It's 3:30 a.m. in December 1994. I'm a 19-year-old CEO of a company with earnings in the hundreds of millions, but I'm more or less clueless about international negotiations. Sitting across the small restaurant dining room are 12 impeccably dressed Japanese businessmen. I'm on their turf -- Tokyo, Japan.
The negotiations have been going on for some time now. My mind and body are tired from the hours of negotiations, stress and the brutal work hours required to build a business empire. I thought I had a clear read on the other side but now I'm unsure. This is a critical deal that will determine the future of my company and everyone involved. A wrong move could mean disaster. If I make the wrong offer or concede to the wrong concession I could blow the deal. Think Shaahin, think!
The eldest of the gentlemen gets up and slides a small and perfectly sealed envelope across the table. Sake is poured. The envelope contains a check and a term sheet. This can't be right. They can't be serious. I wonder. The deal is subpar. Could they be bluffing? They seem cool and emotionless. Man, if only I could read their minds. If only they would crack and give me a tell tale sign.
The younger man confers with the elder man as they whisper to each other in Japanese. I exchange glances with my translator as she looks over at me with something akin to fear in her eyes. The young man says to me confidently, "Mr. Cheyene, my boss says this is the final offer from us." An uncomfortable silence falls over our group.
This is a critical moment. I think back to my first intuition. I run through the evening's negotiations while I play back the expressions on the faces of the men in my mind's eye. My inner voice speaks, "It's a bluff, walk." But it's been wrong before. Is it now?
I can't remember at this stage. It's late and they've succeeded in wearing me down. "Screw It! I'm walking." I think to myself. I gaze at the men seated across from me. Feigning a contemplative but respectful look I say to them, "Thank you very much for the offer. This will be something for us to consider in the future. I appreciate your time."
I grab my translator and slowly walk towards the door. What the businessmen don't know is that I hold no cards of substance. There's no "other deal" waiting on the other side of the door. If the deal with them is lost, I'm in big trouble.
As I reach for my jacket I hear the faint voice of the younger man in the distance. He asks me to please come back to the table. The men are all still seated. No one has moved an inch. A second envelope is passed across the table. I open it.
It's a check and deal points for all the items we wanted in the negotiation. It's a great deal. I look at the men and then at my translator who is nothing short of confused. "Thank you. We accept." I say after some deliberate hesitation. More fine sake is poured and the night ends several hours later with laughs all around the table.
What happened? Did I just get lucky ? What did I see that made me make that decision?
For years I have looked back at that day and thought about the consequences that could have befallen me had I made a mistake. I've spent many hours contemplating how it might be possible to read people of any culture without fail.
I began reading about the work of the famed professor Paul Ekman . Ekman's research was aimed at decoding emotions through reading rapid universal microexpressions on peoples' faces. I was fascinated.
Ekman (played by Tim Roth in the hit series Lie to Me) and his colleagues and students had made it their life's work to study the meanings behind our specific facial expressions and how they correspond with certain emotions. If you can decode those expressions you'll understand the emotion behind them. If you understand the emotions, you are one step closer to knowing if the person on the other side is lying or telling the truth.
Ekman discovered and proved through his work that there are six universal human emotions anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. However, in many cases, surprise and fear were not distinguishable at first glance.
Although Ekman's work is critically important, I've realized that over the years there is a variable of immeasurable importance. That variable is the incalculable human intuition. Just as the subtle difference between fear and surprise could mean the success or failure of a deal, the fine tuning and calibration of one's gut feelings can often be the determining success factor. Once you have all the necessary information simply clear your mind, sharpen your thoughts and follow your intuition. It's as simple as that.
In my next post here I will discuss seven key steps to detecting a lie and getting and keeping the upper hand in any situation.
You can read more about how to keep your brain sharp in my book The Brain That Changes Everything: The Ultimate Guide for Accelerating Your Brain.