|ARTICLE - March
Understanding How Personalities
The following article is based on Ms. Allison’s presentation
at the ASCnet Conference, which was held in October in Nashville,
RAISE YOUR HAND if you’ve been trained in the art of negotiation.
It’s not a skill taught in school. You learn it in the real world.
Have you ever bought a car? A house? If you’ve ever haggled over the
price of anything, then you’ve negotiated. We do it all the time
even though many of us haven’t been shown how.
Our jobs as
insurance agents require that we negotiate, especially with
underwriters. Negotiate well, and we secure coverage for our
clients and capital for our carriers. Negotiate poorly and you could
lose time, money and customers. The art of negotiation is a critical
skill, to be used not only with your underwriters, but on a regular
basis with others.
Before you broker any deal,
identify and understand your negotiating personality and that of the
person with whom you’ll negotiate. I call one the “director’s” type.
Directors make amazing leaders because they’re go-getters and
goal-oriented. In negotiations, a director’s chief concern is the
bottom line. Directors’ steadfastness can be frustrating to someone
trying to strike a compromise, since they are often slow to deviate
from their original plans.
Next, there’s the “processor”
type. Processors crave precision. They like order, logic, facts and
statistics. They love details. In the workplace, a processor’s
attention to detail can be an asset—a failsafe against potentially
embarrassing and costly errors. In a negotiation, however, other
personalities may regard this obsession with minutiae as a barrier
Another type consists of “communicators.”
They’re the peacekeepers. Communicators become emotionally invested
in negotiations and strive to accommodate all parties involved.
They’re honest, loyal and reliable, unless you cross them. Deceive a
communicator during a negotiation, and you may never regain his or
her trust. Have a communicator on your team, and he or she may
sacrifice your company’s objectives to appease the opposing side.
Finally, there are the interactors. They are the
cheerleaders of the group. They spur on negotiations with their
energy and optimism. “Don’t worry about the details. We can do that,
no problem!,” they rave. Interactors are creative. During
negotiations, they’ll invent solutions to seemingly insurmountable
problems. But be- ware: An interactor’s bright idea may come as a
surprise to fellow teammates, who didn’t know about or agree to the
In negotiations, as in life, some personalities
mesh better than others. Every personality has an opposite
personality, one with contrary traits. A person with your opposing
personality is usually your complementary match in marriage, and
your nemesis in negotiation. Communicators will belabor a
negotiation until all parties are satisfied, while directors want
negotiations to end as quickly as possible. Processors delight in
the details, the very thing their opposite personality, the
So what do you do when your boss is a
director and you are a communicator, or when you are an interactor
and your underwriter is a processor? Throw up your hands? Run away
screaming? No! You adjust your negotiation style.
techniques for working with any personality. With directors, be
succinct. Remember, they despise fluff. Interactors need structure.
Give them deadlines and an agenda. If you are discussing a policy
with an interactor underwriter, for example, create an agenda that
lists the three or four areas of the policy that you’d like to
examine. Discourage deviations from the plan. Do your homework when
working with a processor. Most underwriters are processors. Get the
facts and details on the risk or property from your client before
meeting with a processor underwriter, and negotiation will go more
smoothly. Most insurance agents, on the other hand, are
communicators. We are concerned with taking care of people. When
negotiating with a communicator, slow down, be patient and play
fair. We like to take our time to make sure we’ve brokered the best
deal for our clients, our carriers and ourselves.
established your negotiating personality and that of your
negotiating partner, it’s time to identify who has the power in the
negotiation and what type of power it is. This is an important step.
We’re often intimidated by those we perceive to be more powerful
than ourselves, and intimidation diminishes our ability to
negotiate. By identifying who truly has the power in a negotiation,
we discover that we usually have more of it than we thought.
A negotiator can wield four types of power: legitimate
power, expertise power, information power or situation power.
Legitimate power comes from a title or a position. When you, the
agent, negotiate with an underwriter, who do you believe has the
legitimate power, you or them? You do. Agents often mistakenly
believe that the underwriter, by virtue of his or her title, is in
charge of a policy negotiation. Underwriters have the power to
reject a risk, yes, but remember, they want your business. The
underwriter would rather make a sale than exercise this veto power.
“Knowledge is power,” the father of modern science, Francis
Bacon, once said. And it is—information power. The underwriter may
know more about a policy than the agent, but the agent knows more
about the client and the risk. Don’t withhold information that could
lead to a compromise, but don’t divulge so much information that you
give your information power away. Do your research and share your
findings judiciously to increase your influence over the
Closely related to information power is
expertise power. Expertise power is largely a matter of perception.
To have expertise power, it’s not so important that you know more
than your negotiating adversary, but that you appear to know more.
Experience provides expertise power, but so does confidence in your
abilities. Be confident that you can negotiate a compromise and you
Situation power lies with the person who makes
the decisions. Who has the most situation power depends on the
circumstances. Believe it or not, in most insurance scenarios, the
agent has the most situation power. You would think the power lies
with the customer, who may decide not to purchase a policy, or
worse, cancel an existing one. But wait. The customer is also your
client—a client who defers to your opinion when it comes to
insurance. So in reality, you, the agent, have the situation power.
Let’s recap: Who has the legitimate power? You do. Who has
the information power? You do. Who has the situation power? You do.
Who has the expertise power? You can claim that too. Now let’s
make this power work to your advantage.
reconnaissance and strategizing complete, you are ready to
negotiate. Too often, we think of negotiating as a tennis match. The
agent serves a proposal. The underwriter returns with a rejection.
The agent volleys back with a new consideration. The underwriter
bankhands another refusal. Back and forth, back and forth, until the
underwriter fires off an overhead smash that the agent just can’t
counter. Game. Set. Match. You lose.
Savvy players know,
however, that a successful negotiation isn’t a tennis match, but
rather a three-step process. Step one: Establish your conditions.
Determine what you want out of the negotiation, as well as what your
opponent wants. To do this you’ll need your secret weapons—“why” and
Let’s say you have a client who wants to insure
a cabin with a wood-burning stove. You present the risk to your
underwriter, who responds, “No, our reinsurer won’t allow that.”
Here’s when you brandish your first weapon and ask, “Why won’t your
reinsurer allow that?” Your underwriter will answer. This is when
you unsheathe your second weapon: “What else could we do with this
policy for it to be acceptable to your reinsurer?”
“Why?” and “What else?” you pave the way for step two: Gather
information. Perhaps the reinsurer considers the stove a fire
hazard, or maybe a carbon monoxide risk. Would carbon monoxide
detectors mitigate the danger? What if you put a fire extinguisher
in every room, or covered the kitchen in fire-resistant paint? You
may have to return to the client or a wood-burning stove expert to
learn more about the risk, but this minimal effort will maximize
your chances of getting what you want. Instead of grasping at straws
as you would have in the tennis-match scenario, you will be able to
detect your argument’s weak spots in your opponent’s eyes, and
gather information to strengthen these vulnerable areas.
Finally, you’ve arrived at the fun part. Step three:
Hammering out your compromise. It’s time to make the deal. Most
people believe that step three is the negotiation, but we know
better. A successful negotiation, one that satisfies both parties
and leads to more amicable business dealings, begins long before the
two parties pin down the details and shake hands.
three, however, can be the most daunting—a point of no return. You
either hit the numbers or lose your shirt in step three. To ease you
through this sometimes frightening and stressful step, keep the
following tips in mind. While they apply to negotiations in general,
they easily can be customized to interactions with
underwriters or clients, as well as negotiation scenarios in your
1) When crafting a compromise, don’t narrow
the discussion down to just one issue. Hinging the negotiation on
one issue is like being trapped in a burning high rise with a
rickety fire escape: There’s only one way out, and you don’t want
it. If you get stuck on the wood-burning stove issue, move on to
another. Your chances of success increase with every option you
2) Don’t be the first to name a price. If you name a
price first, you give away information power. Let your opponent name
the price. This way, you are the one with the superior knowledge.
3) Know your bottom line. You can’t get what you want if you
don’t know what it is. Having a limit gives you a negotiation goal.
Staying true to your limit will keep you from paying too much or
accepting too little. Once you know your fellow negotiator’s asking
price, compare this to your bottom line. If the discrepancy is too
great, go elsewhere. Never accept an offer below your bottom line.
4) Walk away from the first offer. Even the most naive
negotiator knows not to reveal the best deal first.
following this tip, I was able to buy a Mercedes Benz and a BMW on
the same day. My husband and I had come to the used car dealership
so he could ogle his dream-mobile, a 1972 Mercedes Benz like the one
Richard Gere drove in “American Gigolo.” While he fawned, I
discovered a BMW 735—with my name on it. My husband caught me eyeing
the BMW and said, “We can’t afford two cars today. That’s $6,000
over our budget.” “Not in negotiation,” I told him.
sat down with the car salesman, I said, “We need $3,000 off the
price of each car to make our budget.” He laughed. We left.
But my business card stayed behind. I’d cordially turned
down the first offer and left my card, thereby keeping the
negotiation open should the salesman change his mind.
husband begged to go back. “Just look at the chrome on that baby!”
he wailed. “Walk! Don’t even look back,” I replied.
didn’t even make it to the highway before the car salesman called
us. “You would take both cars today?,” he asked. “We’d go to the
bank and get the financing in a couple of hours,” I said. Both my
husband and I had our dream-mobiles.
Did I take a gamble?
Sure. The car salesman could’ve turned me down, and I would have
missed an opportunity. But new opportunities come along all the
time. Wait for the one that meets your standards.
reveal deadlines. Salespeople can smell desperation—don’t confirm
its presence! Appear relaxed and confident as you make your deal. If
possible, do your bargaining well in advance of deadlines so you can
be relaxed and confident as you make your deal. Without the worry of
an impending due date clouding your mind, you’ll think more clearly
and make wiser decisions.
6) Develop rapport. Smile. Chat.
Tell a few jokes. In your quest for a contract, don’t forget that
you are negotiating with a person. Your negotiation with this person
could mean the beginning (or end) of a long and mutually beneficial
Follow these negotiation strategies
and tips I’ve given you, and you’ll not only make more money through
your existing business relationships, but also cultivate lucrative
Elaine Allison is an international speaker
and author of “The Velvet Hammer—PowHERful Leadership Lessons for
Women Who Don't Golf.” At the age of 19, she was one of Canada's
first female correctional officers in an all-male prison. Her Web
site is www. elaineallison.com.