Let Them Make Your Argument for You

You don’t have to fight

The art of letting them have it your way.

“You don’t leave blood on the witness stand.”

That’s what the great instructor of cross-examination skills, Irving Younger, taught young lawyers back in the day. The art of cross-examination is all about asking questions in a way that requires your adversary to make your argument for you. But you don’t want to humiliate him in the process. In negotiation, you not only want to avoid leaving blood on the witness stand, you want to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

On television, lawyers begin cross-examinations with “isn’t it true that . . . . ?” and “isn’t it a fact that . . . . ?” This form of questioning is clearly hostile no matter how kind the examining attorney pretends to be. When a negotiator asks these questions, he does so with the interests of his bargaining partner foremost.

Give Me an Example of That

I was helping a friend prepare for a job negotiation this morning, one where she wanted to convince her prospective employer to hire her for an editorial position as an independent contractor working outside the company office because she’d otherwise have to make a 3-hour daily commute.

I said, “lets role play it” as She Negotiates often does with our clients. Here’s how that went.

Me (playing the job applicant): I’m curious about how the editorial work is progressing with your existing staff. Because you said you were really short handed,?

My friend (playing the HR interviewer): Yes. We’ve got much more work than we can handle.

Applicant: I think you said that your average editor produces one full-page of marketing copy a day.

HR: Yes, that’s fair. When I said “produce” I meant materials ready to be sent to the client.

Applicant: Seems low for an 8-hour day.

HR: It’s true that we haven’t been entirely happy with our output. Management wants to shake things up.

Applicant: I’m asking these questions because I’ve got a fair amount of copy writing experience and I’m pretty sure I’d be able to produce at least twice that number in eight hours.

HR: Well, you do have an impressive background.

Applicant: You said earlier that the firm discourages working off-site.

HR: Right. Frankly, management believes distance working puts employees’ time outside of our control and we really need to be in control of this.

Applicant: Boy, yes, I do appreciate that, especially since you’re so short staffed right now and not tremendously happy with the employees who are present at work eight hours a day.

HR: We’ve disabled all social media programs on everyone’s computers. We believe that’s been a problem.

Applicant: : But you haven’t forbidden them to bring cell phones to work?

HR: Don’t I wish!

Applicant: (laughs)

HR: (sighs)

Applicant: How would you feel about running this by management. The company would give me a contract for a month to demonstrate my ability to out-produce your current staff while working at distance. I’d come into the office for whatever training you give new employees. I’d even give the company a discount for training days if I can get my mileage reimbursed. I’d be available by phone or Skype or Zoom anytime from, say, eight to six, longer than an eight-hour day, which I’d offer as an alternative to the commute that doesn’t do either me or the company any good. During that time, the company can judge the quality and quantity of my work and see how that distance working thing can work for the benefit of both of us.

HR: Well . . . .

Applicant: I know its against company policy and I don’t want you to do something that’s uncomfortable for you but I think this distance work proposal might be good for both of us - reflect well on your management skills, improve bottom line results, and, of course, cut that commute problem out of my day. I believe that will make me much more productive actually.

HR (taking pride in her position with the company): Raising issues with management isn’t a problem for me. I’ve been with the company for ten years. It’s a good family business like I told you in our last interview. Let me run your proposal up the flag pole and see whether they salute.

That’s a Cross-Examination?

That’s an effective non-adversarial strategic set of questions and suggestions designed to get your prospective employer on the same page with you. You walk them through your “argument” by taking them step-by-step through it, encouraging them to co-sign each step on the way. It’s not adversarial. It’s cooperative, with a constant focus on the interests of the employer rather than the needs of the prospective employee.

I’d love to report that my friend is now happily distance working at the hourly rate quoted and producing first class marketing materials. But I just had this conversation with her this morning and am not certain whether she’s going to follow my suggestions. Because it’s scary at worst and challenging at best to use to a job interview to change the terms your prospective employer has said can’t be changed.

But as I said to her on parting, there’s no downside to trying so long as you don’t leave blood on the witness stand.