Flirting helps get better negotiating results – apparently (part 2)

Alan! Nice to see you! Must be – what two years? Maybe three? When we did that Glasgow deal together? You’re looking good – have you been working out recently? No? Really, you’ve lost some weight then.  I like your shirt by the way. Very smart.  And – you lucky bu***r – still got your full head of hair. Wish I could say the same!  And how’s the wife? Yes?  Good, and the kids are well, Jessica must be at university now?  And how’s the golf, still playing off single figures? You must come out with us sometime, we have a golf day at Sunningdale every year, really good, you’re much better than me of course but it’s a good laugh, few beers afterwards..”

We described the recent research yesterday that showed women who flirt as part of their negotiation strategy get a better deal than those who don’t. Pure “friendliness” is not enough either. So, does this put women at an advantage in negotiation? Well, not necessarily. I have always, throughout my 25 years in procurement, been surprised that there weren’t more women in senior sales roles, because such a high proportion of the ones I have met were very good.

They possessed qualities such as empathy, persuasiveness, listening skills - and maybe at times there was an element of flirting, although I would stress that can’t make up for someone who is incompetent or unreliable. Some years back, I asked a Sales Director to remove one of the prettiest young woman I’ve ever worked with from our account, because she was, frankly, useless.

But here’s a dirty little secret. Men flirt too. And not just when they’re faced with a woman in a negotiating situation – but we flirt with other men. We don’t call it flirting of course. We call it “bonding” or “building a relationship”. Or “company golf days”.  And it’s not – or at least not usually – homo-erotic in nature. But many of the best negotiators work to build a rapport and a warmth that, as the research we discussed yesterday suggested, needs to go a little beyond the mere “friendliness”.

Who is the young chap third from the left?

So, as per my little monologue above, we pay compliments. We make the flattering comparisons, ask solicitous questions about the family. There’s the “gift giving”, so key in many cultures, even if it is just a round of golf or even a pint of beer.

But just as the flirting research suggests, it can’t descend into appearing weak. That’s why there will often, alongside the flattery and jokiness, be an undercurrent of competition when two men are talking like this in a business situation.

“I’m jealous Peter - you’re still going to the gym twice a week? I wish I could, I’ve had terrible knee problems since I won the Iron Man Triathlon last year, I’m afraid... might have to pull out of my charity stilt walk to the North Pole next month at this rate, but Luke, my six year old, can stand in for me. Did I tell you he’s had trials for Barcelona...”.

So we get the positioning for power and dominance, along with the establishing of rapport and warmth – quite a powerful combination for a negotiator.

But there is an alternative. Certain people I’ve met in my time – Sir Peter Gershon comes to mind, when he ran the Office of Government Commerce - make no effort to establish a relationship in most negotiation type situations, yet are highly effective. Flirting, it is probably fair to say, did not in my experience come naturally to Sir Peter. Yet he has had a stellar career, and will go down in history as (I’m told) one of the few people who “Gordon Brown was scared of”.  (Or at the very least, one of the few who wasn’t scared of Brown).

So there’s always another way of being successful in negotiation, business or life.

But you knew that already of course, I’ve always been amazed at how perceptive you are, you keep up with all the latest business thinking. You read a lot don’t you? I don’t know how you find the time, I wish I could...



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Voices (3)

  1. Stephen Heard:

    Peter, your description of Sir Peter Gershon reminds me of the uncanny knack he has of staying silent at the critical time in any negotiation. He perfected the art of creating a gap that the other side invariably filled with something inappropriate. This usually resulted in them giving away something they didn’t mean too just to fill the silence gap. It was sheer genius and very deliberately no “flirting”. I have, after witnessing this first hand when working with Peter, used this tactic myself in negotiating and it works.

    However Sir Peter is generous in a social environment with a keen sense of humour that is dryer than most including the odd bit of flirting!

    1. life:

      AND he could slice 3% off anything…..

  2. TimBya:

    I think a fair amount of what you are describing in the two articles is classified as NLP – something many sales folks are trained in. Personally I am always wary of sales people (male or female) who take what I consider to be an unhealthy in me and my family holiday! Having said that, sometimes you do bond and that leads to a level of trust which can help a business relationship especially if the going gets tough…..

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