Becoming a Mirror to Relate to Anyone: Negotiate Like Your Life Depends on It - Part 2

From my experience working with people, as well as reflecting on my own behaviors in meetings and negotiations, I find that we very often assume that our counter-parties and colleagues think the same way that we do. This often blinds us in discussions and negotiations, which in turn prevents us from understanding why we're not understood.

Being open-minded when entering discussions is the key to success in forming any relationship in life, and when it comes to negotiations or explaining your ideas to colleagues, it's also crucial. It can be very tough to turn off the voice in our heads. However, being able to do so helps us to remove the blindfold that prevents us from understanding others and that prevents us from being understood by them as well.

In the second chapter, Voss touches on the concepts of mirroring and our tone of voice we use during discussions. Both are crucial when we are trying to be understood and develop rapport. Let's dive further into these concepts together!

Chapter 2: Be a Mirror - How to Quickly Establish Rapport

Voss stresses the importance of arriving at negotiations without any assumptions. Holding a few hypotheses in your head before entering a negotiation is completely fine. We should question any assumptions that we have and be open to all possibilities. We have a saying in English about assumptions that I'll spell out for you. It goes like ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME. I think you can put the puzzle pieces together here ;)

It's very easy to want to go into a situation being bound and determined that we are going to "tell them how it is" and have our way. This mindset is the "I'm not asking you I'm telling you" mindset that is very one sided. Depending on the leverage one side has in the situation this very well may work, but more often than not this will just lead to one side feeling like their voice isn't being heard and will lead to either no deal or a bad deal. Everyone wants to be heard, so make sure you turn on your ears while negotiating.

To Be Heard Is To Be Understood::To Be Understood Is To Feel Safe

In part 1 I discussed how I feel that being a great listener is what makes me able to have great conversations. I will reiterate this point here as Voss is adamant about having a clear mind free of biases when entering a discussion. It is imperative that we aren't just selectively listening. Engaging fully in the conversation by actively listening will help you give your counter-party a feeling of safety. Without establishing this feeling it can be impossible to gain empathy which is the key to successfully negotiating.

How to Determine What They Need vs. What They Want

This can be one of the hairiest and most difficult parts of any discussion you have. All humans are susceptible to saying that we want something but in reality we need something different, perhaps even the polar opposite of what we think we want. So, how do we discern what others really need when they tell us they want something different?

The first step in getting someone to tell us what they want is to make them feel safe. We start by being great listeners which leads them to feeling safe. Speaking slowly and calmly when we speak is key. Once the feeling of safety is established it is easy to get someone to open up to you. At this point they will feel comfortable to tell you what they want.

If the sense of safety isn't established, it's much more likely that someone is willing to play a game of chicken with you (falsely and boldly telling you something they don't truly want in order to get you to react) and that they try to have their way with you. I'm not here to say that this can't happen regardless of how safe someone feels as humans can be unpredictable, but it is much more likely to happen if they don't feel comfortable that you have their best interest in mind.

The trickiest part is the most self explanatory. Once someone tells you what they want, it's up to you to use your own logic to determine what they actually need. For example, a kid tells his parents that he is hungry and he needs ice cream. The parents know that if the kid is hungry, what he really needs is some meat and potatoes. Use your own judgement once you get your counter-party to open up to you.

Talking with Tone: 3 Voices We Can Use

Voss goes into detail about 3 different tones of voice that we can use when we find ourselves in negotiations. Depending on how things are going, we should have all 3 of these in our negotiation toolboxes. Our voices are very powerful, and if used correctly, we can help calm down our counter-parties.

  • Late Night FM Radio DJ Voice - Imagine the smooth talking radio host that is on late at night. It is very calm, tranquil, and reassuring to the listener. Listen to a real life hostage negotiator and member of Voss' Black Swan Group give the real deal example here -

  • Positive Playful Voice - Default voice that you should use. Very laid back and friendly. Having a smile with a friendly voice actually helps you be able to think quicker. This voice allows you to be direct without being offensive.

  • Direct Assertive Voice - This voice signals dominance. It is the easiest to default to when we are emotional and can often lead to us blowing up the negotiation if used incorrectly.

Being the Mirror - How to Gain Empathy and Build Instant Rapport

A technique that Voss introduces in this chapter that I feel is quite possibly the most important takeaway from the entire book is "mirroring."

Mirroring - Repeating the last 3 words or the 3 most important words that your counter-party says when responding to them.

Mirroring can go even further than just repeating the words that our counter-party says. Copying their speech pattern, vocabulary, body language and even their tone of voice can really help us connect with our counter-party and make them feel like we are able to put ourselves in their shoes. Humans are instinctively drawn towards others that we perceive as similar to ourselves. Mirroring is the key to forming a bond and gaining empathy with our counter-party.

Inflection and Reflection: Talking with Tone While Being the Mirror

Now it's time to put mirroring and tone together. Becoming a mirror is something that anyone can do when we make a conscious effort to do so. I challenge you to practice mirroring at least once a day when talking with your family, friends, or coworkers. You don't have to be negotiating to practice it, just repeat the end of what they say to you when you reply and then make your own point or ask your own question following the mirror. This is a great way to form a habit of mirroring.

What about tone, Tone? As always, the focus isn't on our actual words, especially because we aren't even choosing the key words, we are just simply repeating them. Our tone is crucial for effective communication. Our intonation is extremely important and is something we need to be very conscious of. I challenge any non-native speaker to really pay attention to your tone while speaking English. It's so easy to neglect our tone as we are doing our best to just get the correct words out of our mouths, and this is where the disconnect actually happens when speaking to native speakers.

  • Rising Intonation - Signals uncertainty and is ultimately asking a question.

  • Falling Intonation - Is making a statement. When mirroring it is often saying "I hear you/I'm picking up what you're laying down"

Let's look at an example of where tone and mirroring can signal two different things:

Example - You're talking to a friend who is upset about how their partner is treating them.

Friend - "I just don't know what to do, I really feel like he doesn't listen to me any more and it really makes me upset"

You (Rising Intonation) - "It makes you upset..." - You're asking "Does it really make you upset?"


You (Falling Intonation) - "It makes you upset, it's not out of the ordinary.." - You're saying "I understand you."

Try saying these lines with both rising and falling intonation to hear the difference for yourself. If you didn't watch the video in the link that I shared earlier I highly suggest that you go back and watch it through to the end to hear this example done by a professional.

Depending on where we are in the negotiation will dictate which tone we should use. When we need to use a rising intonation to pose our mirror response as a question, try using an inquisitive tone to make it sound like you're asking for help to understand what your counter-party means. Follow this with a pause, which I will discuss in the next section.

Power of the Pause

The last thing in this chapter that Voss suggests we incorporate is a pause after our response. This can be very difficult as pauses and silence can feel awkward, however, this allows for your counter-party to think which is very important. Allowing for a pause after we speak signals confidence. Not feeling that it is necessary to fill gaps of silence with pointless words may sound like common sense but when you pay attention to people talking in stressful situations you will hear plenty of these words.

Step by Step, Day by Day

All of these things combined together are truly an art. Having confidence while speaking and being able to make someone feel safe at the same time usually requires a great amount of experience. Doing this in your non-native language may even seem impossible. Breaking it all down into pieces and being persistent with practicing each of these techniques can ultimately lead you to see that it's in fact possible.

As we move further throughout this series, each new technique will stack on top of the techniques introduced in the previous pieces. This can become overwhelming, but I would like to remind you that Rome wasn't built in a day. Slow and steady wins the race. If I can do it, anyone can, I promise you that!

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