How to get the truth out of someone?

Without psychic power

Asking people to tell you the truth will simply not cut it.  Human beings are wired for survival. And now that we do not risk to be eaten by a wild animal with teeth longer than my arm, survival has a different meaning. That meaning really depends on people’s situation.  For some people, modern-day survival means to get that new job, or to go out with that gorgeous looking person or really to pass an exam.  As a result, people may try to deceive you to get what they want, “survive”.

How do you get the truth then?  There is a lot of info on how to spot a lie e.g. Discrepancies between what they say and their body language, avoiding eye contact, rolling their eyes towards the upper left, and the list goes on. Helpful, but not enough.  Because anyone who wants to “survive” bad enough will make sure that all these things are coherent. 

What I am offering with this blog post is simple but will set you apart from the masses.  How to make people tell you the truth.

Recently I had a series of conversation with important people.  My objective was to show them how amazing I am.  My recipe for success was 50% motivation, 50% preparation.  Let’s zoom on the 50% prep.  When I prep for this type of interaction I get to know everything I can on the people I will meet. We are talking Google searches, Linkedin, social media but also talking to people who know the people I want to impress. Getting examples of how they are.  In that type of set up, 99% of the time I do great.  And most people will with enough motivation and preparation will.  Because the messages can be tested, rehearsed, and delivered flawlessly.

What if you want to go beyond my carefully crafted messages?  What do you do?  Create an element of surprise that will destabilize me.  People, when under pressure, typically revert to what they know best. It is like they are on autopilot.  I am no exception.  I had 2 days of conversations with these important people.  Meeting them in their offices, over lunch, or at a coffee bar.  Except for 1 interaction that did not happen as expected.  Instead, it happened on a train on the way back to the hotel I stayed.  So a casual place.  The conversation started very casually.  I thought to myself, this is a get to know each other on the personal level kind of meeting, especially considering that we had met previously.  I relax, let the conversation flow on its own.  That was great until the conversation suddenly switched to intense professional questions.  That’s when she destabilized me. The professional questions kept flowing, the tone of the discussion was different.  It went from an easy layup to Lebron James came back from nowhere to block me.  Unfiltered answers came pouring out of my mouth.  It was messy, not structured. Definitely not my best self.

Mission accomplished for her, mission failed for me. Or did I really fail? Clearly, I was set up. A smart set up.  What was she expecting? probably authenticity, some level of vulnerability.  And that is what I gave her. Not what I wanted to give her but what she wanted.  So potentially a win in the end for everybody.

Here is the recap on how to get the truth out of someone:

  1. Make them feel comfortable.  chit chat, let them lead the conversation and talk about what they want
  2. Meet them several times first.  The first encounter is usually to break the ice, get to know each other.  People will have their guard up.
  3. Jump right in. No warning shots, ask the toughest question first. Then build on it and dig deep.
  4. Transition back to your charming self.  People may be in shock. It is ok to get the truth out of them, but this is not the end game.  Once you got what you need, make people feel comfortable again

This is manipulation you may think. Yes, it is. Nowadays we can never be too careful with who we trust.

Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

Negotiation lesson from the Pilgrims

Thanksgiving history begs this question: When you have the power, should you take the risk to lose it? says that “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.”  We all know what happens next.

This is a negotiation blog, so let’s look at Thanksgiving history from a negotiation perspective.  Here is a recap of how I would analyze what happened:

  1. Low negotiation power for the Pilgrims.  They arrive in the US exhausted. The trip was much longer than expected.  Food supplies are running low. Winter is brutal.  By Spring, only 50 of the original crew and passengers survived.
  2. High negotiation power for the Native Americans. They know the lay of the land.  They have survived the brutal winters for generations and they have the numbers.
  3. Native Americans have 2 options: Help the Pilgrims to survive or let them die (even kill them).
  4. Native Americans take the high road.  This is truly amazing.  Especially because of a Native American by the name of Squanto.  He was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe.  He had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.  Squanto is the one who leads the help to the Pilgrims because he could speak English.
  5. Pilgrims now have the power. Over time they Pilgrims managed to settle down.  They learned to live in the new environment, their numbers grew, and they got weapons from the West.
  6. Pilgrims take the “low” road. They massacre the very same Native American tribe who helped them survive.

I am oversimplifying the story here. I am sure it was more complex.

Thanksgiving history begs this question: When you have the power, should you take the risk to lose it?

Now let’s transpose this question to another complex power balance situation:  White men vs. minorities.

  1. Low negotiation power for minorities.  Harsher prison sentences, higher rates of being killed by the police, lowest incomes, etc…
  2. High negotiation power for white men.  In a previous post I explain how the majority of the world wealth is concentrated with a handful of people.
  3. White men have several options: Accelerate progress towards equality or slow down progress as much as possible.
  4. High or low road the jury is still out.  Clearly many white men are strong advocates for change – Thank you.  Some are for going backward.  And probably many are in between the two. Hard to blame them. Privileges are nice. The thought of losing them is scary.  From that lense, I understand why some try to rationalize topics such as “all lives matter”.

White middle-class males, you have the right to care about your self-interest.  But remember that you have your blind spot – what you do not know, that you do not know.  So when minorities, and other white men, shed light on your blind spots, pay attention.  Or at least, do not try to make these people the villains.

Let’s come back to what to do when you are in a low power position.  Do you want to go out there gun blazing? or should you build your strength, assess the situation before making your move?  The Pilgrims chose the 2nd option and pushed it way too far.

I want to finish on a hopeful message on this Black Friday.  I wished people focus on finding equilibrium rather than abusing power.  Until then, remember not to start a negotiation that you are unlikely to win. If you are in this situation, buy time until you are “strong” enough to get what you deserve.

Do you speak “trust fund”?

How could you convince people if you do not even speak the same language?

“Sorry I do not speak trust fund”.  I heard this expression while watching the TV series Lethal Weapon –  the series will not win an Oscar but it is entertaining.  One of the character said that sentence to a wealthy kid as a diss.

Recently it clicked with me.  We should all learn to speak “trust fund”, because if you don’t, your chances to get ahead are slim.

  • 1% of the richest people in the world controls about 50% of the world’s wealth.
  • That’s about 85 billionaires.
  • The majority of them are white males.

You need to build rapport in order to influence people.  How could you convince people if you do not even speak the same language? And even if you manage to say a few words in a language they can understand, how are you going to pick up their behavior and their values.  Behavior and values are hard to learn.

In hindsight, I realize that there are profiles that perform better in a corporate setting.  An ex colleague, young white male from private school, once told me that he a senior executive liked him because they were so similar.  Same school, same major, same neighborhood. Let’s be clear.  He is a smart person, well read and a real good guy. He deserves the success he is experimenting.  But his success is accelerated by his behavior and values. He wears Brooks Brothers shirts – I had never heard of that brand ever before!  He is a member of the NY Sport Club – fancy gym that requires a special membership. He goes to Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s vineyard on vacation – Again I had never heard of most of these places, except for Martha’s vineyard because the Obamas go there.

I do not think this has anything to do with racism.  People like people who look like them.  And since so much of the world is controlled by rich white males, white males have an advantage.  It is the same on the flip side.  I am an urban black guy from the French Carribbean, when I meet another black guy from the French Carribbean in the US, we become friends real fast.  We understand each others right away. We bond.

So what can we do? Let’s explore the traits of the rich and why we should care:

  1. The rich are patient.  Especially with people.  They build relationships with other ambitious people.  They master soft skills to help them tread carefully in sensitive situations.  I love this quote from Corley: “You have to know how to act and how to do certain things when you’re around people”.  And this is not about keeping it real! It feels more like sucking up your ego, having people in your network that you would not trust with a 10 foot pole.  Because they can help you get what you deserve.
  2. The rich are positive.  They have a positive outlook on life.  They are the type of people who always say that everything is fine when you ask “how are you doing?”.  Don’t be a Debbie downer around them. It brings negative energy and they do not like it.
  3. The rich surround themselves with success-oriented people.  I once heard that you are the average of the 6 people who are the closest to you.  This is why rich people seek an entourage of other successful people.  I also believe that’s the reason for the expression “fake it until you make it”.  Although I do not recommend to be that extreme, it certainly helps to show your best self.
  4. The rich had strong examples growing up.  Academic achievement, financial discipline, work participation, family loyalty and civic duty are strong values that they recognize.  Even if you did not experience all of these values directly from your family, find examples that will help the rich to relate.  You may have had a strong role model through great leader’s biographies, you may want to give back to your community.

Many urban minorities have different values.  in my case, Although I was lucky to have strong examples growing up, I was far from being frugal.  I was not patient.  I valued speaking my mind and being frank with people.  I was negative – or realistic as I preferred to see myself – always highlighting the flaws in things. And I surrounded myself only with people I liked.

However, I strongly believe that everybody should understand the world in which they are living.  I see too many people being frustrated when they are not getting what they deserve.  At the same time, They are not behaving in the way people with the power, would expect them to.  Except in rare situations, and despite what many people say, hard work does not speak for itself.  You have to convince people of the value of your hard work.  For that you have to speak their language.

5 negotiation geniuses – How to get what you deserve

We are dropping some serious value in that video. Looking at negotiations from various angles thanks to our different backgrounds and experiences.

A communication guru, a commercial lawyer, a psychology expert, a dispute mediator and a cultural differences mogul step into a virtual room.  What happens next? Check out the video:

We are dropping some serious value in that video. Looking at negotiations from various angles thanks to our different backgrounds and experiences.

I could not be prouder. 4 people of color, a crazy red hair woman, all with insane pedigrees.  This is what I live for at, tell negotiation stories to inspire people of color and minorities to get what they deserve.

How to negotiate when you are not there?

There are 2 options fight or flight

As soon as you talk to someone you enter a negotiation.  Even if you do not intend to negotiate with that person, you are.  Depending on the impression you make, you are more or less likely to influence that person.

In this post, I argue that even when you are not at the negotiation table, you are still negotiating.  Weird? Impossible? Consider this example:

  • Devante is a manager at Big Inc. This is the last month of the year at your company. He has worked hard for the past 2 months to create a new strategy for his team to keep up with the competition.
  • With all that great work done, Devante decides to take a few days off for the birthday of his boyfriend.  
  • The first day back in the office, he realizes that his peers have changed the strategy he worked so hard to define over the past 2 months, in just a few days.
  • On top of that, his team is now working on a different set of priorities than the ones he prioritized.
  • Devante can hardly believe it.  What happened during the few days he was away

Now 90% of you should be able to relate to this situation.  For the remaining 10% just wait a few more years and you will experience this or witness someone experiencing it.

That Devante wants it or not, a negotiation happened when he was not there.  The worst in all that is that he does not even know what happened. He was not there!  He now has 2 options:

  1. Demand explanation from the group. Pull all the work he had done, remind everyone that they were on board with the plan, etc… There are endless rationale things Devante could do in its own right.
  2. Conceal his emotions and go with the flow.  Jump on the bandwagon, congratulate the group for reading his mind and progressing in the direction that he wanted all along.  Building on the ideas raised during the meeting.

What do you feel like doing?  I am convinced that the majority of people would follow path #1.  It just makes sense. It is the only fair way to go.  Path #2 is for people without a spine, it is the essence of flipflopping.  People doing that should be ashamed!

What do you think will produce the best result?  I am not talking about what will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.  This is a business.  The best result, in my opinion, is the one where you maintain a chance to push our agenda, make progress and eventually make the biggest impact for Big inc.  I argue, that you are more likely to get that best result by embracing the opinion of your peers for the following reasons:

  • You are in a situation where you do not have all the information.  You are driving blind. Something happened while you were away but you do not know what.  You need to buy time and figure out what happened.  It could be collusion against you, it could be an honest misunderstanding where your peers had your best interest top of mind, or it could be that there was a major announcement while you were away making your strategy obsolete.  Depending on
  • Regardless of if they have colluded together when you were away, the situation remains the same. They are all in agreement on the path forward, the chance of making change their mind, on the spot, is virtually 0.
  • There is a high potential that “exposing” your peers will result in making them defensive and not interested in hearing your thoughts during the remaining of the project.

This is business, this is not personal.  Keep the emotions out. Whatever happens when you are not at the negotiation table is just extra information that you can use later on during another negotiation.

Prep like a scientist to improvise like a maestro

By focusing on the science, you unlock the art

Negotiation is both a science and an art. When people say that, it usually means that they can explain only part of something.  I am no exception.  The artful part of negotiation is something you feel with your guts. You know it is right when you witness it.  What’s different with my perspective? I argue that by focusing on the scientific part of the negotiation, you will unlock the artful part.

Here is my secret sauce.  It has worked for fortune 500 companies, startups, bloggers and my kids. There are 3 parts:

1. Define your objectives, what you need, and what you want


2. Craft your key message, the expected response and your counter


3. Plan your concessions


This is simple, right? But try to remember the last time you had all that information going into a negotiation? Now also think about how confident you would be with all that insight. Exactly. That’s my point! Once you are well prepared, you will become a negotiation maestro! The right words will flow out of your mouth. The beauty of it is that you do not need to prepare for every single plausible scenario – please do not even try.  You need the base cases, to rehearse and trust your instinct.

What got you here, won’t get you there

Why you can not be a 1 trick pony in negotiations

People often ask me why I am a better negotiator than them.  Fair question. I boast that I have 15 years experience in negotiation, trained 1000’s of people and have read everything I can get my hand on. I always answer the same. I tell them confidently that I have a broader range of tools than them or the average Jane.

Let me explain. Let’s take a real estate agent called Emily. If I negotiate a real estate deal against Emily, my chances to outsmart her when buying a house negotiation are very slim.  Emily negotiates 100’s of deals per year, whereas I buy once in a blue moon.  I still would not be taken to the cleaners as my negotiations skills would still be useful. I just would not have the upper hand. Now if Emily and I were to negotiate over a car, I most likely would have the advantage because Emily would probably try to apply the negotiation approach she knows best, the one to buy/sell houses, whereas I could adapt to the situation.  So while every expert is likely to get a good (not great) deal out of me in their respective area of expertise, over 10 different negotiations, I am confident to win.

Why does it matter? Because people that once they have excelled in one area it gives them the right to keep progressing. And they are wrong. They hit a glass ceiling and do not even realize it.  I understood this concept when I read the book by Marshall Goldsmith “what got you here, won’t get you there“. It explains how some flaws that did not matter until now, suddenly are indispensable to keep progressing.  This is why so many managers, never become enterprise leaders. Why great basketball players do not become superstars.  They do not develop the range that is necessary to reach new pinnacles.

How to solve for it?

  1. Understand your situation. If you want to buy a house and you need help get the best deal, get the best realtor on your side. They will do a better job than I would do.  However, build on your general understanding of negotiation to ask your realtor the right questions, and even push him/her to overachieve for you.  That I can help with.
  2. Stretch yourself. Try new things either in the area where you are already an expert or put yourself in different situations to learn something new.  This is a reason why I am so passionate about cultural differences and how it impacts negotiations.  I am convinced that if you want to disarm an American negotiator, negotiating like a Chinese or a Japanese would do the trick.
  3. Get a mentor. I touched on it in last week’s post, but it is worth repeating it again. You do not know, what you do not know.  So ask someone who has already done it. Get as much information as possible and then tailor your approach to your style and preferences.

I am not sure if there is a people of color angle on this topic.  But if there is one, I can not articulate it clearly. Add your thoughts in the comments section, if you believe there is a people of color angle.