In NLP there is a way of thinking about information  by it’s level of abstraction. There are various different questions we can ask to take any idea, concept or thing and find out what the higher purpose of it is, or what specific elements contribute to it.

We call this chunking and use chunking up questions to get more global, higher concepts and chunk down to get more details and specificity.

This is useful in all communication as we are able to find out someone’s higher aims or more details about what they are sharing with us.

As an example, if we took an apple, the higher purpose could be food, energy, and higher still, survival.

If we were to get more specific on apple, we could think about specific types of apple, such as granny smiths. Or more specific on the apple itself, thinking about the core, seeds or skin.

We can also chunk sideways on apple to find out what other things are like an apple (so not more details, and not more global.) The question that would elicit the answer to what is like an apple is “what is another example of this?”

In the context of negotiation this chunking model is very useful. There is  clear process that we can follow when a negotiation becomes stuck or stifled.

Ultimately we can assume that the negotiation is occurring because there is some mutual interest – even if this is very global – such as ultimately we both want to work in a happy environment.

The next step is to chunk down and start to get more specific about how the details can be achieved. As soon as a block is hit where the parties cannot reach an agreement, then chunk up one level and then chunk sideways to move them both away from the element that had caused argument or disagreement.

Then you can begin to chunk down and look at the specific details once again.

This is a really helpful technique to use in many different scenarios, particularly in sales. Sales people will often find themselves in a negotiation situation with a potential customer without realising it is a negotiation scenario. Instead they may think it is their job to convince the customer of their point of view.

I recently had a sales person call me who was selling a rather useful service but when I asked him for more details he became quite defensive of the service and started to sound a little argumentative. He kept giving me further details about the features of the service instead of answering the more global questions I wanted answered. As a result I ended up telling him I wouldn’t buy it, not because I thought it was not useful, but because his attitude was not in alignment with my own.

Whenever you have a disagreement with someone this process can be used in conjunction with some useful linguistic techniques. Avoiding the word “but” for example which places more importance to the latter portion of the sentence and use the word “and” instead which balances out both halves of a sentence or argument.

By Gemma Bailey