“How many of you have told a white lie to get the deal done?”
This was the question put to HEC Paris Executive MBA students by Kirk Kinnell, former Head of Hostage Negotiation and Armed Policing in Scotland.
The question sank in as the sheepish looks brimming from the auditorium showcased the group’s finest attempts at poker face.
“I’m sure you all have. But a good negotiator doesn’t need to lie,” said Mr. Kinnell.
The recently retired professional hostage negotiator now works as part of the ADN group was invited to present his masterclass on negotiation to the HEC Paris Executive MBA (EMBA) class as part of the program’s regular line-up of expert guest lecturers.
After 30 years and over 200 situations of hostage taking and crisis management, Mr. Kinnell wants to share the negotiation techniques that he used throughout his career with business-minded professionals as he says it’s exactly the same skillset which can be applied in the two very different scenarios.
“When I found myself using the psychology behind hostage negotiating training at home, I realised that the skill was transferrable from a professional environment to a personal environment. I saw that I could take the skills that have been pressure tested to the extreme circumstances, and apply them in professional setting,” said Mr. Kinnell.
“A good negotiator doesn’t need to lie” – Kirk Kinnell, former Head of Hostage Negotiation and Armed Policing.
HEC Paris Executive MBA candidate Ada Martine Jakobsen attended the masterclass and said negotiation was a skill that she and her peers saw as an essential development point for their professional and personal lives.
“Expectations were high, and the class hunger for actionable takeaways was higher, said Ms. Jakobsen.
“The learnings from the course were actionable, practical, and fun. Kirk is a skilled, captivating, and engaging storyteller. His experiences and contribution to the discourse are unique. Our hope at the start of the day was to become better negotiators, but by doing so, also strengthened our focused listening skills, which is invaluable as global leaders,” said the HEC Paris Executive MBA candidate.
It’s a crucial yet tricky skill to master… if you don’t have the right training that is. Enter Mr. Kinnell, whose passion for what he does permeated the room.
“Of all the things that I’ve done, and I’ve had lots of fun over the years, negotiation was the thing that intrigues me the most,” said the former hostage negotiator.
“Our hope was to become better negotiators, but by doing so, we strengthened our focused listening skills, which is invaluable as global leaders” – Ada Martine Jakobsen, HEC Paris Executive MBA candidate.
So then , how does one actually become a better negotiator? As Ms. Jakobsen asked, “What should I say in a salary negotiation? How do we get this new important client to sign with us? ”
Here are the key takeaways from Kirk Kinnell’s revelatory masterclass for being a successful negotiator in business and beyond.
Be a better listener
Mr. Kinnell shared with the HEC Paris EMBA students that people often think that those who naturally talk a lot are the best negotiators.
“That’s not the skill at all. It’s the opposite: listening,” he said.
“With listening, comes the ability to connect with others, so that you can understand how to fulfil their needs without compromising yours. When you understand other people, you understand yourself better and can find a way to connect. That’s nirvana.”
Ms. Jakobsen found this notion to be particularly compelling.
“Where it got exciting was the introspective part. In negotiations, it is all about understanding the context and the other party, but the problem is we always see the world from our point of view. Practical exercises taught us how to listen actively and increasingly be aware of our blind spots and biases. As Kirk said: “You find the gold in people’s ramblings.”
We learnt how to ask stronger questions, how to listen, how to understand complex and interdependent patterns of incentives and motivations in a relevant business context,” said Ms. Jakobsen.
“In negotiations, it is all about understanding the context and the other party, but the problem is we always see the world from our point of view”
Be authentic & trustworthy – don’t lie
“People will be influenced by trustworthiness.”
We all have multiple versions of ourselves which are appropriate for different situations. Find the version of you that fits the narrative of this negotiation to win trust, but under any circumstances never ever lie. Not only do you risk being caught out and having reputational damage, but you make yourself weaker during negotiations because your reasoning will never be as strong as if it were authentic.
“Hostage negotiators practice before they pick up the phone. They role-play.” – Kirk Kinnell
Find out your opponent’s values
Mr. Kinnell explained how you can sell someone a task through their values. He shared his techniques for listening to people’s words, and finding the values and beliefs behind those statements.
Once you can see you opponent’s point of view, then you can make a reasonable offer, or rebuff an unreasonable one.
Ada Jakobsen summed up this point saying “negotiations are really about understanding the underlying motivations and perceptions of people.”
Motivation to be the best
“If people are trained properly, everyone can be excellent.”
Mr. Kinnell emphasized the importance of wanting to be good at this, because it’s a skill that requires constant practice and refinement.
“It’s like any walk of life, if you are dedicated to improve, you will improve. You do the work. There’s no shortcut,” he added.
No one likes a high-pitched voice
Science has proven that humans find lower pitched voices (in both men and women) more pleasing. If you naturally speak with a high-pitched voice, slow down and focus on trying to speak at a lower octave. It can be done!
Remove decision makers
“The presence of your boss in any negotiation will reduce your power,” said Mr. Kinnell.
Negotiate tactical parameters for your boss before you start the process and find a reason for them not to be in the room.
Make sure you have the power to enter the room you will never have to say ‘I’d better check this with my boss first’.
“The presence of your boss in any negotiation will reduce your power”
Don’t be afraid of conflict
“Conflict just means disagreement. With every conflict comes even more opportunities for agreement.”
If someone comes in to a negotiation with an aggressive tone and lays down a hostile demand or response, don’t match their hostility.
Ms. Jakobsen said that Mr. Kinnell’s background in hostage negotiation was the perfect example for this lesson.
“In hostage negotiations, it’s not always possible to find the classical mutual win. This made Kirk the perfect coach for our class in teaching us about the nuances of negotiation, which is key for the ever-increasing complex and fast-moving business setting,” added Ms. Jakobsen.
Practice, practice, practice
“Hostage negotiators practice before they pick up the phone. They role-play. I anticipate what that person is going to say, so I don’t react badly when I’m in the situation.”