The negotiation technique that enables deep conversations

The negotiation technique that enables deep conversations

The single biggest thing that made me a better friend, partner, colleague, and mentor came from an unexpected place.

Two years ago, I was working through a breakup and rethinking how I approach all relationships. At a conference in Berlin, I happened to participate in a Circling workshop. It's is easy to experience but hard to verbalize. Like... multi-person mindfulness practice on face-to-face conversations?

At the same time, I happened to read Chris Voss's book that described "labeling", a negotiation technique. It initially got me excited because a salary negotiation was coming up, and I soon realized I'd already practiced it at the Berlin workshop.

When I'm in a conversation and say a label I genuinely believe that moment -- like "you seem worried about something" -- I am making an observation, sharing a data point. You cannot argue with this: whether or not you're actually worried, this is what it seems like to me, in my head.

It might seem weak to share something that is not objective, not even falsifiable. Yet, it has a surprisingly strong effect to hear someone's genuine observation without judgment.

It works even if you know about it. Story: I'm at a party and telling a group of friends about all this, when my friend Henri off-handedly says, "you seem really excited about this idea." This adds fuel into the fire and gets me going on even more loudly and excitedly. Finally, after a minute or so, with Henri making faces at me, I realize something is up: he has used what he's just heard on me. This convinced me even more of the power of labeling.

There's a way of stating what you notice about the other person without judgment. It feels authentic to say and refreshing to hear. It moves conversations naturally and makes them twist and turn in interesting ways. It's great.