When I was asked to be a contributor for Inc.com I knew I wasn't going to be the author of yet another listicle column. "Ten ways your handshake telegraphs your emotional state" may be a good subject for someone else, but for me it's more about those business lessons I learned through the prism of my rock 'n roll experiences.
When I decided to take over the management of the band, I feared I would be taken advantage of since I didn't really know what we were worth to club owners. It didn't take me long to realize that I had to gather more information in order to truly understand what that value was. I already suspected the club owners were lying to us, since we were never told how many people were actually paying to see us perform. So I hired a friend to sit at the bar to secretly count the paying customers by using a hand clicker. I also befriended the bartenders so they could tell me how much they were making per head per night. (As far as I knew, no one else in any band was doing this.)
I told my agent about what I had done and he was very impressed that I was able to assemble this information. He had me listen in on a call to one club owner he was negotiating with to raise the amount the band was making. The club owner opened by saying we were doing OK and that our following was drawing more customers, but very slowly, which was a lie. The truth was we were actually increasing the attendance by 50 percent each week within the first month that we played there. The club owner said that we were only bringing in about 10 percent more and it could take another year of playing weekly gigs before we could realistically get a raise.
I thought my agent was going to steamroll over the guy and let him know how much I knew and how I knew it. I waited for him to say something, anything, but there was only silence. The club owner tried to justify how a raise was not in the cards for us. More silence. Then he started talking again. For me, it was really uncomfortable to sit still in all that dead space but I soon realized that people hate vacuums and will do anything to fill them. After the third bout of silence, my agent thanked him and confidently said, "The band will just finish the month and then move on." He didn't equivocate. He didn't waver.
He merely spoke and waited. The club owner then said, "Wait a minute, are you saying that the band doesn't want to play at the club?" My agent took a very long time before responding that for $100 more per night--starting with that week--we would stay, but if that number, which he used based on the information I shared with him, couldn't be met, we would walk.
There was no long discussion, no threats made, it was just the facts. The club owner agreed to the raise immediately. I asked my agent about his tactics. He said, "Let people talk and allow them to give you as much information (or misinformation) as you can--especially if you are in a position where you know better." This, he told me, is really helpful especially if one doesn't have all the facts in any given negotiation. Don't try to impress people by giving up what information you have, especially not how you came to know what you know. You know, and that is (or should be) enough. People like to talk, and will say way more than they ever intend to. You just have to sit back, listen, and be patient.
I witnessed it again with a very successful business manager during a negotiation that I was privy to. He was representing my interests and his style of negotiating reminded me of what I had learned all those years ago and I mentioned it. He said, "You never learn anything by talking." And then, he stopped talking.
It's a tactic I have carried with me ever since those days of playing in clubs.