On this episode of AEC Marketing for Principals, hosts Judy Sparks and Katie Cash are joined by Dan Oblinger and Allan Tsang of Oblinger and Tsang to discuss the power of negotiation, associative listening, and the different types of empathy. The duo emphasizes the distinct relationship between marketing and negotiation and why it’s important for a firm internally and externally.
What you’ll learn about in this episode:
Katie Cash: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to today's episode of the AEC Marketing for Principles podcast. This is your host, Katie Cash and today with me, of course, is my partner in strategy, you all know her, it's Judy Sparks. And we are also joined by the dynamic duo That is Dan Oblinger and Allan Tsang. You guys are in for such a treat today and quite entertainment today with this group.
You know, as I sit here today, Dan, I think it was maybe three, maybe four years ago when we first met at that AEC conference and I remember, I was talking with you kind of in the lobby, you gave me your business card and it said hostage negotiator and I think my eyebrow immediately went up and I was like, what in the world is this?
Dan Oblinger: [00:00:39] It was the eyebrow of skepticism. I get it a lot.
Katie Cash: [00:00:44] You have to tell me about this. So, I think you have such a great story. Why don't you tell our audience a little bit about, maybe your day job and then how you got into this consulting for AEC professionals around the art of negotiation, power of listening. Just give a little bit of background for us.
Dan Oblinger: [00:01:00] Well, I never wanted to work with architects, engineers, and construction people. Only because my dad was a general contractor for about 40 years and all my relatives are civil engineers and architects and landscape architects and I was like, I'm not doing any of that. So, I decided I'll do what's the exact opposite of that.
I'll go be a cop. So, I've been in law enforcement for the better part of two decades and wouldn't, you know, it, you can't get away from home. The more you think you're not your dad, you know, or your mom, you ended up being pretty much kind like him. So about 10 years ago, I started consulting with construction and engineering and architecture firms but not anything to do with building things and designing things and doing any of that work. Instead, I helped those folks negotiate better, and listen better, more actively to their clients, to their prospects, which I know that gets you all ladies excited cause that's, there you go, that's marketing, and then also listening to each other. So that's how I left and then I returned to the world of AEC.
And hostage negotiation, I've been doing that for about 11 years and I work for a major metropolitan area, still, active as a negotiator. Now I'm a commander and I have found, and this is strange, but I had also wandered into the business negotiation world, probably looking for something else and I found my wicked step brother, Allan Tsang, and he has taught me to make the transition, to apply all those hostage negotiation principles and experiences and hard lessons learned in a business setting.
And there is, that's a big translation. There's a lot of differences to go with those similar dynamics and so I owe a lot to him and hopefully I've taught him a lot too. Allan?
Allan Tsang: [00:02:43] Oh my gosh. I have a little bit of tears coming down my eye. That was so generous. I was waiting for him to just tear me apart and so I was just like ready. Right. So, to me, my background is, like Dan says, is just general negotiation. So my clients range from startups all the way to four or $5 billion global brands. I've been doing negotiation for 15 years now.
I apprenticed with Jim Camp. He wrote a book called Start with No. It was almost positioned exactly opposite as Getting To Yes, if you haven't noticed that, and so this is what I've been doing for 15 years. Prior to that, I know that your audience, a lot of them in a design, architecture, and engineering, I was actually brought up in the interior design architecture industrial design world left architecture to pursue and start my company.
So, I started a design company, gosh, 25 years ago and then I did some consulting for marketing companies. One of them you guys may or may not have heard of, the Martin Agency. I think that part of the Interpublic group in Richmond.
Katie Cash: [00:03:53] Okay.
Allan Tsang: So that's my background. Anything from IT software, working with the department of defense, all the way to fashion retailers.
The only business I don't help is I don't have a lot of experience, is restaurants.
Katie Cash: Okay. Well very good.
Dan Oblinger: [00:04:13] All the restauranteurs just tuned out. Way to go, Allan.
Allan Tsang: [00:04:18] I patronize them.
Dan Oblinger: [00:04:21] Yeah. We eat their food.
Judy Sparks: [00:04:25] Well, Dan, I have to tell you when I first arrived at that AEC conference and Katie showed me your card and it said hostage negotiator, I think I might've said, well, that explains why all these engineers are here at this marketing event cause they're all here against their will. But the truth is, is that your story that day was so spot on. And I remember you going through like the deadly sins of communications and I'm just wondering three or four years later now, can you repeat those?
Dan Oblinger: [00:04:58] Oh, yeah. Cause
Katie Cash: They’re still applicable.
Judy Sparks: [00:05:04] Good to hear it. Can you maybe run down the list?
Dan Oblinger: [00:05:05] Yeah. So, and by the way, my, my list has changed, but I'll try to remember kind of what it's been, right. There's interrupting. Yes. Yeah. There's one upping. Yeah.
Katie Cash: Yeah.
Dan Oblinger: Okay. There's a listening only long enough to know what you want to say.
Katie Cash: [00:05:28] Know some folks that do that, for sure.
Allan Tsang: [00:05:30] That's all about listening. There's no need to keep going, Dan.
Dan Oblinger: [00:05:33] There's daydreaming.
Judy Sparks: I'm sorry, what did you say? I was distracted.
There's environmental distractions, which is different.
Katie Cash: [00:05:44] Which is really a challenge working from home.
Dan Oblinger: [00:05:44] Since we have an AEC audience, I want to unpack daydreaming just for one second.
Allan Tsang: [00:05:50] I wonder what it’ll be like traveling to Portugal right now?
Dan Oblinger: [00:05:51] Daydreaming is not loving, like the squirrels outside. I think that's what the, I have a lot of engineering executives that I say daydream and they're like, yeah, yeah, we don't do that we’re hyper-focused.
I'm like, no, you guys, what I mean by daydreaming is, I give you one decent idea and you immediately think about implementation and problem solving while I'm explaining the idea and the other three ideas that go with it. And I see it consistently when we consult with engineers and executives in any industry, really, I don't want to blame the engineers.
It's everybody. Is they rushed to implementation. We rush to problem solving. That's exactly, it's like executive level daydreaming instead of listening all the way to the end.
Katie Cash: [00:06:29] I think our industry, just on that one note, they always want to solve the problem. Right. And they think, as they're talking with clients or with prospects, the quicker they can get to that answer, the higher value that they're able to bring and so you're right. I'm married to an engineer. I can be, one sentence into, what I'm looking to do and he's immediately solving it. I'm like, dude, calm down, calm down, let me, let me lay out everything so you see the bigger picture and then help me attack the answer. But they do that. They do.
Dan Oblinger: [00:06:57] I think the one thing that has changed though, Judy, is that you can really simplify the list down to one thing. It all flows out of one thing and this is probably not what you got three years ago, but there's this process called associative listening and it sounds really great. In fact, if Alan and I wrote a book called associative listening, how to power your AEC company, people probably buy it.
It would just be the first book, the first page would say, stop associative listening, it's killing your relationships. And that is, there's this, this thing inside of all of us cause we're all human beings where we look for ourselves in our own environment. And I--so it's not true vanity, by the way, to be walking in a clothing shop and see the three-way mirror, like the tailor’s mirror, and look to see what you look like from both sides in the back.
When you were walking past just like window shopping and you catch yourself in the reflection of a windows store, like a store window, and you look. Like there's this natural inclination to do that. And unfortunately, we do it when we listen. So, if I'm telling my story, all three of you will be examining it through your own lens and experience and you'll look for the elements that remind you of you. And then guess what you're going to do? Interrupt me to share that thing that I reminded you of you, or when I'm done talking, you'll share your own story. That's one upping, right? Or you'll stop listening because you've already decided what you want to say about you.
Like it's all associative listening. And it's really, really dangerous.
Katie Cash: [00:08:26] So what do you have to say for those business developers out there that really try to listen and they do that associative listening because they're trying to find common ground.
Dan Oblinger: [00:08:37] They’ve been trained to do that.
Katie Cash: [00:08:38] Yeah. So how do you untrain them to do that?
Dan Oblinger: [00:08:39] Allan, do they, or do they not, sales trainers, often teach rapport as find something that you have in common and make it all about that?
Allan Tsang: [00:08:52] All the time. I think it's getting less now because a lot of sales trainers I work with I have realized that is rather shallow in rapport when they come in they go, oh, I see some pictures in there. Oh, I see. So, your kids play softball. My kids play softball too, right? It's a very shallow connection and is the type of associative listening observation that Dan is talking about.
It's really hard to get out of that because by the very nature of being engineers and architects, they are professional problem solvers, right? They're not like at the side of the street, holding the stop sign, flipping to the slow and stop, right? They're solving problems. So, when you tell them that problem, they are trained to think on their feet.
They're trained to display intelligence because that's one of the ways to get validated, to be listened, to have credibility. It’s very important, reputation, credibility. So, the ability to solve problems on the fly, to show how fast you can think on your feet, to answer the question before they answer it, to design something they didn't even know they were asking for, that is, that is key, right?
So, they’re trained that way but a lot of times it comes back and it's, it's counterproductive.
Judy Sparks: [00:10:12] So Katie, I've been sitting here patiently listening because this is the first time in an interview on our podcast where I literally am afraid to talk because I don't want to interrupt and I don't want to one-up.
So I’m just going to sit here quietly and, and listen, without association.
Allan Tsang: [00:10:36] Dan has anchored your mindset.
Dan Oblinger: [00:10:38] Now we've primed you. The alternative, though. There's an alternative for you, Judy, though, the alternative is, if you're not listening for yourself, but half the battle is just recognizing that's your preference, that's your tendency naturally. And the best example I give, Allan will talk a lot about like martial arts and sports, but I just like to go to swimming. The natural response to getting thrown into a deep body of water is to drown. The natural response when somebody’s telling like a really intense and personal and like valuable story is to listen for your own story and begin to share it, thinking that that's helpful in terms of building a relationship and problem solving.
When it's not, right? The unnatural response in a drowning opportunity is to swim and it's skilled and it's rehearsed and the more you do it and make it your habit, the worse the waters can be, and you can still succeed and not just survive, you can be Michael Phelps and thrive. Same thing in a storytelling situation.
Active listening is a skilled rehearsed response. You need to learn it from other people in the culture. There's some basic principles you can see in a chart or in a book or on a YouTube video, but, and then you have to get into the water. Right? Active listening is very much like that. And again, survive and thrive.
Judy Sparks: [00:11:52] So as I interrupt you, let's talk a little bit about what people should do. I mean, you have the list of things that you don't do, and they're pretty common sense, you know, don't interrupt people, let them have their day. Don't one-up people, make sure that you're listening intently to, in a sales role, to what your buyer wants to buy, not necessarily what you want to sell. I mean, we teach that all the time. So, when you're in a conversation with somebody and you're a business developer, or you're a seller/doer at a firm, and you're the subject matter expert, what are some tangible things they can do better?
If they're not doing the things you tell them not to do.
Dan Oblinger: [00:12:34] Understanding human decisions helps you be a better listener. I think maybe the highest expression of active listening is within the human performance art of negotiation. So, in a negotiation situation, we're not just listening, we're also listening for opportunities and discovery that will guide this negotiation. It’s very intensive.
And so in that case, instead of associative listening, what I need to be doing is I'm listening for the position of my counterparties, the interests that help them form that position, and a position can be what they want, could be what they don't want. It could be their bias towards us. It could be some decisions they've made about our firm, right.
And then the emotions that really underlie all of it, right? Emotions are the foundation for our decisions. They're the foundation for our value propositions. We decide oftentimes before we think about it, which is challenging for AEC people to hear, because like Allan said, they're very concrete thinkers.
They like to be very rational. And yet, consistently I have to prove to them before we can start working with them all of your decisions are emotional, which is uncomfortable, but neurologically true. And not that you're bad, generally your decisions are great, especially when you're not experiencing negative emotions, but to answer your question, If I'm listening for their position, their interests, the emotions that are present, I'm getting really curious about those things and how they've been formed. Then I'm naturally going to be listening better, not injecting my own position, interests, and emotions, biases you might say.
And I'm going to be really attuned, that's a really important part of this process, to, to those things. So, if I'm attuned to your emotions and your decisions and your positions, I'm going to negotiate really well.
Judy Sparks: [00:14:22] Okay. So now I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit. So let's say, okay. Our client is competing and we get very involved in the pitch and the pursuit and the theme, and we help them with their content and rehearse them for their big interview and they get to the end and they win. And it's time to negotiate the contract. Can you put your negotiation skills to work here and give our listeners advice on using the context of understanding their position and how their audience feels, what advice do you have for our architects and engineers and contractors on how they negotiate their fees, their scope?
You know, our clients don't necessarily love conflict and they're not quick to push back to a client because they are genuinely grateful to have been selected and they don't really want to insult the client, they don't want to risk starting out on a bad foot. So, what are some real professional, easy ways that they can get through that contract negotiation and come out on top?
Katie Cash: [00:15:35] Well remembering too, a lot of times they've been chasing that project for years.
Judy Sparks: Hey Katie, you just interrupted me.
Katie Cash: [00:15:40] I did. I'm sorry.
Dan Oblinger: [00:15:44] We've created monsters, Allan.
Allan Tsang: [00:15:49] Let me answer Judy's question. The one that she just asked. Not the one that’s right before the one she just asked, which is really good about conflict, but I want to talk about interrupt for a second and she brought up a good point. Well, yes, so Dan talked about interrupting and then immediately it framed your mindset and you go, you become super self-conscious, and you go should I interrupt or not interrupt? Right?
Judy Sparks: Right.
Allan Tsang: But that should be, this is not a negotiation, this should be driven by a mission and purpose. Your mission and purpose is not to please Dan and Allan, your mission and purpose, if I'm correct, correct me If I'm wrong, is to make sure that your audience gets value. That your listeners and your subscribers find value in listening to this.
So, if Dan and Allan rambles on, your mission and purpose would guide you to interrupt us. So, there's a time for it, but everything you do, tactically, your behaviors, your action, should be driven by valid mission and purpose. Okay. So back to you.
Dan Oblinger: [00:17:00] So, so with that in mind, now we've got that piece in place because that's probably the most critical piece of the whole thing.
Then it goes to you asked, how do I begin the negotiations once we've won the work? And my question for your audience, I'm going to give it a couple seconds to sink in here. When did this negotiation begin?
Judy Sparks: [00:17:23] Do you want me to answer for them?
Dan Oblinger: [00:17:26] Yes. They had time to think about it now, dramatic pause, when did it begin?
Judy Sparks: [00:17:31] drum roll? Can I get a drum roll? I think it, in my opinion, I would tell my clients that it began the minute you decided to chase the client or chase the work.
Dan Oblinger: [00:17:43] And again that's like the 200 IQ play, right? The negotiation actually began the first time that that potential client encountered your professional reputation, whether directly or indirectly. The first time somebody said, Hey yeah, cash money enterprises, they're the best. They're not the cheapest but they're the best.
Judy Sparks: [00:18:02] And they’re owned by parks industries.
Sorry, I'm interrupting now.
Dan Oblinger: [00:18:09] So, so that's when the negotiation truly began. And I know the marketing hearts are now warmed because marketing then has a role in negotiations because how people see us vision drives decisions and negotiations are really about decisions. They're about us making better decisions by the way, sometimes that is we do not pursue this work.
And I know that just, I just scared some principals out there, but yes, if you're chasing all the work, then I fear for your culture, okay. And sometimes the decision is this is an amazing piece of work for us, it's right inside of our mission and purpose, strategically and corporately speaking, we're going to go after this piece of work, right?
And then when you, so here's the point when you actually win the work and now you're going to start talking about hammering out scope and fee, the finalized version, you're in a much better position and not in terms of leverage, not in terms of power, in terms of discovery and disclosure and knowing what the value propositions really are on the table here, and then crafting your best proposal, that what? Serves your mission, advances your mission, and then accomplishes each purpose.
So that's how we approach negotiations. It's a little different, but I think the biggest thing that people need to realize is negotiations are beginning way sooner than they think and the most dangerous negotiations you're in are the ones you don't realize you're actually negotiating.
Judy Sparks: [00:19:27] Absolutely.
I mean, I think that everything you're saying in the world of marketing surrounds the word “positioning” for me. When we are positioning a client, I speak a lot about how our industry is famous for wanting to differentiate on the basis of technical preeminence, but it's hard to convince a client that your engineer is smarter than your competitor's engineer or your architect is more creative than your competitor’s architects. So, I often feel that your negotiation skills may shift or your, I should say negotiation strategy should shift depending on your position in the chase. So, if you're the incumbent and you're, you already have the contract and you're fighting to keep the contract, your negotiation during your pitch, I believe needs to communicate what is the risk associated with not staying with the incumbent? And if you're the challenger, you're negotiation within your pitch or your position should be, you know, what the risk is to stay with the incumbent and not make a change. So we usually start there in terms of positioning. Does that work in concert with your philosophy?
Dan Oblinger: [00:20:48] Central issue is what is best? Most negotiation trainers that we observe, who interact with us, tend to favor, I won't even say skills, tactics, techniques. So, perhaps if you would ask them the same question you just asked us, they would have said, well, you need to anchor high.
How do you negotiate the fee after you've won the work? Anchor high. Go to the very top of what you think they can stomach, right? Go higher than what you want and start there and just haggle down. And when you haggle down, you'll be right where you want to be. And that's a tactic, but the oftentimes is it's totally disjointed.
It's not connected in any way to your mission and purpose. It's not connected to actually what Allan and I, this is the goal we always have for our clients, is to build stronger agreements. To make stronger agreements with everybody because that applies internally. It applies externally to existing clients, and it certainly applies to business development.
Because you can build a stronger agreement then you see the tactics may not be the best way and the best way, may be more based upon making stronger connections to all those people, those valuable people internally, externally, potentially. And, and you get them to disclose things by what? By not tricking them, that'd be a tactic. By not threatening them, that'd be a tactic. Not becoming aggressive and putting them in a, a forced choice situation, which is really, if you boil down a lot of what people write about in books about negotiation tactics, it can be boiled down to one of those things that I just said. And instead, you create a sense of safety through discovery, where people can tell you the truth.
You can't build a strong agreement if they're not telling you what's really going on. You're not going to solve the right problem if they don't tell you what the real problem is, and you won't actually do anything for them that they feel good about paying you for, if all you're doing yourself problems and the pain is still there, that all those problems are really causing in their culture or for their organization.
So, those are all the tasks of the negotiators to create that sense of safety so that we can properly craft a mission or purpose and then execute that, Make good decisions, build strong agreements. If you're focused on tactics, it's not likely to succeed people don't like to be tricked. If it's just built on strategy, that's often built on what we want, that won't build a strong agreement either.
If we can get everything we want and they don't feel satisfied, you won't have a strong agreement. So, that kind of brings us to the elephant in the room with it, especially designers and engineers, and that is compromise. And you've mentioned that, you ladies mentioned it a couple of times that sometimes we feel like we need to please the client and there's no one better to talk about compromise than Allan Tsang.
Allan Tsang: [00:23:35] Thanks. Thanks for setting it up for me.
So, I'm going to, I'm going to connect a few dots here. The few dots is about vision, about compromise, about fees and scope, about safety, and messaging and marketing. And so this is something Dan said earlier, but it sometimes gets glossed over because he said it so quickly, right. Vision drives decision.
So, what marketing does is marketing creates a vision for people, that target audience, to see that working with this company will keep me safe. There's a message inside. That's what they're saying, but they don't really say it. They don't verbalize it. Working with this company is going to be safe for us, whether it helps us grow a company, be more profitable, helps us be more reputable by working with this company, the underlying messages is: I feel safe working with them.
So ideally, if the marketing does a great job sending the message out, they'll be able to drive people before they even go into a bidding process. They have already made a decision. I want to work with so-and-so, but now it's up to so-and-so. You killed the deal. I say this a lot. It's very much like interviewing for a job.
By the time someone looks at your resume, you have qualified and now you're meeting with them in an interview. It is for you to lose. You are not qualified. You will not be there. The reason you're meeting there is for them to eliminate you. So, if you look at negotiation, starting when fees and scopes are under discussion, you go into a haggling bargaining mindset, and that's where you start losing because you have missed all the opportunities up to that point to create the vision.
Of why they want to work with you. And if they want to work with you, they will justify the price that they're paying you. If they don't trust you, they'll question all your fees.
Judy Sparks: [00:25:40] That is really well said, Allan, we call that the value proposition in our world. If you don't have one people aren't going to pay for it.
So, and it takes a long time to negotiate, if you will, what your value proposition is and what the worth is. So, I think that that is really sound, sound advice. So, it's interesting you say that at the interview you're there to lose. And it's funny because when we're coaching clients, they often say, oh, we know this person on the selection committee, this is our project to lose and, they usually do because I think anything can happen in an interview. And so much of it is the gut feeling that clients get when interviewing two or more firms that provide the same service. And like I said, trying to differentiate on, oh, we've done a hundred hospitals, ell, we've done 101. We have a dedicated studio that just does this, well, we do too. So technical preeminence is really difficult to differentiate yourself with. And then our industry has been such a one-to-one relationship business for so long that everybody thinks that their relationship with the buyers so much more unique, special, and better than their competitors and then they get heartbroken when they lose it in the interview. And Katie Cash knows a thing or two about being an eliminator, Katie would you agree with what Allan said about when you get that proposal? Going back to your days working for the state government and being the proposal eliminator, would you, when you were in that role, were you looking for reasons to hire or reasons to fire?
Katie Cash: [00:27:20] Reasons to make the stack smaller, reasons to make the pool smaller, reasons just to kind of, make it easier for qualifying those. And so I agree with a lot of what Allan is saying and we hear it, Judy, probably what once a week, when we're coaching a team, oh, it's ours to lose.
You got the wrong mindset right now. So, if we could, I'd like to pivot just a little bit. I think we've talked a lot about negotiating kind of towards the end, going back to what you said a little bit earlier, Dan, Hey, the negotiation piece really starts a lot earlier. And when you look at the broader landscape that is design and construction, I think people often miss just how many different phases of negotiations, firms go through.
When they're thinking about chasing a project, there's negotiating with their partners, there's negotiating internally with their teams, in terms of how they're going to staff it, there's the internal negotiation on. How much am I going to go at risk in terms of going ahead and designing some concepts or going ahead and putting an estimate together?
And so I think those are all different steps that happen during the pursuit of a project. And Dan and Allan, I'd love to get your thoughts on how your curriculum of this negotiation and listening culture kind of applies upstream during that kind of positioning and chase scenario.
Dan Oblinger: [00:28:41] The beautiful thing about negotiation is that it can reduce our risk dramatically. If we always see it as an option, if we always see it as maybe even our first option, and if we get good at it, we build habits in it. And I think that's the other thing. So tactics is fine. I can read a book and be like anchor high.
Yeah. So, I want a million dollars. Right? I can even maybe get a skill and I can emulate people who do it well, but a habit is mine. A habit is resilient and under pressure, the pressure of working with the DOT, right? I will retain that capability if it's a habit, because that's what I default to under stress.
Interesting thing, is all the situations that we've talked about today and everything that you just mentioned, Katie and the question, negotiating with the partners and principals to negotiating with their boss, negotiating with their peers, before we even try to pursue the work and then developing our internal strategy for that piece of work, right.
Discovery and negotiation should be our first option because the first thing we were negotiating with, your first counterparty in any stressful or complex negotiation is yourself. And we've heard it multiple times and that is bias. We've form biases so fast and our emotions get in play so quickly.
And people are like, in engineering? I'm like, especially in engineering. In construction? Well, that's obvious, right? Even in architecture and the reason why, it's like you said, conflict, conflict is an emotional experience. So we have to negotiate with ourselves first. And when we hear things like, well, obviously, or like Judy said, well, we have a relationship with somebody on the selection team.
And like, do you not think at every firm chasing this work thinks they know somebody on the selection team and what if you know the vice president and they know the CEO. Who's going to get the work? And everyone's like, well, we’ll see. I'm like, no, it could be the third company that actually does discovery and finds out what they really want and they walk into that interview and they’re like, look, yeah, we know this project is not about this project. We know it's about this KPI, the KPI, this key performance indicator that you guys are really, it's a pain point for you and we think that we can do this project and add these two things that are not in the original scope that you sent out and do this based on these three projects we've done recently with your competitors.
Guess who's going to get the work? The negotiators, because they did the discovery. They put the time in. So, relationships are important. Never discount them, but it's a bias to think that because they know us, they're going to use us. What if they're not going to use us because they know us? What if they love to golf with you but they would never let you define anything again, after that last fiasco. But the people in BD and these companies, so the, the different models of business development, right? Certainly seller doers, probably universally like the number one, but we do a professional business development people with a lot of firms especially the bigger firms. Some of the firms I work with have a business development department, they're the ones most prone to bias.
Katie Cash: [00:31:38] Yeah, well, and I think what you were kind of calling discovery is a lot of what, Judy and I talk about with our clients and at some of our smarter events that we call competitive intelligence and so you're right. Sometimes the project isn't just about that project, there's a bigger play happening. And so taking the time to fully understand and to listen, to ask them really great questions beyond what seems to be so obvious, kind of breaking down your own biases, as you mentioned, to kind of get that, that bigger picture is really what does set you up to be in the position to negotiate and to be successful.
Judy Sparks: [00:32:09] Isn't it just empathy at the end of the day, Dan? I mean, isn't it, don't you hear that? If you just, if you just say what your buyer wants to hear, isn't that all you have to do is just act empathetic.
Dan Oblinger: [00:32:27] What a loaded question.
Allan, is empathy negotiation? Negotiations. It's all just a empathy? Is that it? We just need to say what people want to hear. Whisper sweet nothings.
Allan Tsang: [00:32:41] Well, first of all, Judy, we have to define which type of empathy we're talking about. There's actually different types. And people confusing the types of empathy is what's going to get them trapped.
So, there's compassionate empathy, there's cognitive empathy, and then there is emotional, emotional empathy. A lot of people confuse emotional empathy or compassionate empathy with cognitive empathy. As negotiators and negotiation coaches, we focus on cognitive empathy. This is the same type of empathy that you want your doctor to have.
You want a doctor to know you're in pain, but you don't want your doctor to break down because you lost an arm and he cannot function and he's crying with you.
Katie Cash: [00:33:37] That's true. I want him to help me work through it, right?
Dan Oblinger: [00:33:40] But also not be a robot who's like, your arm is gone, right?
Allan Tsang: [00:33:45] Correct. You want a doctor that is competent and has good bedside manners.
Judy Sparks: [00:33:51] And you want a doctor who's going to tell you what's your best interest, right? Not necessarily that he might get to do another surgery, but you want a doctor that's going to say you really don't need surgery. You want a surgeon that tells you you don't need surgery. Or someone that really understands, like you said, the mission and the problem and the purpose and are good listeners and can find a solution without being empathetic to the point where, well, I know she doesn't want to go through this so even though that's the best thing for her, I'm going to, you know.
Allan Tsang: [00:34:30] So at this point we're crossing over from empathy to the feeling of trust. And there's a point where that line crosses over and trust is a very dangerous word and it can be used for manipulation purposes and full coercion.
Dan Oblinger: [00:34:48] Just like the empathy.
Allan Tsang: [00:34:50] But trust is a response that we have when we feel the other person has our best interests at heart, to the point where they say, look, you don't need it. You don't need surgery. This is what you need. Just go do some therapy. Do some physical therapy and we don't need to see you anymore
Right? And, and so from there on, he advice they give would seem more trustworthy to you, but there's no guarantees.
Judy Sparks: [00:35:23] So let's put this into practice. We often hear owners criticize engineers for over-engineering their building, and maybe they don't become the trusted advisor they want to be because they over-engineered the building, whereas maybe a different engineering firm might come in and tell that owner, you could do that, but you don't have to, and you maybe could look at this solution that's going to have a lower life cycle cost for you in the long run.
Dan Oblinger: [00:35:53] Owners are like patients. They want the same thing by the way, at the heart of all of this, is that piece of competence. You could be the most empathetic and most trustworthy person in the world, but If you can't, if your firm can't technically design things, you won't be long in the marketplace so you have to have that down. Nobody wants a doctor who's got the best bedside manner in the world, but then you're like, Hey, can I take ibuprofen and they’re like, what's ibuprofen? Nobody wants that. So we have to have that as the foundation. But here's the thing, the commonality, is this, we want the technical experts who still respect our consent as the amateur who's putting the money on the table.
And so, the better we can balance those two things, knowing exactly what should be done, but taking the time to diagnose like a good doctor as this potential trusted advisor is critical and then laying the options out, right, and getting consent to respect people. And not say, look, what you need to do is this and push them for that solution that oftentimes, by the way, it may not be selected because it serves us the best and gives us the best monetary advantage but it's just that our whole culture is built around delivering that Cadillac solution and we can't even think of the Kia. Sorry, Kia. I love your cars. But yeah, respecting consent is so important. Guess who's really good at that Really good negotiators know that consent is the key ingredient to a strong agreement.
Judy Sparks: [00:37:25] Okay. I want to, I want one more area to be covered if you don't mind. It's such a tight labor market and everybody is trying to recruit the best and brightest talent.
So, we're talking about, convincing architect, engineer, or builder to come work for your company instead of your competitors. Do you have some advice for our listeners, how they can take your negotiation strategies and put them into play, to win the best talent and better, and even more important, keep them?
Dan Oblinger: [00:38:00] Just replay your podcast. Just go back to the beginning and replay it and take out everything about selling and business development and put in talent management, recruitment, and, and screening. It's all the same, Allan. Allan's going to break it down for you.
Allan Tsang: [00:38:13] I actually had a client contact me last night and more often than not, from negotiating deals to very soon building cultures, Allan, you need to help us, you need to get involved with our recruiters and go through the whole process on how can we attract the best talent to how do we retain our key employees? Some of my clients that are in the IT world, I would argue is much more difficult to attract these days if you are not Facebook, Google, or Microsoft or Apple, right?
Why? Because now everyone can work remotely. So, how do you sell that, Hey, I'm in Washington, DC or I'm in Portland, Oregon, or I'm in Southwest Virginia where the living standard is amazing. You can live in a national forest and be surrounded by XYZ, whatever you can picture is ideal. And now Facebook, Google says, we will pay you what we pay our engineers here in the bay area or in Seattle. You can live in Phuket, Thailand at a fraction of the cost. How does a small, medium sized company compete with that? How do you retain and attract talent? And it comes down to one thing, right? And we all know what that word is, but what does it mean? Culture.
But what does culture mean? Is it table tennis and pool and eating unlimited bagels and soft drinks? You don't have that anymore.
Dan Oblinger: [00:39:50] And a beer keg on Fridays .
Allan Tsang: [00:39:53] That is not attractive anymore. People, people say, well, I want to be where I want to be and I don't even need to be with a team. I just want to be with my family, do my job, and get it done.
So, so what kind of culture are you creating? And it comes back to this. What is culture, but traditions, language, problem solving, conflict, resolution, collaboration, communication, and these are the things, these are the components of what a culture is made out of. Right. Negotiation is a huge part of that. One of the things that Dan and I do is when we go to an organization, we help them create a unified language on how they resolve internal conflicts, how to collaborate with each other well, and this now ties into the previous conversation you all talked about, which is how do we work with internal team? How do we get—so negotiation is two parts, we know we're in a negotiation the minute I have to make a decision and then I have to, at the same time, influence the decision of my counterparty in a negotiation at that point. And in business, we have to create the internal reality and then get the message out. The marketing department has to tell the world, we have a great culture, but before you do that, you have to create that culture.
You cannot tell people we have a great culture, and then they discover you have a crappy culture
Katie Cash: [00:41:22] Or one, not at all, you know, nonexistent.
Allan Tsang: [00:41:25] It's like herding cats, everybody from different cultures or different organizations come in and everyone is trying to force the people around them and influence them to have their culture.
So, the company is disjointed is basically dysfunctional at this point. A dysfunctional or schizophrenic culture. That's what I see often, r ight. So I, the recruiters tell people, our organization is very team oriented. We respect people. It's about teamwork. It's about excellence. And then they go, when I came in, it was none of that.
It was exactly none of that. And then guess what they said, they feel betrayed. They go, I got lied to. So that's what Dan said earlier. We have to first make a decision and then we have to influence a decision. The internal reality has to be true. There are some people who would buy Kia and some people who will buy Hyundai and they have perfectly good cars, 10 year, a hundred thousand miles warranty who wouldn't go for that, right? But it's not for the person who wants to buy a Mercedes. That's not, that, that's not the brand. Right. And someone who wants to buy a Hyundai may not want to buy a Porsche or a Lamborghini. Maybe they do. I don't know.
Katie Cash: [00:42:44] Everybody wants to drive a Porsche. Come on.
Allan Tsang: [00:42:48] Everyone who drives a Porsche really wants a Ferrari.
Katie Cash: [00:42:55] You guys, Dan, Allan, y'all are great. I mean, I tee-ed you guys up that this was going to be entertaining and fun for our listeners. I think anybody that stuck around with us has thoroughly learned a lot. I mean, we've covered the seven deadly sins, maybe the new one for listening, we've talked about how vision drives decision and how to align around that.
You share some neat insight around the different types of empathy that I learned today. So that was really fun. We've talked about schizophrenic culture. I think that's the first time anybody's ever talked about having any type of schizophrenic tendencies on the show. So that's fun. And we'd love for you guys to, maybe share, few parting words with our guests or with our audience rather, and then let them know how to get in touch with you. What's the best way to kind of, learn more about Oblinger and Tsang, and how to get involved in your negotiation and training, if they want to build a culture like that. So just, you've got a two minute soap box. Tell them last little pieces.
Dan Oblinger: [00:43:54] Could, could we get three minutes and it'll be really great.
Katie Cash: [00:43:57] I mean, you should have negotiated sooner. You waited until the end.
Dan Oblinger: [00:44:01] So you said 30 minutes and by my watch, we're looking at about an hour. So I think we did pretty good. So Katie, what a great opportunity here. And I, I just want to emphasize, this is really key, I want to emphasize that marketing and negotiation go hand in hand. They are distinct. They're both really important and they have to make sense together. Whatever your marketing strategy is and whatever your mission and purpose and negotiating within your company is, they’ve got to make sense.
The only pitch I want to make here, cause we haven't talked about It, and might as well do it in my soapbox time here. Some people, there, there are lots of people who could come in and train your doers to sell. There are a lot of folks who have the title sales trainer, or even sales coach, and they can come in and they can talk about tactics and they could talk about strategies and they could talk about systems and pipelines and maybe there's, maybe that's what you need. I don't know, because you haven’t come and talk to us yet. Ask them this question, cause you can ask Allan and I this question, and in fact, I'm about to ask Allan this question, ask this question of all those people and decide, take a look, see what they, what they're about in terms of this question.
Allan, are you saying that the system that you and I teach can be used for both business development externally, project delivery and client satisfaction externally, working with all of our joint venture partners externally, but also internally, strategy-wise, talent management wise, we don't change anything in terms of mission and purpose and the habits that we need in managing emotions and bias?
Allan Tsang: [00:45:43] The answer is blowing in the wind. No. The answer is exactly what Dan says in his question, covers all of them. It should, good negotiators should be able to build agreements with the partners, with customers, with suppliers, with their team, and with their family.
Dan Oblinger: [00:46:04] What about at the end, when I go home, you're saying I can use this with my family?
Allan Tsang: Why not?
Dan Oblinger: I guess if I want stronger agreements, I can. But what about the, again, ask other people who train salespeople or negotiate, even negotiations, would you use the same tactics and strategems on your wife or your husband or in your children? Would you use aggressive tie-down questions with your wife or your children or your husband?
I mean, if they say yes, that’s how you know. And if they say no, well, how come?
Allan Tsang: [00:46:42] Look let me put it this way, I would never sell my kids or my wife on an idea, but I'll respect them enough to negotiate with them and discover what it is that would drive them to make those decisions and how it would benefit them. And for us together, come to an agreement of what's best for all of us based on a valid mission and purpose. But to answer your question, Katie, my job is to bring it back. It's what is the parting word, parting word for people who are listening to this podcast right now is to know that culture drives everything. Culture comes from the top. If the culture doesn't come from the top, you are at the mercy of every single person that you hire developing and pushing their own agenda.
And that's how you have a schizophrenic culture and you'll have a culture where people no longer trust each other and your clients and customers will sense it. And they immediately reject it when they talk to sales and then talk to engineers and they realize they do not get along they go, I don't trust these guys, they cannot even agree between themselves. Why would I trust them? Why would I work with them when the sales and the engineers can't even agree?
Judy Sparks: [00:48:02] Well guys, I have agreed with everything you've said until now, because we both know that at home, we're from the south, we have a saying, when the wife's not happy, nobody's happy, when the husband's not happy, nobody cares.
So with that, I will say that you all have been awesome today and I could see you coming back because there are so many different ways that we can use negotiation and that concept in every phase of marketing and culture building and recruiting, and I really appreciate y'all's time today.
Dan Oblinger: [00:48:39] And the best way to stay in touch with us, then, is to continue to listen to this podcast and wait for us to come back.
Or you can connect with us on LinkedIn, or you can check the show notes and get in touch with us. And this is what we want to offer anybody that's listening faithfully to Katie and Judy on the AEC marketing podcast for principals, and that is, we'll give you a free 30 minute discovery session. When I say we, I mean my brother will cause his time is free. No I’m just kidding.
We'll just give you a 30 minute discovery call and we should be able to model the behavior that you want, right. We should be able to do good discovery, but all this is, is we're gonna give you a checkup on your culture. Where are you at? Where do you think you want to go? And what do you want to do to get there?
And if you work with us, that's awesome. And if we send you somewhere else, don't be surprised. And if we decide everything's great, then that was 30 minutes well spent.
Katie Cash: [00:49:40] That's awesome. Well, thank you both for being on the show. Thanks to our listeners for hanging in there and talking with the hostage negotiators as we negotiated through today's episode. So everybody take care, be safe. We'll see you next time.