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Jack Nasher

24.11.2023

Negotiating Life: A Candid Conversation with Jack Nasher

Introduction and Background

Hi, Jack. Can you start by giving us a brief introduction about yourself?

Sure. I am a professor, author, and advisor in the field of negotiation. I have written books like "Convinced! How to Prove Your Competence & Win People Over" and "Deal! Du gibst mir, was ich will", which have appeared around the globe.

Some know me through my annual Forbes “Top 10 World Changing Negotiations” list– the next one being in the works…

I studied and taught at Oxford University and am now teaching for Stanford University and in Basel, Switzerland. But mostly, I train and advise companies all over the world with the NASHER Negotiation Institute, which I founded.

I understand you've written several books. What topics have you covered in your writing?

I am interested in reading and influencing people. Thus, my books were about detecting lies, influence, and – of course – negotiations.

You're known as an expert in negotiations. Can you explain what that entails?

It involves a deep understanding of the principles, strategies, and psychology behind effective deal-making. It's about reading between the lines, understanding the motivations of all parties, creating value through win-win solutions – and then claiming as much it.

I'm like a Sherpa guiding through the treacherous negotiation mountains, armed with a map of strategy, a compass of tactical empathy, and a backpack full of tactics. It's all about helping my clients navigate the complex terrain of agreements and come out on top!

Experience and Personal Insights

Having been both a professor and a seminar teacher, what has surprised or amazed you the most in your journey?

The fact that a 18-year-old bachelor student is often a better negotiator than a seasoned executive with decades of sales or purchasing experience. It is amazing how little skills many negotiators have, costing their companies millions if not billions of dollars per year.

This is particularly surprising as it only takes a few days to learn the methods. How to convince others to get what you want is perhaps the single most important skill you can learn. Don’t waste your potential and do it as quickly as possible!

Looking back, is there anything you wish you'd known earlier in your career?

Ah, the wisdom of hindsight! If I could whisper a nugget of advice to my younger self, it would be to enjoy every step of the process celebrating every progress made.  Yes, there is always another mountain to climb but it is important to be generous not only to others but also to yourself. When I was younger and pictured myself as the adult I am now, I would see a man who arrived at the top and enjoyed his perfect family home mansion by a lake with a Buddha-like smile, sporting a solid six pack. None of it occurred, alas. And I have never met such a divine creature. The journey never ends, so celebrate every step because that’s all you have.

If given a chance, what changes would you make to your teachings?

I am in fact given a chance every day and I never stop working on my trainings. Module 1 is close to perfection after my team and myself have taught it thousands of times. But there is always room for improvement, and it simply never ends.

The magic happens when you can seamlessly translate a seminar into practical skills. People and needs change, so I try to foster an environment that encourages collaboration and diverse perspectives—creating a negotiation think tank where everyone's ideas can flourish.

How do you determine if someone is being dishonest during a negotiation?

Nonverbal cues can be quite telling. Watch for changes in body language, eye contact, or inconsistent gestures. Vocal cues, such as a change in pitch or hesitations, can also be revealing. Of course, it's not foolproof, but paying attention to these subtleties might give you a clue. The single best way to know if someone is bluffing, is the “Bluff Test”: a three-phase questioning technique we use.

Negotiation often combines both structured techniques and psychological understanding. How do you adapt your approach based on the individual and situation?

Some checkpoints need to be thoroughly prepared, such as your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), and your anchor (starting price) along with your “objective” criterion (the support for your anchor).

Other than that, it’s less like a to-do list and more like a map. You sketched out the area and have thought through different scenarios, this changes your whole attitude. But you need to be agile. Like Andy Grove from Intel once said: “Dig into the data, then trust your gut.”

Are negotiation techniques universally applicable across different sectors, or do they vary?

While some negotiation principles are like timeless classics—always in style—there's definitely room for variation. Different sectors, industries, and cultures may call for unique approaches. What works like a charm in a business negotiation might need a remix in, say, diplomatic talks.

In my teachings I cover a versatile toolkit. Because, as the psychologist Abraham Maslow once said:  "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail".

So it’s about having and picking the right tools for the scenario. So, while the basics might be universal, the devil is in the details, and adapting your techniques is the secret sauce for success.

How can one bring these techniques to scale within an organization, particularly in areas like sales, and what are your best practices for onboarding new sales personnel?

Scaling up the negotiation prowess in an organization? Now we're talking big picture! First off, make it a part of the company culture. Train everyone from the top brass to the new recruits. Consistency is key. Develop a set of negotiation best practices tailored to your industry and share the wealth.

It is extremely important that top management visibly supports the endeavor.

For onboarding new sales folks, have them professionally trained. If they don’t know the basics –  from the art of active listening, the power of tactical empathy, to the calculation of a BATNA –  they will leave money on the table. Your money.

Simulation role-playing can be a game-changer, giving them a taste of real-world scenarios. Encourage ongoing learning and feedback, and hey, don't forget to celebrate those negotiation victories—one deal at a time.

Can you discuss the biggest mistakes people commonly make during negotiations?

One common misstep is conceding too much too soon. You give away items you don’t need and have nothing left when you want something from the other party.

Rushing the process is another classic blunder. Patience is a virtue in negotiations.

Speaking of virtues, letting emotions run the show can be dicey. Stay cool, calm, and collected. Dealing with emotions – not avoiding them- is one of our key learnings.

And here's a gem: neglecting preparation. Knowledge is power. Know your stuff before entering the negotiation ring.

Lastly, a failure to communicate clearly can lead to disaster: it’s not only about active listening but also about active speaking. Be crystal clear on your objectives.

How do you continuously elevate your understanding and skills in negotiation?

I keep my knowledge sharp by staying up-to-date on the latest negotiation theories and case studies. I'm always learning from diverse sources—books, articles, and even the occasional podcast. And let's not forget the real-world experience: negotiations I work on with my clients. Mostly we prepare them in the background, but sometimes we actually lead or facilitate the negotiations at the table. And, of course, every conversation is a chance to refine those negotiation skills. It's like a never-ending game of leveling up, and I'm always up for the challenge!

Are there any books or resources you've recently encountered that have particularly intrigued or enlightened you?

Oh, you know me—I'm always on the lookout for some mind-expanding reads! Lately, I've been intrigued by tiny book by the German academic Hartwig Eckert on something he calls “conceded territory”. His idea is that we usually make the mistake of responding to arguments with counter arguments, or objections with counter objections, which leads to distancing us more and more from each other. Instead, we should find something he calls “conceded territory” by building on common ground.

For example, if you want to sell a gym membership and the prospective client tells you that he enjoyed the training but he doesn’t have time for regular workouts, you don’t respond by telling him that he should take the time etc. Instead, you say something along the lines of “I am happy you enjoyed it and took the time to come.”

Now, you build on this common ground and position him with well targeted question leading him to your goal, such as: “What made you come here and work out today?”. Now, he talks about losing weight through working out and you get closer and closer to your goal. It’s a simple and yet effective approach.

So many books, so little time, but hey, I'm not complaining!

How do you recognize the potential in individuals, whether in terms of competence, intelligence, or motivation?

Spotting the gems in the crowd is like having a radar for potential. After all, nobody is self-made and we need to find others to support us, whether it’s a customer, an employer, or an employee.

Look for signs of passion and curiosity—they're often indicators of motivation. Check out their track record—past achievements can be a window into competence. And of course, a keen eye for learning and adapting is a sure sign of intelligence.

But it's not just about the resume. Engage in conversations, see how if they are clear and logical in the way they answer your questions – a main indicator of intelligence. Then see how they approach challenges, and observe their enthusiasm for growth.

It's like assembling a puzzle—you start to see the bigger picture of someone's potential.

Communication styles can vary from empathetic and compassionate to more direct approaches. How do you adapt, learn, and improve your communication?

Adapting the communication dance, my favorite! I learn by observing and adapting to different styles. Some folks appreciate a dash of empathy and a sprinkle of compassion, while others prefer a straight-up, no-nonsense approach. It's like speaking their language.

Feedback is my trusty sidekick. I pay attention to how my communication is received and adjust accordingly. It's a constant evolution—like picking the right key from a bundle on my keychain.

And hey, a touch of humor never hurt anyone; it's the secret spice in the communication recipe! Even if they don’t find it funny, they appreciate the effort.

Trust plays a pivotal role in negotiations. How do you build it, and what are the key factors that make someone trustworthy? Conversely, what actions or traits can erode trust?

Before plane hijackings, flying was incredibly easy, you just drove to the gangway and hopped on. Missing trust called for security checks, which are time consuming. Imagine not trusting supermarkets: you would need to bring a scale and weigh the tomatoes yourself to double check.

Having no trust is costly. So invest in it.

Building it is like constructing a skyscraper—one solid foundation at a time. Consistency is key—do what you say you'll do. Transparency is another gem—share information openly, you are not playing poker. And of course, a dash of reliability goes a long way.

Now, trust-eroding traits? Inconsistency is the villain of the story. If your words don't match your actions, trust takes a hit. Lack of communication or being overly secretive can also throw a wrench in the works. Avoid those, and you're on your way to building a trust fortress!

It’s like Warren Buffet once said: “Trust is like the air we breathe – when it's present, nobody really notices; when it's absent, everybody notices.”

What's your advice on declining a deal or opportunity in a way that maintains rapport and doesn't hurt the other party's feelings, especially if this needs to be done repeatedly over time?

Saying “no” without stepping on toes is a delicate matter. Start by expressing gratitude for the opportunity—positive vibes go a long way. Be honest but tactful about your reasons for declining. Maybe it's a matter of timing or priorities.

But most of the time, you can avoid a “no” and turn it to a “if…then…”. Offer alternatives and suggest ways to turn your ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.  Keep the door open for future opportunities. It's like turning a decline into a graceful sidestep. It’s not about closing doors; it's about finding the right doors to walk through.

In challenging negotiations, how do you create momentum, change perspectives, or leverage limited resources?

Momentum is like a snowball—you start small and build it up. Find common ground early on, something you can both agree on. Change perspectives by reframing the conversation—sometimes a fresh angle can open new doors.

Now, leveraging limited resources is all about creativity. Maybe you can't offer more in quantity, but how about enhancing the quality? Be strategic with what you have. It's like playing chess—you may not have all the pieces, but you can still make some powerful moves. And hey, a sprinkle of charm never hurts—it's the secret sauce in the momentum recipe!

In your view, what's the most important question people don't ask enough when it comes to negotiations?

People often forget to ask, "What's the other party's perspective?" Understanding the why behind their wants and needs is like unlocking a treasure chest of insights. It's not just about what's on the table; it's about the story behind it. So, next time you're in a negotiation, channel your inner detective and dig into that perspective, which doesn’t come easy, especially when you are the competing type. Make it a habit to start the negotiation by simply asking “What’s important for you in this negotiation?” This little question has led to countless wonderful deals.

Is there anything I haven't touched upon that you feel is crucial for our understanding of effective negotiations?

We've covered a lot, but one crucial thing is the power of agility. Every negotiation is a unique beast—being able to flex and flow with the situation is key. Don't be afraid to pivot, try new approaches, and embrace the unexpected. It's like being a negotiation ninja—swift, agile, and always ready for action. So, my friend, keep honing those skills and happy negotiating!

Thank you, Jack!


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