Many people use the terms “instinct” and “intuition” interchangeably. Others think of instinct as something we’re born with — a physical trait — and intuition as something more cerebral that develops with experience.
The Latin root of intuition roughly translates as to look inside, or to contemplate. The Latin root of instinct is to incite but is defined as a natural impulse, or a reaction not based on thought. Both instinct and intuition share a certain trait: the absence of analytical, linear thought. Some people call it “trusting your gut.”
The neocortex of the brain is responsible for rational, analytical thought and language. The limbic portion of the brain is responsible for feelings such as trust, but is not connected to the language center of the brain and this is why it’s often so difficult for people to put their feelings into words. Thinking something is wrong is not the same as feeling it is. How often have you heard someone say, “I should have listened to my heart” or “Why didn’t I go with my gut?” after making a poor decision.
Yet the limbic brain, while speechless, is by no means powerless. It drives most human behavior, often behavior that lies in the face of neocortical logic. Your negotiation partner may be saying and doing all the right things, yet instinctively you may feel the person is not being honest with you. The transformative negotiator uses all areas of the brain, integrating the rational with the intuitive to negotiate from a balanced inner space.
Back when I had my own law practice, I was contacted by a businessman who was looking for a lawyer to help his company with a number of matters. I agreed to meet at his office, fully prepared to pitch my firm for the job. I did my homework on him and his company, learning as much as I could from publicly available information, and figured out what legal services he might require.
As soon as I sat down, he started questioning me intensely. We had already agreed, as was my practice, that the first half hour of consultation was free. He asked for a list of clients (good practice) and tried to get answers to specific legal questions, which I was unwilling (and unable) to do without a signed engagement letter. He wanted to know about my billing cycle, if I would negotiate a (lower) hourly rate, and how available I would be to him. He warned that he might need to call me after hours. These queries all seemed reasonable.
I replied clearly and cordially, offering local references and trying to put him at ease. The man was clearly smart and ambitious, and he had a huge book of business to offer — but something didn’t feel right. I started getting an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach, a nagging sensation that connected my belly to my head. It told me, “Walk away.”
He finally paused long enough for me to ask a question.
“How many lawyers has your company worked with in the past?” I blurted out.
This was not a rational question. It wasn’t even a very diplomatic one. It came from my limbic brain struggling to make sense of the feelings I was experiencing.
He hesitated for a moment, then launched into stories about all the lawyers who had let him down, who had been unresponsive, or who had gouged him. He’d had to fire four lawyers. I was to be lawyer number five.
“Frankly,” I said, “I’m not sure I’m the right person for this job.” I know I left a lot of money on the table. But my gut— that is, my limbic brain — told me that this man would be very high maintenance and probably litigious. And I — that is, my neocortex— reasoned that the consequence of having a client with unreasonably high expectations would take its toll on me.
I later discovered that the man had repeatedly sued his prior law firms over billing and made reports to the local bar association of his lawyers’ alleged unethical behavior.
When you’re a transformative negotiator, heeding your intuition is sometimes as important as applying your best logic or reasoning. And sometimes it’s even more important.
Excerpt from The Transformative Negotiator: Changing How We Come to Agreement from the Inside Out. By Michèle Huff, J.D. UNHOOKED BOOKS.