Use time to get better deals in negotiations.
I had a client, we’ll call him Tom (because that’s not his real name). Tom ran a small but popular domestic trade company. And Tom was always busy. Business was good … until one day when Tom came to me, a bundle of nerves, looking for advice. He got caught in a bad dispute and needed out fast.
The other side owed him $70,000 on a final payment for work he delivered months earlier. But they had the nerve to turn around and accuse him of owing them $70,000. To call it a joke would be an understatement. Everyone knew it was a stalling tactic. Tom knew it. The other side knew it. And a judge would know it too, if only Tom could only stand to wait. But Tom had cash flow problems. So, his mind was divided. And he got desperate. Meanwhile, the other side had time to kill and nothing to lose. So over the next few months they toyed with Tom like a cat toys with a mouse.
Guess how Tom reacted? He caved and threw in the towel. Against my advice, he ended up splitting the claim in half. He took a $35,000 cut because he didn’t have the time or the nerves to wait for the other half. Think about that: you have a grown man, who can run a successful company and manage his own affairs …wiling to give away $35,000 of his own money, to someone who basically conned it out of him.
… was it because he was a generous soul?
… because he felt bad for the other side?
… because he thought they had a better claim?
Nope. None of that.
… he wouldn’t want to be mistaken as weak.
… he had a solid legal case.
… he despised the other side.
The real reason he folded early was because he couldn’t afford to play the waiting game, and the other side knew it.
Meanwhile the other side were using time to their advantage. They walked away with $35,000 more than what they started because they could think strategically. Not a bad return on a game of cat and mouse, eh?
Disguised? Appalled? Outraged?
Don’t be. These hustles happen 24/7, in every city on the planet. The really bad and clumsy ones sometimes get exposed. But the truth is these hustles happen so frequently, so naturally and so seamlessly — like big fish eating small fish in the ocean — that they become norms accepted as “the way the world works”.
The moral of the story? Don’t get eaten.
Easier said than done, right? Wrong.
In fact, the solution is remarkably simple.
All you have to do is one thing: you must swear to obey the First Commandment of Negotiation.
And THE FIRST COMMANDMENT is this:
Never seriously negotiate with someone unless/until you have something that they want that you can use to get what you want.
Because you don’t have leverage to negotiate until you have something the other side wants. Your leverage is activated when they want something. If you have what they want, you could have leverage; if not, odds are not.
Now, here’s the hard part: just because you have something the other side wants does not mean that you are ready to negotiate final terms. Most likely you will have to create build up and fan a hunger for your offer before you have the real leverage to broker a decent deal. That requires brainpower, planning and unwavering discipline.
If that all seems too hard and you’d rather not try then you could stop right here … but I must warn you that doing that could mean a worse fate for you, wasting MONTHS, if not YEARS of your life chasing dead-ends, on wild goose chases and pushing half-baked frustrated deals. Or stick with this and you stand to gain real leverage and avoid being just another Tom who gets played.
Still reading? …
Excellent. Now you are ready for the next step: to convert time into a currency that you can use (ie., leveraging time).
Before we dive in, you need to understand what leveraging time means.
Leveraging time means to use time in a negotiation in order to increase the value of your offer, without having to put more money on the table, trade in “special favours” or resort to “dirty tactics”.
Because to “leverage” something does not mean that you have to “offer more”; it means that you can “get more” by powerfully positioning or re-positioning what you already have and what is already there.
Now, to leverage time is a two-step process.
Step One: identify the Three Dimensions of Time in your negotiation.
Step Two: pull the right Time Lever/s at the right time.
STEP ONE: THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF TIME
Before you can use time, you need to know how it operates. You need to know what I call the Three Dimensions of Time. (Don’t think dimensions as in physics or Einstein’s theory of relativity. These are dimensions in terms of human relations, emotions and meanings.)
The Three Dimensions of Time are: the Scale of Time x the Pace of Time x Landmarks of Time.
The Scale of Time
The scale of time can be lumped into two categories:
Time is a measure of value in the background to the negotiations (which we will call MACRO-TIME). Macro-time gives context. Macro-time keeps a track record. Past macro-time reinforces memories and emotional attachments. Future macro-time awakens dreams and desires. Macro-time exposes the currency of value. Macro-time exposes false value and reveals real value.
Time is part of the bargain inside the negotiation (which we will call MICRO-TIME). As the clock counts down, you either have micro-time(it’s your possession), lack it (it’s your need) or have lost it (it’s your liability).
The Pace of Time
Each side to a negotiation has the same units of time: the same minutes, the same hours. But, time will move differently for them depending on what they want out of the negotiation. As Shakespeare put it: time travels at diverse paces for diverse persons.
SLOW MOTION. Life-changing dream-like moments will move in slow motion. Fantastic moments and the moments that are savored and remembered nostalgically.
TIME DRAGS. Feeling out of place or bamboozled will make time drag. If you bamboozle someone with jargon then it could disengage them to the point that time starts to drag.
TIME STOPS. When it’s normal to be super busy, just one hour of doing nothing will feel like an eternity. For most lawyers, to go on vacation means to re-perceive how time moves when units of time are not billable.
TIME MOVES AGAINST OUR WILL. Avoiding heavy consequences will pit time against one’s will. If someone owe money or is due to get in trouble, then they might resist that conclusion or those conversations and try to run against time, but will feel the “pressure” of time chasing them.
And to go back to the example of Tom, the pace of time was in slow motion for him. Because he had cash flow issues, the new debt he was chasing was also tied to the survival of his entire business, which was part of his own personal set of dreams and ideals for his life. So six months chasing this debt was excruciatingly painful for him. Had the debt been $100, the macro-time would have been totally different and he may have even dropped it.
Landmarks of Time
Landmarks of time (or temporal landmarks as its described in the literature) are significant dates that are demarcated from “ordinary” days — they separate a past period of time from the present/future one. And in negotiations these are significant because these days influence how open individuals are to change and resolutions.
… like that new route to work you’ll take “on Monday” … or that diet you’ll start “after New Year’s” … or that dispute you need to settle “before the end of the financial year”.
Turns out there are 86 days in 2020 that are landmark days, that you may want to check out and even use as an another pivot your negotiations.
Further reading: see The Fresh Start Effect: https://faculty.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Dai_Fresh_Start_2014_Mgmt_Sci.pdf
STEP TWO: USE TIME LEVERS
Once you have marked out the Three Dimensions of Time in your negotiation, then you can use the right Time Lever at the right time to increase the value of your offer.
There are 9 Levers of Time. These are:
URGENCY: this is an emergency and cannot wait. If you do not act now, consequences are guaranteed.
IMMINENCE: the bus is leaving the station at 3:00pm sharp. It will not wait for passengers.
MOMENTARY: emphasis on what’s temporary and impermanent. Like a single wave in the ocean. Or a limited edition sale.
REPLAY: the same problem, rehearsed over and over. This is how most disputes play out (often tied in with eternity).
PAUSE: A deliberate suspension of what’s going on to take stock of things. An intermission in the middle of a show. Time spend reflecting on what’s already happened and anticipating what’s about to happen.
BREAK: An (unexpected) interruption. A disruption that relieves tension and changes the bigger picture.
DELAY: Forestalling the conclusion. Reading one chapter tonight and leaving the rest for tomorrow. Adjournments. Roadblocks. Shifting goalposts.
ETERNITY: what goes beyond temporal limits (ab aeterno). This could go on forever. Useful to emphasize a pain point or a selling point that they want to avoid or embrace.
LATER: it’ll happen Later (also foreshadowing). Don’t worry about the numbers we’ll talk about that later. A common move to sneak in “check-out terms”.
You can use these time levers that corresponds to the scale and pace of your negotiations (bearing in mind also landmarks of time).
A word of warning: if you do not use the right Time Lever in the right way at the right time, then you could do irreparable damage in your negotiations.
How? You probably already know that most negotiations can be hit-and-miss until the deal is done. The smallest bumps can cause upset and before you know it the whole deal can be called off in the blink of an eye.
If you want to know exactly how to use Time Levers then you should get your hands on my Time Lever Algorithms which provide step-by-step, easy-as-pie instructions to put it all into practice.