Get Inside the Other Side's Head

Published: May 25 , 2012
Author: Alan Smith

The psychological profile has been a weapon of war, espionage, diplomacy and negotiation since time began.  Can we get inside the other side's head and use that information to defeat him. Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist, believed that a firm understanding of the other side's mental make up was a prerequisite for victory: "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles".

Modern intelligence services have used "psycho-biographies" to understand hostile leaders in an attempt to gain insight on which direction they might jump in response to internal and/or external pressures they may face.

These at-a-distance profiles in the main come from speeches, writings and media interviews, revealed secrets and of course observed behaviour.

Sometimes these profiles are hideously wrong or are exaggerated to absurdity. A psychological profile of Hitler commissioned in the 2nd World War suggested Hitler had "oedipal tendencies", hysteria, fear of women, impotence, masochism and infinite self-abasement. Indeed it seemed there was little he did not suffer from. This helped to heap even more distain on the Nazi Leader, but had no real value in the war effort.

For the negotiator a clear understanding of the other party - trying to figure out what is driving their needs, priorities, concerns and how they see success - can be a crucial tool to help create a solution that both parties can live with. Some of the work to understand this can be done by talking to others who have had relationships with these people before, from reading about the company they work for and listening to the way they ask for or deliver information.

Many years ago a client refused to pay our contractually agreed cancellation fee when a training event was cancelled by them. "If you send me a cancellation charge then we will never do business again" was the aggressive threat.

After several conversations, including with various members of the buyer's team, it became apparent that previous cancellations for other types of work had been very badly viewed by the internal management. By rewording the cancellation charge into a consultancy and assessment invoice the bill was paid and the client relatively happy.

An understanding of the true picture behind an issue may need a greater degree of understanding as to the motivations of your negotiating counterpart. Take time to see how they see things and it very much could work in your favour.

Alan Smith


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Alan Smith

About the author:

Alan Smith
My background is marketing and advertising. After graduating in Economics I entered the agency world to become, at 28, MD of London's largest independent below-the-line marketing provider.

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