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Want to make a great first impression? Get authentic!

You only get one chance to make a first impression is great advice to keep in mind. Good negotiators will carefully craft their opening statement to drive conversations forward in their preferred direction of travel. New research now also offers insights about how you can load your first impression even more in your favour by the words that you use.

It’s been well documented that how we say things (emphasis) and the specificity of what we say (signals) can provide great insight when we want to better understand what may or may not be possible when negotiating. Tuning into these nuances can take time but enables us to make a more accurate assessment of the opportunities available to us e.g., very difficult is not a ‘no’, around about suggests flexibility and I can’t suggests perhaps somebody else can.

Part of the danger for somebody who has just received their negotiation training is that in the next meeting where they perceive there may be a conflict, they might jump straight in and start trading when they don’t actually need to (remember, conflict can be with yourself as well). Of course, if we can influence people to see the world from our point of view we can reduce the cost of negotiating, or maybe eliminate it completely.

New research into ‘Verbal Authenticity’ (Authentic First Impressions Relate to Interpersonal, Social, and Entrepreneurial Success by David M. Markowitz, Maryam Kouchaki, Francesca Gino, Jeffrey T. Hancock, and Ryan L. Boyd) suggests that you may well be able to alter a person’s first impressions of you by using more authentic words when you first engage with them.

A series of experiments were conducted by researchers which included person to person conversations, TED Talk presentations, investment pitches and tweets sent. The results suggested the use of certain words generated greater liking, better interpersonal connections, higher impact and greater pitch conversions from the recipient.

The researchers used software which analysed linguistics known as Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). This provided a composite score of language variables against honest, unfiltered and spontaneous speech. The results were categorised into different dimensions or groups. Words which positively loaded the index included self-references (e.g., I), insight words (e.g., aware), differentiation words (e.g., but) and relativity terms (e.g., above). It’s worth noting that some words in dimensions can also have negative loading – results discrepancies from reality (e.g., must) and third-person singular pronouns (e.g., she).

At first glance, when negotiating, it may seem counter intuitive to use ‘I’ when perhaps the natural reaction is to go more with ‘we’. Remember though, this is about first impressions, if it does become clear that there actually is a conflict to resolve this may be the time to move towards a more inclusive set of words (remember, don’t go looking for trouble).

So, I think you should now be aware that trying to drive the conversation is great, but, if you want to go above and beyond transactional trading, think carefully about the actual words you use when you first engage!

Sam Macbeth, 17th May 2022

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