In my last post, I talked about our habits and preferences. How we tend to sit in the same chair both at home, at work or in public places such as meetings, church or seminars. Paying attention to habits and preferences of others can help us put them at ease and build a stronger relationship.  

We can also use this knowledge to our advantage in negotiations, mediations or other business or adversarial relationships.

Looking to disrupt the negotiation process? Watch for people that are wedded to their routines. Then, sit in a different chair, move the meeting to a different room, rearrange the furniture or move the water jug to a new location. If you are really daring, sit in the favorite chair of the person on the other side of the negotiations. This can serve to disrupt their thinking and distract their attention. The other side is put off their game and loses their edge. Negotiations can finally make some headway. Beware, as I have seen this go in another direction. The other side becomes aggressive and hostile and you must be ready for it.

One thing for sure, if they are attached to their routines they will have an emotional reaction to the disruption of their routine. And, as the saying goes, as emotion rises intelligence goes down.  

As a lawyer, I have seen this technique used to great advantage in cross examinations. Get under the skin of the witness by subtly disrupting their routine or habits and watch them lose their focus and “blow” their cover. The truth finally emerges in the moment when their true emotions come to the surface and they are no longer able to cover up.

I have also seen witnesses throw a lawyer off their game by disrupting their routine. It can be as simple as pausing to answer every question from a lawyer who is determined to use a rapid fire question-and-answer method. As another example, I have seen an older witness disrupt the pattern of a younger lawyer who was somewhat “full of himself” by referring to the lawyer as a young fellow. For example: “Well young fellow, I do remember it was a sunny day when I started driving.”  

The essence here is that we all have attachments to the chair we sit in, the habits or routines that get us through the day and the picture we have constructed of ourselves. In dealing with other people we can notice their attachments and use that to both put them at ease and build a stronger relationship or to break down their defenses and façade. The choice is yours.