You can sense the German precision surrounding Matthias Schranner. He is tall and as a result of being vegetarian and working out, also very fit. As a negotiation expert, he always need to keep his composure — even after a 6-day journey from Munich via Seoul to Shanghai. You cannot see any tiredness in his face.
Ever since Matthias left the police force and founded the Schranner Negotiation Institute 15 years ago, this has been his life. Businesses regardless of industry and individuals regardless of race, gender or position have been seeking Mr. Schranner’s advice on one question: How to become an unbeatable negotiator.
Mr. Schranner attended law school after leaving the German Police force. A former undercover drug enforcement officer, has taught him to be street smart with the ability to think on his feet. “If you only want to prove that you are right, this is not a negotiation. A bank robber threatening hostages with a gun, a middle-aged man standing on the edge of a rooftop threatening to jump, a violent man threatening his neighbor’s life… you cannot tell them to calm down, or that they are wrong”.
Mr. Schranner will always find ways to pull his counterpart back from the emotional edge — usually, 1 minute is enough, maybe even less. “I would talk about their children, they usually have children.” Schranner’s question is usually so specific that his counterpart has to stop and recall a memory — “Hi, do you remember your last words to your kids before you left home?”— It’s more like an invitation than a question for the individual to enter a space where they are more favorable to talk.
Mr. Schranner is very friendly and his colleagues state that they have never witnessed him losing his temper. Others have confirmed his amazing capacity for emotional control, but he does not think so. “Know thyself” — he cites the motto inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. You can only avoid becoming a victim at the negotiating table if you know exactly what your weaknesses are. If you do not know your weaknesses yet, just ask your family and friends. “Especially your kids. They will not disappoint you, simply because they see it every day”, Mr. Schranner recommends with a smile. The only time that you can find signs of resignation on his face is when he talks about his kids. On the first page of his soon to be published book “Negotiations on the Edge (Chinese version)”, you will find the following sentence: “To the best negotiator in the world, My Son Marco.”
Give up the idea of “I’m right, you are wrong”
CEIBS Business Review (CBR): The first book you are publishing in China is called “Negotiations on the Edge”. “On the edge” means that you do not know what to do, that you are totally stuck. Have you been through moments like this in your life?
Matthias Schranner (Schranner): Very often. When a hostage taker points a gun at the hostage’s head and tells you to “get out, or else I’ll shoot!”, I believe everybody’s first reaction would be “oh my god, there is no way out”. But as a professional negotiator, I would quickly run through all the solutions in my head and present my demands. Remember, the most important thing is that you need to create a new playground. This is the only way to find a way out of a deadlock.
CBR: How exactly do you find your way out?
Schranner: The first step is to forget ideas like “I’m right and you’re wrong”. You cannot reach an agreement if you are looking to prove what is right or wrong. You need to work with your negotiating partner to find a solution together.
The second step is to analyze your counterpart’s motives. What is going on in their mind? Why are they acting like this? I would listen closely to find out what kind of person is hidden under the hostage taker’s mask, and try to find what happened before this situation arose.
The third step is to present your demands. If it is possible, think about the alternatives to get your counterpart to come to an agreement with new terms where you are familiar with the rules. The process is use trial and error to see which strategy sticks and and becomes successful.
CBR: Does this apply to business negotiations?
Schranner: Yes, it is exactly the same. I have never told someone who is threatening to commit suicide that they are wrong because they believe they are right. In business negotiations, I never expect nor try to convince my negotiating partner. Finding a solution is my goal.
With a suicidal person, I would tell them to think about their children. What was the last sentence you said to your son before you left the house? If you jump now, what would he think? Would he blame himself for this? At this point, you are already changing the subject. Hostage negotiations are the same. I would say to the hostage taker: “look around you, there are snipers and a SWAT team. They are all on the other side. I am, however, on your side. Let us work this out together”. Make them think that you are on their side, that you are facing the same enemies.
CBR: Hostage negotiation vs business negotiation — what are the similarities and differences?
Schranner: They are all human beings and that’s what makes both situations similar. The difference is that business negotiators are not emotionally invested in the the negotiation and have not reached a critical level yet. Once people have crossed the red line emotionally, everyone’s the same.
Even for the best business leaders, it can be difficult to remain calm under pressure. That is because you cannot analyze the situation until you are in it — by the time you are, you will find yourself completely unprepared.