K&R CEO Mladen Kresic Discusses Negotiation Know-it-Alls with Knowledge@Wharton Host Dan Loney (Complete Transcript)

On Friday, May 20 K&R CEO Mladen Kresic joined Knowledge@Wharton (Sirius XM Channel 111) host Dan Loney to talk about how negotiators can keep “know-it-alls” from ruining their next big deal. (Kresic wrote on the subject in his 2016 white paper, “Dealing with Negotiation Know-It-Alls: How to Keep Instructors, Intimidators and Impostors from Derailing Your Deal.”

During this segment, Loney and Kresic discussed the three major types of know-it-all (The Instructor, The Intimidator and The Impostor), the threats they represent to successful negotiations, and strategies negotiators can use to mitigate their negative influence and keep their deal discussions on track.

This content reproduced courtesy of Sirius XM and Knowledge@Wharton.

Mladen Kresic

Mladen Kresic

Dan Loney: Have you ever been part of a negotiation and feel like you’re hitting your head on a brick wall because the person on the other side is the “know-it-all”? It can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with, but there may be some hope. Mladen Kresic returns to the show. He’s the president and Chief Executive Officer of K&R Negotiations. He’s recently published a white paper on the problem and how you can handle the situation — and maybe even make it work for you. Mladen, the author of Negotiate Wisely in Business and Technology, is joining us on the show right now. Great to catch up with you, Mladen. How have you been?

Mladen Kresic: Really, really good, Dan, thanks for having me on again. It’s a real pleasure. And by the way, I chuckled at the song that was really good choice to have on a weekend.

Dan Loney: See? I’m telling you, Dion. My humor’s not all that bad. C’mon, bud, I’m not that all bad. Mladen, let’s get to the heart of this. How frequent do you think this type of a situation happens in a negotiation?

Mladen Kresic: Yeah. In business negotiations, actually, it happens quite often. Remember, in business in particular, people want to look good, they want to appear knowledgeable and often, intentionally or not, will run on and on on a subject that they may or may not have adequate knowledge about. So in a broad sense, it appears quite often.

Dan Loney: You talk about kind of three important pieces to this problem that need to be addressed. First, is that it ends up being a big waste of time.

Mladen Kresic: Yeah. It’s absolutely a waste of time, especially if the subject that somebody’s pontificating about is not pertinent or not key to a particular deal. The other issues with that are that very often it erodes focus, which sows confusion. In fact it can, in some cases, kill the deal or certainly derail the process. And a certain type of know-it-all, we’ll talk about it in a little bit, called the intimidator, tends to erode the benefits, the value and actually pushes the deal to one side or the other in an unnatural way. So those are the kinds of things you want to deal with.

Dan Loney: You also talk about it hampering the, obviously, the credibility because if you’re dealing with somebody that’s running on and maybe not knowing what they’re doing, that can be a little bit of a deal-breaker just because that person is not presenting what needs to be presented.

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, that’s a very good point. Actually, the credibility of both sides is affected, right? If you have a know-it-all on your side and you’re not managing them, obviously your credibility is affected and the flip side is true as well because, like you said, they take the deal into directions that it shouldn’t go in.

Dan Loney: If you’ve been in this situation or you’d like to ask a question, you’re more than welcome to join in right now. The number to give us a call is 844-WHARTON, 844-942-7866. We’re talking about dealing with the know-it-all in terms of a negotiation. Mladen Kresic is our guest. 844-942-7866. There is the fact that, and you brought it up a second ago, is that a lot of times, people will be saying one thing when they have no idea what they’re talking about, correct?

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, unfortunately, that is often the case. What’s interesting is that it’s even more about confidence. Usually people with great confidence have enough confidence to listen, so they won’t pontificate. They know that they have the time to make their point when it’s timely. The person who lacks the confidence or lacks the knowledge often feels like they have to get it out because they might forget it if they don’t get it out, so to speak, and as a result, they need to be dealt with. These are the people that don’t know enough on a subject to be valuable in a particular negotiation. They…

Dan Loney: Of a case, is it that a deal gets thrown out the window altogether because of something like this? Or is it more leaning towards you have to take a step back and you want to deal with somebody else in the corporation to get this done?

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, look. In reality, in most cases, you can deal with it. If the deal is doable, you’ll figure out a way to deal. We’ll talk a little bit more about that, I suspect. But there are cases where if you don’t deal with it, it will crater the deal.

We had a situation not too long ago where we actually prepped with this person in advance. He was an executive for one of our clients. And they walked into the discussion, started talking about why the deal is good for the other side, that it was going to make them more competitive in their industry, and five minutes into the conversation, the guy didn’t take a breath. Once he took a breath, the person on the other side said, “Look, we’re not in it to make us more competitive in our industry, not for this specific deal. We want to get compliant with new government regulations.” This had nothing to do with the subject the guy was talking about; they lost credibility, they lost the deal.

Dan Loney: Mladen Kresic joins us, president and CEO of K&R Negotiations. Your comments are welcome at 844-942-7866. Maybe you have been in this situation, you’d just like to tell the story, we’d love to hear it. 844-942-7866. All right, so you say there are three types of people that really fall into this category: one, the Instructor; two, the Intimidator; and three, the Impostor. Let’s start with the instructor, and kind of give us a breakdown of what this person really is.

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, the Instructor is a person who actually can be very useful. They are usually people who are really knowledgeable and want to share that knowledge, but then in the process of doing so, they get into so much detail they waste valuable time. And as a result, obviously, the deal drags on, resources are used and so on. So that’s the Instructor. The Intimidator is a little bit different. The Intimidator uses knowledge as a weapon. The Intimidator…and we’ve all run across people who are Intimidators, sometimes you see them in a political scene, as well. They can attack your credibility. And if you’re not careful and you’re not confident in your position, the Intimidator will actually erode the value of the deal for you.

And the third is the Impostor, which you mentioned. And the Impostor is the one that we were talking about originally, which is the person who’s trying to make themselves look knowledgeable but in fact, they don’t have the right knowledge for the deal. And it’s interesting, if you actually look on Wikipedia for the definition of a know-it-all, they seem to think that the know-it-all is the person who purports to have expansive comprehension on the topic, when in fact, the comprehension is inaccurate or limited. So they sort of kind of categorize it as that third person, the Impostor. We feel that it’s all three that need to be dealt with as know-it-alls.

Dan Loney: All right, so how do you deal with each one of those types in terms of still trying to get the deal done, obviously trying to get the most out of the deal for your end?

Mladen Kresic: Well, let’s talk about them in sequence. The Instructor…you have to be careful with the Instructor because they are usually a respected person on the other side; very often it may be technical person who is there to actually shape the business outcome of the deal. And you don’t want to contradict them. You don’t want to embarrass them. But because they are detail-oriented — the nature of being an Instructor — you can get them focused on the flow of the deal if you simply agree to an agenda at the beginning of the discussions, maybe the first meeting. That way you can always remind them go back to the agenda, because you’ve agreed to rules for how you’re going to run the deal and how you’re going to deal with it.

And by the way, a lot of times, it may be your perception that somebody’s being too instructive or too detailed on something. You’ve got to check to make sure that is not just your perception, but that the entire group of people that are involved in the deal feel that this person is going on in too much detail, otherwise you may be stopping the flow of information that’s very important.

Dan Loney: Well, and that goes also to the fact that sometimes, and it goes back to your story a little bit, that sometimes it’s better to listen than to talk, right?

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, you know the old saying, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, and you should listen twice as much as you talk,” which one of the things about people who do negotiations for a living or certainly negotiate frequently, most people like that tend to be type triple-A personalities, right? They’re aggressive, they tend to want to speak, and it’s a discipline to slow yourself down so that you actually listen and absorb what is being said, and use that as an avenue to get to the deal.

Dan Loney: 844-942-7866 is the number if you’d like to jump in and ask a question of our guest Mladen Kresic. We’re talking about negotiations and dealing with the know-it-all on the other side of the desk. Or, maybe you’d just like to relay a story of maybe an instance where you had to deal with this and tell us how you got through it. 844-942-7866 is the number to give us a call. Mladen, for people that would like to be able to read the paper and kind of go through it, what’s the best way for them to be able to get a hold of it?

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, good question. Thanks, Dan. We have it posted on negotiators.com, N-E-G-O-T-I-A-T-O-R-S.com, which is our website. And anybody who wants the paper or any of our other white papers can go right on the website and put their name in and get a copy of it, and it’s also been released in parts through our blog, which is available to everybody.

Dan Loney: Okay. And we’ll make sure we give that out once again before you get done. David is in Fairfield, Connecticut. David, welcome to the show.

David: Hey, thanks for taking my call. My question is in regard to negotiation where you’re dealing with a business entity and they usually have a technical person, it might be an IT person or it might be a legal person who just wants to take the conversation down this very technical path that may not have the business’s best concern in mind. In our conversation, we call it “stump-the-chump.” and it’s just somebody who’s there as a subject matter expert but maybe not a business expert, and I was wondering, how our expert deals with those folks in a negotiation.

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, let me make sure I understand the question, Dave. You’re talking about somebody who comes in on a specific subject and then lets that subject be the focal point, not focusing on the actual business matters of the deal, but they focus on the legal aspects, the technical aspects and therefore the deal sort of takes the wrong direction as a result?

David: Yeah, they’re a part of the team, but they want to go down this technical road and just prove that their expertise level is higher than ours.

Mladen Kresic: Yes. When that happens, usually it’s a result of not preparing the agenda together with whoever is leading the deal on the other side, right? One of the things I make sure on my side is I always have the roles defined of the individuals that are going to go into the deal. And they need to know the context in which their expertise appears. And I expect the other side to do the same. And I will have a discussion about that expectation with whoever is leading the other side.

Now, even with the best preparation, it’s going to happen occasionally. So when that happens, it’s okay to pause, listen and then when the person takes a breath, ask them if they feel that whatever point they made is critical to the deal. Then often, they’ll step back and start asking questions themselves about the other merits of the deal because they don’t have the full context. So that is one of the ways that you can deal with them. Obviously, if you’re taking a break, having the discussion with a person who’s leading the deal on the other side, to ask them if that person who is derailing the deal has been prepped properly is an appropriate discussion.

Dan Loney: David, hopefully…go ahead, Dave.

David: That’s brilliant! That’s brilliant. Thank you very much. I appreciate the input. I love the setting up expectations and being able to sidebar with your business partner.

Dan Loney: David, thanks very much for the call. 844-942-7866 is the number. We’ve got a few more minutes. Mladen Kresic is our guest. He is the author of a white paper that talks about dealing with the know-it-all in the negotiation setting. 844-942-7866. How difficult is a situation when you get into a negotiation and, as David kind of laid out, one person has kind of monopolized the conversation on their particular area? It’s not like you can break the meeting right in mid-stream and take those people outside and have that conversation with them.

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, that would probably be the wrong thing to do because then you just piss them off, to put it bluntly. It’s okay to take a time out at different times. You have to gauge when the appropriate time is to take a pause and, like I said, have a discussion with the person who is leading the negotiation on the other side. If the person who is leading the negotiation is the one that’s pontificating, it becomes a little bit more challenging, and I’ve had that happen.

In those cases, it’s okay following a break, to ask for a few minutes to just talk about the agenda. And define the agenda in such a way that not only are the subjects on the agenda, but the timing of those subjects, so that person won’t be able to talk about just one thing that they want to talk about the whole time. Agenda management is so critical in all of this, and we find that a lot of people do a poor job of that because they are just not taking the time upfront to prepare that agenda in a way that gets the agreement from the other side.

Dan Loney: 844-942-7866 is the number. A couple of lines are available right now for you to call in. We go to Colorado. Nate joins us. Nathan, welcome to the show.

Mason: Hi there. My name’s Mason, actually.

Dan Loney: Oh, I’m sorry. Mason. Mason, where are you calling from in Colorado?

Mason: I’m calling from Colorado Springs, actually.

Dan: Nice. Great to have you on the show. Go ahead.

Mason: Hey, I appreciate it. Mladen, I really appreciate the insight this morning. You’re talking about Impostors as well as the Intimidators. I just graduated college. I started a small business in which I’m trying to help local businesses in the Springs do some digital marketing and get themselves an online presence. But my problem is, a lot of times when I go in to sit down and talk with clients, suddenly I find they become these Impostors and suddenly they know everything about digital marketing or they become these Intimidators, and I know my age is a factor in this. How can I try and overcome that and really focus on the task at hand rather than my age?

Mladen Kresic: Well, now one of the things that helps is ask them upfront what it is that they believe digital marketing is and what it is that they know about it so that you can be most helpful to them in filling in the gaps, right? If you allow them to give you as much information as they have in those cases, then anything that you can add to that will become useful to them, and they’re more likely to have had their say and listen to you at that point, because one of the problems you’re having is getting them to listen.

Dan Loney: Mason, does that answer your question?

Mason: Yeah, I think that’s great. I think that would be a great way to try and approach a conversation. I can definitely try it, see where it goes.

Dan Loney: Great, Mason. Enjoy your day. Thanks very much for calling in. Mosely is in Cold Spring, Kentucky. Mosely, go ahead sir.

Mosely: Hi.

Dan Loney: Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. I apologize.

Mosely: That’s okay. I’m a doctor and twice I’ve tried to buy in with the group, a different group each time that I’m practicing with and both times I’ve gotten burned really bad and ended up leaving the practice because of the conflicts. I’m not business-oriented. If I were, I’d be doing business with dad and with my brother.

I’m pretty smart, but I don’t know anything about business. I just don’t get it. I get stuck. But I get duped really bad, and there’s a lot of, “Come on,” like, “Oh, we know that you know so much about so much,” and I just don’t know why. I just get…so how do I…a lot of my questions are very basic, but obviously they’re not the right kind of questions and in asking them, I feel really stupid.

Dan Loney: All right, let me jump in there, Mosely. Mladen, we got about a minute left so go ahead.

Mladen Kresic: Yeah, let me just address this in two good ways. One is, before you sit down and have these kinds of negotiations, if you’re not comfortable in the environment, get yourself somebody who is business savvy to help you in the process, okay? And they can set it up so that whatever questions that you have are preceded by the fact that, look, this may be an obvious question to the person on the other side, but it’s not necessarily obvious to you and it’s a legitimate question that should be answered, okay?

You need to respect your own ability to question together with expecting them to respect you. So, two things: One, be sure that they understand that no question is a dumb question. Two, get yourself some good representation because obviously you’re not comfortable in that environment.

Dan Loney: Mosely, thanks very much for the call. Mladen, it’s great having you back on. We look forward to having you again down the road. Did a great job, thank you.

Mladen Kresic: Likewise, Dan. Have a great weekend.

Dan Loney: Thank you very much, Mladen Kresic. By the way, the white paper, as we mentioned, you can find at their company website, K&R Negotiations. Dealing with negotiation know-it-alls. Wow, great show…