question beginning with what. What makes that important? What goal does that serve for you? Instead, I change the question from looking a bit adversarial and putting them on the defensive to conveying sincere desire to understand what's underneath the demand for them. I think when you lead with a question that starts with what or even how, how can we get to an effective results today? How can we achieve your need for x, while also meeting our need for y?

Alex Carter:
When you ask those kinds of questions, you force somebody to really actively participate in the search for a solution and you convey sincere respect. Talking about steering relationships, Phil, that leads to much, much better and more productive discussions not just for this contract but the contracts down the road. Thinking about taking a little bit of time to invest in asking great questions is going to produce better financial results at the table but it also produces more durable relationships so that the next time you're negotiating you're starting from a better place. Yes. I prefer to scrap why and I like to ask questions starting with what or how. I also have a couple of other great questions that I ask on almost every occasion. We can get more into those if you'd like.

Phil Kowalski:
Yeah, that sounds great. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Alex Carter:
Sure. The number one question I like to ask a counterpart in every negotiation is tell me. Tell me how you're viewing this deal. Tell me your views on the sector. Tell me your thoughts on our last proposal. I find that this question, it's the equivalent of casting a giant net into the water to capture the most information possible. I often tell people that when they ask questions that are more closed like "Are you ready to accept this deal?" or "Does 10% off sound okay?", both of those are closed questions, it's the equivalent of trying to fish by sticking a line in the water. All you're going to get is one fish. When you ask someone to tell you their perspective, you're casting a really wide net and you're going to be astonished at the amount of information you get, that if you're really listening is going to help you craft a better deal.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). That sounds very good. This goes very much in line from with ... maybe phrase it differently. I personally think that influencing and influence in a good way, not trying to manipulate is somebody else loses, but influencing in a positive, constructive way is a good thing. I really love, as I've said several times, Robert Cialdini masterpiece of this one called Influence.

Alex Carter:
Yes.

Phil Kowalski:
I think if you cast that net to, not only get one fish but a lot of information, you also collect a lot of statement. Looking at Cialdini's work and seeing that people want to stay consistent with their statements and with what they said about their view about their feelings, about their insights, I think that's a great opportunity for any negotiator, no matter if professional or at home with the kids, it's a great opportunity to really build a rock-solid foundation for this relationship.

Phil Kowalski:
I have seen both but quite honestly no matter what financial impact you can make by trying to fool the other into a deal, usually both parties lose. That's my experience. If you built a "deal" based on the bad relationship it rarely works out as expected for nobody.

Alex Carter:
Yes. I think that's-

Phil Kowalski:
Well doing this casting this net to gain information is really an amazing relationship to as well. Sorry, I interrupted you.

Alex Carter:
Yes. No, thank you. In fact, I was going to say that I interviewed a couple of very senior UN diplomats for the book, and one of them said something that really resonated for me that the old way of negotiating where you try to hold your cards really close to the vest and then spring a surprise on your opponent is really over, especially in this age of information readily available public information that transparency is the better way to negotiate. If you're trying to create, as you said, not just a deal but a durable deal, and even a multi-deal relationship where you're going to start ahead of the game the next time the contract comes up, really, transparency and openness in negotiation is the name of the game.

Alex Carter:
I love Bob Cialdini's book "Influence." One of the things that I think is important From that book is also talking about reciprocity. If you demonstrate a willingness to sit and honestly ask open questions of the other side to sincerely hear their opinion, they are going to be much more likely to hear yours in return.

Phil Kowalski:
Yeah. This is another "vote", I would say, for also the thing that is so dear to my heart, we need preparation-

Alex Carter:
Yes.

Phil Kowalski:
Because it will be much more difficult if you're not prepared. You have to at least do a little bit of preparation for this long-term approach. I really like that way that we obviously seem to have a similar opinion on this. Sometimes you can't prepare but I think also looking at your work and also what you already said about "Ask For More", what do you think? Is it necessary to have a very long preparation time? Does your framework allow us once we're trained to it or maybe even earlier to execute it "on the go"?

Alex Carter:
Yes. I love this question, Phil. Certainly, preparation is something that you can get much quicker at with practice. I use the tools in my book in my everyday negotiations and conversations. These days I find now that if I know I'm going into a conversation, I can pull out the book and I can go through the five mirror questions in about 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, I have a complete action plan that I can use to go in and, as you know, the benefit of preparation is, I think, one of the major benefits is it frees you up to then really listen to what the person on the other side of the table is saying. If you haven't adequately prepared, you're more likely to have your point running through your head on a loop as the other person is talking, and thereby, you're losing a lot of really important clues about what's important to them or what they might go for in a deal that are going to help you negotiate a solution.

Alex Carter:
When possible, I do like to prepare beforehand. I'm like you, I like to have a framework, and I work through these questions in a short amount of time. The point of the book is also let's say you just find yourself grown into a negotiation situation, and in fact, this happens to all of us because if it's just about steering relationships, as you said, if you're talking you're probably negotiating, you will have at a minimum five great questions that you can ask to get more information. Even if you had no time to prepare and ask yourself the first five questions in the book, you could have the second five questions in mind. The first one of those is tell me, and you can go in and ask some great questions to get as much information as possible, so that you can best figure out how to proceed.

Speaker 1:
Procurement Zen with your host, Phil Kowalski, will be right back.

Phil Kowalski:
Did you know that you can get a free guide on how to get your message across to your counterparts? It's all about improving your presentations by using visuals. Go to sellmoreideas.com to download for free. Why is that important? Because getting heard will help you in your career. I have received more invitations to management meetings than ever before after I have applied this easy to learn skill. I also improved negotiation results up to a level that vendors nearly ask me, "Where do I have to sign?" You can get it at sellmoreideas.com, and in the guide, I show you the refined essence of my years of learning. Believe me when I say everyone can improve their slide decks with visuals. No, you don't have to be a designer or an artist, and no, it doesn't have to take long. Head over to sellmoreideas.com and make sure others get what you have to say.

Speaker 1:
Back to the show, Procurement Zen, with your host, Phil Kowalski.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). That sounds great. It sounds a bit like asking the right questions and also listening very closely related. It seems to be obvious, but I've also seen like, if someone just ... you couldn't see it, but it felt like someone was just going down his question checklist, now I have to ask question this, and now this, and this, and this, but obviously, those people didn't listen to the answers. I think they missed great opportunities there if they just do it like a blueprint, maybe that's the wrong term. I think the listening part is also very important. By any means, I know this is maybe unpopular right now, but wherever I can I always try to do in-person negotiations because body language, facial expressions, they really tell you a lot. I'm not sure about you but I usually trust my gut here.

Phil Kowalski:
If I hear and see a response that are contradictory, the spoken word is different to what I see maybe in body language, that is also an information, of course, but that my gut usually says, "Something - I'm not sure what it is - but something is wrong here." I'm not sure if you have experienced something like this.

Alex Carter:
Absolutely, yes. Phil, it's amazing. Having worked with people in so many hundreds of negotiations, the number of times when I've asked somebody if the deal works for them and they say yes while shaking their head no. I might even say to them, "You know, your words just said yes but your face said no, so I'd love to talk through any concerns you might have." In fact, I see that somebody is registering what looks like concern, I might gently recognize that as communication and invite them to be open. In fact, one of the questions I tell people they should ask when they sit down with someone else is, what are your concerns? Because I think sometimes people may have secret concerns that they hold close to the vest unless they're invited to express them, and if they don't get surfaced, then they may just prevent you from closing the deal, and so it's better to surface those.

Alex Carter:
Absolutely, I'm a big proponent where possible of face-to-face negotiation. I had, in fact, there is one startup company in the US that is now using my method for all of their deals. They said they had one particular purchaser that they were negotiating with. They had made two prior presentations a year ago and six months ago, and as they were making the presentations they could tell that there were concerns, but they didn't ask what those were and it turned out they were right and they didn't deal. This time they went in and instead of leading with their pitch, they said, "Tell us your view of the sector. We didn't land the deal with you the two prior times we were here, and we'd love to know how you're seeing things now."

Alex Carter:
The person was almost caught off guard and started really honestly talking about what she had been experiencing, some of her concerns, and then they followed up and said, "What concerns do you have now that we can address?" That's when she told them the one thing that had been holding her back from signing the two previous times. Once they answered that concern, they looked at her body language got out of the meeting and called me and said, "We haven't signed the deal yet but we're calling to tell you we know we're going to sign", and they did. Three days later she called and said, "You have the deal."

Alex Carter:
I do think that, right, being there in person is important for many reasons. It's rapport, it's relationship building, but also you're absolutely right that it enables you to see those small things that tell you how things are going, and sometimes people are talking to you loudless by what they're not actually saying.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). That sounds very interesting, and especially looking at these hidden concerns, sorry to say. Maybe they also help to overcome those black swans, those surprises nobody has ever seen like in your example, "Hey, we did a good pitch. What went wrong? Why didn't we get the deal?" If you can incorporate their view or maybe also like, how can I say? Contribute to their story, that's, I think, a great advantage from my point of view. I just recently read the book by Don Miller about Story Branding. It's more about marketing, but I think it also applies to negotiation. It's like we, as sellers, and here I personally see procurement and say it's on the same side, both try to sell their ideas, their view to the other side.

Phil Kowalski:
We, as sellers, are not the heroes of the story, the other side is, and we are the guide. If they are the Luke Skywalker, we are the Obi Wan Kenobi, and we try to guide that. I think that asking questions rather than saying, "You have to go from A to B to C to D, then we have a deal", rather asking where do you want to go, how do you think with what you know now, you can get there. I think that's really a much better approach that not only strengthens the relationship, but also strengthens any kind of negotiation result, I would say.

Alex Carter:
Yeah. I've seen all sorts of really creative solutions result because somebody asked a great question that really revealed what the other side's major concern was, and then you can use that to build a proposal around. As you said, it's not just about, "Oh! Let's come in and ask for 10% off." There are lots of different ways to create a deal that's going to produce value for both parties but you won't know unless you've asked the question.

Phil Kowalski:
Looking at the "Ask For More" questions and the "Ask For More" framework, would you say it's something that is maybe hardwired in our brain? Or is it something that professionals potentially would say, "Ah! Nah, that doesn't work for me. I'm a professional."

Alex Carter:
That's interesting. I do think that there are a lot of people out there from many different professions using part of this framework already. As part of the book, I interview people who you might not traditionally think of as negotiators, but who are absolutely negotiating every day. For example, doctors. Thinking about relationships with patients or relationships with other providers. Doctors who go in and start a patient-doctor relationship with questions are much more likely then to have patients who stick to their treatment protocols and make sure to report any problems and continue to come back to see their doctor, that thing.

Alex Carter:
What I will say is that asking open questions may not be intuitive to everybody yet but it's something that I found is a small change that people can make. Just thinking, "Am I the open form of this question or am I asking a closed question?" A lot of us will ask a closed question that starts with what I call non-action verb like, "Is this report going to meet your needs?" Or, "should we go ahead and settle for this amount?" Those are closed questions. If we just convert to something that starts with a what or how or something that invites people to tell or describe what they're thinking, that's a pretty quick fix.

Alex Carter:
The company I've talked about that had been leading all of their sales meetings with pitches, they switch to open questions within the space of a couple of days, reading the book and they went in to their next few negotiations that Thursday, that Friday, and the following Tuesday, and they achieved tremendous deals just for making that one switch. I have found that even where it's not fully intuitive for people already, once they read it, they're able to pivot and they start to immediately see the changes.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). That's very interesting. For our audience out there, it's maybe interesting, if you can get your hands on this book, maybe we talk a little bit later where we can get it, apply this tomorrow. It doesn't sound like you have to study it for the next 12 weeks, but it sounds easy to apply techniques that, as you said, obviously show great results.

Alex Carter:
Yeah, absolutely. I tell stories in the book even of having a conversation with my daughter where I was tempted to just make a judgment and I caught myself in the moment and said, "No, let me just ask one good question and it's incredible what results." Sometimes it's just a moment that can really change things.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). Talking about different people that we're dealing with ranging from professionals to court situations to United Nations diplomats, do you think the questions one should ask are the same at these different levels? I know that you are an executive director for an organization called Stand Up Courts, so is it the same for those girls that it is for a United Nations diplomat?

Alex Carter:
Absolutely, it is. Now, it's not to say that you wouldn't go on to ask other questions later, but I wrote this book because I believe as the title and subtitle indicate that these are 10 questions that you can use to negotiate anything. I absolutely use the same questions at the UN when I'm helping diplomats resolve conflict or training them to sit at the table and resolve international disputes that I do when I teach 10-year-old girls how to deal with bullying in the classroom. They are the same first questions I ask. The biggest example, I think, being tell me. That is a great question that you can use with your kids, you can use in a diplomatic situation, and I also use it at work when I'm working in courts.

Alex Carter:
The bottom line is, for me, I know that in a variety of different negotiations there may be specialized subject matter that needs exploring, absolutely, but an open question is a great way to start on that. I've also found that human beings need a lot of the same things no matter who and where we are. In fact, one of the questions both in the mirror section where you're asking yourself and in the window section where you're asking somebody else, is designed to surface those deep needs that we all have that drive how we behave, how we think, and how we feel in every negotiation we have.

Alex Carter:
I found over and over again, and this is borne out in the research, that a lot of us, kids or adults, want the same things. We want recognition, we want respect, we want dignity, we want achievement. Thinking about whether it is your child or a nation that you're sitting across the table from, if you can identify some of those basic human needs that people are experiencing, you're going to be so much further ahead when it comes not only to building the relationship but then also building a deal.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). I really like that you see these different audiences, if you will, as comparable or similarly important, because from my point of view, and don't want to open up a political discussion here, it's maybe of equal importance that a kid in school can handle bullying than two nations have to deal with each other. I'm not sure if it's clear but I think it has similar importance because it impacts lives, and that if you can impact life with a strategy and an approach that helps to turn your life into a better situation, it's always a good thing I think. I really congratulate on this one and I really like what you're doing reading a little bit about you as well.

Alex Carter:
Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I speak to a lot of big organizations, but in the end, organizations are just large groups of people, and it's helping to let those individual people achieve more understanding and to solve the most pressing problems in their lives that really drives me forward, whether that person is a diplomat, or whether it's a young girl.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). Talking a little bit about diplomacy and about United Nations, which we have now mentioned, looking at newspapers these days, can you maybe give us some examples of where someone has taken the right approach to negotiation? Maybe a little bit talk a little bit about where some people didn't take the right approach to negotiation, the wrong one?

Alex Carter:
That's really interesting. It's a challenging question. About five or six years ago, I traveled on a delegation of law professors to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to speak to people on both sides about the conflict there. I was really struck by the words of one of the Israeli negotiators. He took us behind the scenes of one of the peace talks that ultimately failed. He described a situation where the trust was so low between the two parties that the Palestinians had come with a proposal on a particular topic, and the Israeli negotiators looked it over and said, "Okay. We're going to accept this." They went back and accepted it and the Palestinians panicked and immediately rescinded the proposal. Why? Because they assumed, the trust was so low that they assumed that the other side had accepted it, they have missed something or something was wrong.

Alex Carter:
This negotiator concluded his remarks by telling us that he saw the conflict as really a conflict between two groups of deeply traumatized and hurt people. I thought that was incredibly accurate. At its base, I think that conflict is a lot about trauma and multi-generational trauma. Some of the risk of trying a peace process is that if it doesn't work you potentially added another layer of distrust and hurt and trauma onto the conflict itself. I don't want to come in and say this is a conflict where people have handled things the wrong way. That's really, as a mediator, that's not for me to say. I will say that that conflict shows an example of how trust can be so low that the prospects for peace diminish.

Alex Carter:
By contrast, I spoke with Pres. Ahtisaari, who mediated the Kosovo conflict, and we talked a bit about that mediation and about how their, the parties were able even in a really, really challenging situation to come together and achieve a mediated result that allowed Kosovo to be a sovereign nation. We ended up having some diplomats from Kosovo coming to Columbia to talk about the birth of the nation from that peace process and for us to look and study ways that that process was effective. I conclude by saying that I spoke once to a very, very senior UN negotiator who said that if he was judged by his settlement rate he'd be out of a job, because very often the UN gets called in at a moment when there's already been significant loss of human life and the window for a negotiation is passed.

Alex Carter:
I think this leads me back to my philosophy on steering relationships and how important that is, because you know, Phil, as a negotiator that negotiation and conflict are just ... they're a testing mechanism for relationships. In the end, if we have been steering those relationships effectively and openly and with trust, we reduce the probability that we're going to get into a conflict that we can't get out of.

Phil Kowalski:
Uh-huh (affirmative). I really like that you say this because it shows to a certain extent from my point of view that the underlying concepts under this framework and under the idea of asking the right questions is, yeah, it seems to be hard wired. Doesn't matter is if nations are dealing with each other or companies or maybe parents with their kids, they seem to be hard wired in our human brain. What I really like about your approach in making this available through your publication and through your work is, maybe also in comparison with some other publications that I've recently reviewed namely, for example, Negotiating The Impossible from Deepak Malhotra, that sounded a little bit like a theoretical approach and having you here also on this podcast and your work then hopefully in a lot of hands in our audience shows guys here is a little bit more practical approach out of real life.

Phil Kowalski:
Looking at the approach, and maybe this is one of the last questions I'd like to ask, assuming I have read through your book or I have understood your approach, what is the first step that I can take to start applying your approach. As a company that you just mentioned started applying your approach, in my life, no matter if business a private tomorrow.

Alex Carter:
Okay, great, great question. I'm going to give you and your listeners one tip now. This is a tip that once I started implementing it in my life really produced profound effects, and it's the one that that company told me was producing the greatest benefits for them, and here it is.

Alex Carter:
After you ask a great question, you need to do what I call landing the plane. What does land the plane mean? It means that you ask your great question and then you close your mouth. That's it. I'm sure you've seen this, Phil, before where people will say, "Phil, what do you need today to close this deal? Would $10,000 do it?" Or they fill the silence with something that is unhelpful. You've taken a great question and you've wrecked it by putting a bunch of words on the end. Right?

Phil Kowalski:
Absolutely.

Alex Carter:
Right? Okay, the laugh of recognition on your end, because you've seen people do this over and over again. Honestly, if I could give people one tip it's to land the plane and allow the silence. I teach, Phil, all the time about silence and how important it is for negotiation and for relationships, and yet three weeks ago, it was brought home to me again because I lost my voice. For almost a week, I had to sit in silence with people where I normally would talk and I was amazed over and over again at how much more I learned when I was not talking.

Alex Carter:
If I could leave your readers with one tip here today, and this is part of, yes, a very practical approach I took in this book, I want you to imagine that I'm sitting alongside you, helping you troubleshoot and I'm here today to tell you to land the plane. Ask your question and have the courage to wait for the answer.

Phil Kowalski:
Perfect. I really liked it so much because I absolutely can underline your statement. Silence is so important in so many tactics. Yes, it feels awkward maybe at the beginning, but the opportunities that you open are so, so, so many. As you said, you land the plane and it's really amazing that you ... To the audience, we have not aligned on this topic before. Obviously, we have a similar view here, so I really like this. Alex, thank you very much for your openness and for your very insightful responses to my questions. Looking at the book, "Ask For More", where can we get it?

Alex Carter:
Sure. You can get it anywhere books are sold. I have a number of links on my website, which is AlexCarterAsks.com. You can pre-order on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books A Million. Also encourage you, I have a wonderful local bookstore in my town, always loved to support local bookstores. For those who are looking to stay in touch and continue to receive negotiation tips, I have an email community where every so often I'm sending people only the best latest research and some of those practical tips from negotiations that I've been coaching with that week.

Phil Kowalski:
Guys, ladies and gentlemen, please sign up to the email newsletter and make sure that you get your hands on this book. I definitely will. Yeah, I'm really happy. I'm linking to Alex's site and to the usual suspects to get books, sorry to say, over at ProcurementZen.com in the show notes for this episode. Alex, thank you very much for coming to the show and for spending time with me and my audience, I really enjoyed it. It was really interesting and, again, everybody make sure you get "Ask For More" from Alex Carter. Visit her website, sign-up to her newsletter. Yeah, thank you very much.

Alex Carter:
Thank you so much, Phil. I really enjoyed this conversation, it was a pleasure.

Phil Kowalski:
Great. It was a pleasure for me too, and that's it. That was very interesting conversation with Alex. Make sure you get the essentials over at ProcurementZen.com/026. That's 026 for Episode 26. Also make sure to subscribe, so you don't miss out closed better deals and ultimately advance your career. Talk to you soon and always happy negotiations, yours truly, Phil. Bye.

Speaker 1:
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Procurement Zen with Phil Kowalski. For more great content and to stay up-to-date, visit ProcurementZen.com. If you enjoyed today's episode, please review and subscribe and we'll catch you next time on Procurement Zen.

Episode Highlights

  • Why did Alex write her book Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything?
  • Why does she believe that questions are tools that are often neglected? 
  • Understanding what you want as an outcome is part of the knowledge needed for negotiation preparation. 
  • Take negotiation one step at a time instead of focusing on rigid choices. 
  • What are the pros and cons in negotiation? 
  • People falsely assume that procurement is easy and ‘everybody could do this.’ 
  • Being open and clear up front is important in negotiations
  • How can we get better at preparation? 
  • Body language tells you a lot
  • Do approaches to negotiate change when you get to higher professional levels?  
  • Organizations are just large groups of people
  • Steering relationships need to happen effectively and honestly 
  • Silence is important for both negotiation and relationship building

Key Points

  1. The best negotiators know that their great source of strength in negotiation is knowledge of yourself and the other person
  2. The first 5 of the 10 questions in Alexandra Carter’s book are ‘mirror questions,’ questions that you ask yourself
  3. Transparency is the better way to negotiate

Resources

Phil Kowalski

I am passionate about helping others to achieve more in their negotiations. I love to prep, design and execute successful negotiations. With more than 15 yrs procurement experience I sometimes feel like the Obiwan Kenobi behind this blog and my podcast.

>