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Matthias Schranner: When You Meet a Negotiation Partner Like Trump, Forget About “Win-Win”

May 08, 2019


Don’t win against them, win them over.


CEIBS Business Review: Zhou Qi


You can sense the German precision surrounding Matthias Schranner. He is tall and as a result of being vegetarian and working out, also very fit. As a negotiation expert, he always need to keep his composure — even after a 6-day journey from Munich via Seoul to Shanghai. You cannot see any tiredness in his face.


Ever since Matthias left the police force and founded the Schranner Negotiation Institute 15 years ago, this has been his life. Businesses regardless of industry and individuals regardless of race, gender or position have been seeking Mr. Schranner’s advice on one question: How to become an unbeatable negotiator.


Mr. Schranner attended law school after leaving the German Police force. A former undercover drug enforcement officer, has taught him to be street smart with the ability to think on his feet. “If you only want to prove that you are right, this is not a negotiation. A bank robber threatening hostages with a gun, a middle-aged man standing on the edge of a rooftop threatening to jump, a violent man threatening his neighbor’s life… you cannot tell them to calm down, or that they are wrong”.


Mr. Schranner will always find ways to pull his counterpart back from the emotional edge — usually, 1 minute is enough, maybe even less. “I would talk about their children, they usually have children.” Schranner’s question is usually so specific that his counterpart has to stop and recall a memory — “Hi, do you remember your last words to your kids before you left home?”— It’s more like an invitation than a question for the individual to enter a space where they are more favorable to talk.


Mr. Schranner is very friendly and his colleagues state that they have never witnessed him losing his temper. Others have confirmed his amazing capacity for emotional control, but he does not think so. “Know thyself” — he cites the motto inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. You can only avoid becoming a victim at the negotiating table if you know exactly what your weaknesses are. If you do not know your weaknesses yet, just ask your family and friends. “Especially your kids. They will not disappoint you, simply because they see it every day”, Mr. Schranner recommends with a smile. The only time that you can find signs of resignation on his face is when he talks about his kids. On the first page of his soon to be published book “Negotiations on the Edge (Chinese version)”, you will find the following sentence: “To the best negotiator in the world, My Son Marco.”


Give up the idea of “I’m right, you are wrong”


CEIBS Business Review (CBR): The first book you are publishing in China is called “Negotiations on the Edge”. “On the edge” means that you do not know what to do, that you are totally stuck. Have you been through moments like this in your life?


Matthias Schranner (Schranner): Very often. When a hostage taker points a gun at the hostage’s head and tells you to “get out, or else I’ll shoot!”, I believe everybody’s first reaction would be “oh my god, there is no way out”. But as a professional negotiator, I would quickly run through all the solutions in my head and present my demands. Remember, the most important thing is that you need to create a new playground. This is the only way to find a way out of a deadlock.


CBR: How exactly do you find your way out?


Schranner: The first step is to forget ideas like “I’m right and you’re wrong”. You cannot reach an agreement if you are looking to prove what is right or wrong. You need to work with your negotiating partner to find a solution together.


The second step is to analyze your counterpart’s motives. What is going on in their mind? Why are they acting like this? I would listen closely to find out what kind of person is hidden under the hostage taker’s mask, and try to find what happened before this situation arose.


The third step is to present your demands. If it is possible, think about the alternatives to get your counterpart to come to an agreement with new terms where you are familiar with the rules. The process is use trial and error to see which strategy sticks and and becomes successful.


CBR: Does this apply to business negotiations?


Schranner: Yes, it is exactly the same. I have never told someone who is threatening to commit suicide that they are wrong because they believe they are right. In business negotiations, I never expect nor try to convince my negotiating partner. Finding a solution is my goal.


With a suicidal person, I would tell them to think about their children. What was the last sentence you said to your son before you left the house? If you jump now, what would he think? Would he blame himself for this? At this point, you are already changing the subject. Hostage negotiations are the same. I would say to the hostage taker: “look around you, there are snipers and a SWAT team. They are all on the other side. I am, however, on your side. Let us work this out together”. Make them think that you are on their side, that you are facing the same enemies.


CBR: Hostage negotiation vs business negotiation — what are the similarities and differences?


Schranner: They are all human beings and that's what makes both situations similar. The difference is that business negotiators are not emotionally invested in the the negotiation and have not reached a critical level yet. Once people have crossed the red line emotionally, everyone's the same.


Even for the best business leaders, it can be difficult to remain calm under pressure. That is because you cannot analyze the situation until you are in it — by the time you are, you will find yourself completely unprepared.


MS Flipchart bearbeitet


CBR: So, you think most people do not really know themselves, which will result in their negotiations failing? How should we understand this?


Schranner: You need to know exactly who you are whatever the circumstances. The reason is simple: you cannot control yourself if you do not know yourself.


Most people only know their normal selves. They do not know who they are under pressure or extreme circumstances. For example, many people think they are calm. However, in negotiations, the same people would start to go against their negotiating partners when they cannot get what they want. They cross the red line and no longer act rationally, and it then leads into a deadlock. From my experience, calm people no longer care about harmony when they come under pressure.


CBR: Do they realize that?


Schranner: No, they do not because they have not observed themselves under pressure. If I ask you who you are, you would tell me something nice about you when you are not under pressure. So even though people say they are harmony driven, I believe they would choose fight over flight when under pressure.


CBR: Do you believe everyone is like that?


Schranner: Not everyone, of course. Look, you are a “fight” type. Imagine we are negotiating — you would go against me (laughs), yelling, “Matthias, I mean….”


CBR: I mean, is everyone a fighting type under pressure?


Schranner: No, I am not. I am a “flight” type. I have spent a very long time learning how to “fight”. When I am under pressure, I always step back, always. And you are a fighter.


CBR: Oh, all right. And I thought I was the “flight” type.


Schranner: No, no, you are a fighter, definitely! (laughs)

Tips for “fight” or “flight” types




·Stop talking and count to 3

·Find a word to control your emotionse.g., difficult, interesting, I see!

·Keep eye contacts with your counterpart

·Do not compromise

·Do not delay the negotiation

·Do not allow others to make the decision




CBR: How do we get to know ourselves better?


Schranner: Firstly, if you have children, they know every single one of your weaknesses what do you think they have been using every day? I have 4 children who, in my eyes, are all great negotiators. For them, it is just a game and they are good at it. They are not afraid of losing as they can always start over even if they lose.

Secondly, if you have a partner, he/she knows better than anyone else and how to trigger your emotions. Furthermore, reflection is necessary after a tough negotiation. It helps you get to know yourself better. You can only win trust by not avoiding conflicts.


CBR: You are known to reject “win-win”, is that true?


Schranner: I need to clarify that, that is not correct. If both partners show a strong willingness and trust each other, it is possible to achieve win-win. According to my experience, 95% of the negotiations will result in win-win agreements. For the remaining 5%, i.e. when your negotiating partner is emotional or tries to play games, win-win will no longer work.


Trump is a typical example. He does not play by the book. I don’t mean to judge if he is right or wrong; what I mean is that when you meet a partner like this, forget about “win-win”, this is impossible. What you need to do is to switch to conflict mode and tell him “ok let’s play the game now”.


CBR: You do not think conflict is negative?


Schranner: Conflict is great. If there is no conflict, there is no solution. Only if both parties have demands can a negotiation go deeper. The relationship between business partners who have been through it, and resolved the conflict can show a solid relationship. You can take conflicts as the starting point of a relationship.


CBR: How do we calm someone down within one minute?


Schranner: If the person on the other side of the table is very emotional, do not focus on the conflict, talk about common interests instead. “Thank you for being so frank. We are facing the same issue so let us resolve these together.” It works all the time, no matter who they are.


CBR: You once reminded private bankers that their clients, i.e. very rich people, love fighting. Do you think wealthy people’s success has anything to do with them loving to fight?


Schranner: If you analyze the reasons why self-made billionaires succeed, it is among other things because they never avoid conflict. They do not like being flattered at the negotiating table. On the contrary, they want a real fight. You will not gain their trust if you only play nice.


CBR: What about wealthy Chinese people?


Schranner: A lot of Europeans are “afraid” of negotiating with Chinese partners simply because you are naturally so good at it. Chinese people have mastered the essential principles of negotiations. For example, because of the “saving face” culture, Chinese partners never say “no”. Do you remember how Samuel Jackson taught other police officers? — “Don’t you ever say no to me!”.


the negotiator film screencap

When the other party asks, “can you do it?”, Germans will not hesitate to say, “no we cannot”. By the way, Germans are very bad at negotiations. Germans always try to get right to the point from the very beginning. In Germany, signing a contract means closure, and there are no more calls after that. In China that would be impossible and considered to be short-sighted. In the Chinese culture, having dinner, drinking and negotiating are always mixed, there is no clear boundary. Germans would ask “why should I socialize with you? We produce the best cars in the world, why do I need to negotiate?”.


CBR: What should we pay attention to in international negotiations?


Schranner: It is better to give the other side a quick result, as people fly here to bring something back to present to their bosses at home. There is a joke in China that signing a contract is only the start of a negotiation, it is not the end as we usually understand it in the Western world. Another small tip: as Germans are proud of “Made in Germany”, it is always good to compliment them on their products.


CBR: Do you think there are misconceptions about negotiation experts?


Schranner: Many. The police negotiators shown on TV and in movies usually come across as harsh, telling the hostage takers  what to do, etc. On the contrary, the best negotiators are very nice, friendly and humble in real life. They do not like to talk a lot and do not socialize all that much. If you talk to them, you would get the feeling everything is fine. You would be mistaken if you think all negotiators love talking.


Chinese NoE


Negotiations on the Edge Chinese Edition Presale Online



Read the original interview by Zhou Qi in Chinese here.