The Change Your Mindset Podcast

Welcome to the Change Your Mindset podcast, hosted by Peter Margaritis, CPA, AKA The Accidental Accountant. Peter is a speaker, expert in applied improvisation and author of the book 'Improv Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. Peter's new book, Taking the Numb Our of Numbers: Explaining & Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity will be published in June 2018.

S4E4. Successful Negotiating in Corporate America

What do you feel when you hear the word “negotiate?” Dread? Anxiety? Excitement? Do you believe that negotiation skills can be taught? Do you agree with this statement: “We negotiate all the time”? Have you ever searched Google asking one or more of these questions: 

  • What skill is the most helpful during a negotiation?
  • How does ego play a role in negotiating?
  • What role does leverage play during negotiations?

Most of us have experienced a negotiation gone bad. However, have you ever been negotiated up? Early in my business, I wanted to work with a specific association because of the painful negotiation their members were experiencing. I knew I had a solution for that pain. In my conversation with them, they asked what my fee was. I replied, what is your budget for this event? The person responded with the speaker budget for the entire year and it was $1,000 above my fee for the event. I wanted the job, so I offered a fee that was 75% less than my normal fee. Then came the awkward pause. After about what seemed like 30 min but more like 30 sec, the person replied with a fee that was 50% more than what I had offered. I got negotiated UP! I learned a valuable lesson that day: Learn how to negotiate better! So from that point forward, I offer my full fee, and if rejected, I work with the other person to find common ground where both parties WIN and walk away with value.

Not every negotiation table has a client on the other end. Sometimes it’s an employee. And when it is, it is often about negotiating to give them a voice in their role within the company and in the business’s direction. These negotiations take success to a whole new level.

What makes some negotiations successful and others dead in the water? Conducting a successful negotiation requires the use of six essential skills—and they are all foundations of Improvisation. These six skills will ensure every negotiation has the potential to end with a positive solution.

6 Principles of Improvisation:

  1. Take your ego off the table
  2. Have and show respect for the other party
  3. Be in the moment/Stay focused
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
  5. Adapt to the situation
  6. Yes, And…

These steps truly help everyone one win in a negotiation. One of the biggest impacts the six principles have is to take the emotions off the table. Heated emotions can cause negotiations to shut down. They are more likely to end in a stalemate with wasted efforts. Anthony K. Tjan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, “Time and emotion — these are the two things most often wasted during a negotiation.” And he is right. We tend to react emotionally and negatively to any points of negotiation that oppose our own agenda. And that wastes time and energy. When our goals for negotiation are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, and egos inflate—and we cease to listen. All we hear is our own voice in our head trying to find a way back to what we want.

Skillful Negotiation is Rooted in Improvisation

Tom Yorton was once in the corporate ranks before becoming CEO of Second City Communications, the business solutions division of the world-renowned comedy company, The Second City. He had this to say in a recent Business Innovation Factory article, “But my experience—and in fact, my scars—are from bumping up against the same organizational hurdles that improv is so effective at helping companies get over—challenges that include connecting with customers, engaging employees around change, moving into new

markets, innovating new products and services, working without a script.”

All of the aspects of driving positive change inside the company depend on how well leaders in corporate America can negotiate. That equates to how well business professionals can handle ‘blocking’. ‘Blocking’ are those things that are brought to the table that are unexpected – out of the blue – out of nowhere Blocking like this halts forward momentum and does not neatly fit inside the box of your agenda. And it happens every day.

Daena Giardella teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She spends an entire lesson on teaching how to avoid using the most common block, the “yes, but.” In an NPR article, she points out, “Even though you say, ‘Yes,’ the but says, Yeah, but that’s not really valid because here is the better point.“

Negotiations can quickly come to a grinding halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. It is when emotions get heated and time gets wasted. Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business School Professor and Program on Negotiation (PON) faculty member, wrote the book “The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World.” Michael states in a PON Q&A interview that, “real-world interactions between parties by looking at the uncertainty of negotiations and how to develop a flexible strategy when you have incomplete information. Negotiation cannot be scripted. Your goals may change during the course of negotiation, a little or a lot. Unexpected opportunities and obstacles may pop up. Your across-the-table counterpart may be more or less cooperative than you expected.” 

Too many times we practice a rigid strategy—a script, a plan—prior to going into a negotiation. By doing so, we quit listening to the other party because we are following the linear thought process we created and practiced. We miss out on key opportunities or threats by not being fully present. Michael states in this Q&A, “There’s a misperception that military strategy is very rigid. Yes, there’s a chain of command, but there’s also a military saying: “Plans go out the window with the first contact with the enemy.” In an uncertain situation, you have to think through your best- and worst-case scenarios.” This military strategy can be witnessed back in 2011 when the U.S. Navy SEALs executed the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. “The mission had been meticulously planned; the SEALs trained for it over months and several contingency plans were developed and put into place. When one of the navy’s Black Hawk helicopters crashed within the compound, a very specific kind of improvisation was required if the mission was to succeed.” This is adapting to the change in the strategy in order to achieve a positive outcome. 

Improvising is not winging it or making things up. Improvising is all about over-preparing and developing alternative plans and when you enter the room, you throw the script away, you listen and stay present in the negotiation and adapt in order to achieve success. 

Listen to the other party’s needs. What are they really saying when they block your proposal? Be adaptable by taking your ego off the table. Take a deep breath if you need to and then let the next words that come out of your mouth be “Yes, and…”

A successful negotiation is birthed from being able to rebound, to take the blocks, and build with them. That is how you connect with other people.

Have you ever watched preschoolers play with blocks? They take turns stacking them on top of each other until it gets so high it just topples over—or they like to watch it fall and knock it over on purpose. But the point is that both of them have an agenda. They each want to pick up a block and put it on the tower and each one probably has an idea about what the tower will look like, but they keep building until they can’t build anymore.

We are more likely to succeed in negotiations when both parties can envision a common goal. Improvisation teaches us to set aside our personal agendas and ego and take whatever the other person gives us and go with it. The glue that ties it all together is the principle of “Yes, and…” Successful people all intuitively do this. They just don’t necessarily realize that they are using improvisation in their daily lives.

To succeed in negotiations, we need to drop our agendas long enough to truly listen—and with respect for all involved. It is true for formal negotiations around a conference table and is the way to success in the daily negotiations of life and career—during a chat with the boss or with one’s spouse, or with a child. This is the kind of straight talk we can cultivate that truly will make the biggest difference.

If you would like to learn more about negotiating using improv techniques, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

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S4E3. Accounting Doesn’t Have to Be Confusing with Adam Wilkinson

Have you ever taken an accounting course for non-accountants and left the workshop even more confused? Would you agree that accounting has an image problem? Would you be interested in learning the fundamentals of accounting and finance in a way that does not get bogged down in complexity and focuses on simplicity?

Adam Wilkinson is a sales partner and corporate educator at Colour Accounting. He advocates that accounting should be a standard form of literacy—just like reading, writing, and arithmetic. He is a chartered accountant and professional development trainer who leads unique and engaging workshops in accounting and financial literacy, and he loves helping people understand how simple accounting can be.

It’s incredibly important for everyone, but especially business leaders, to understand accounting—even if you aren’t an accountant. But here’s some good news: If you can understand accounting, you can understand finance. And if you can understand finance, you can better understand your business.

Colour Accounting is the secret sauce of making accounting accessible. Everyone thinks accounting is so full of jargon that’s impossible to follow, but colour accounting gets past that by making accounting visual.

Everyone can learn finance in a way that empowers them instead of confuses them. You don’t have to be an accountant to understand finances, and doing so will only benefit you in your business.

Click to Download the Full Transcript PDF

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S4E2. Dealing with the Peanut Gallery That is Your Inner Critic

Let’s have a conversation about that voice in your head. You know the one. The voice that keeps coming back with the warning, “don’t say that idea out loud because people will think you are stupid or crazy.” Or, another favorite, “you have to be kidding me, you know you can’t speak in front of an audience – you will look like a fool.” You know that voice… and it has a lot more to say on any number of things – and none of it is good. This is the voice of your inner critic.

What exactly is an inner critic? According to the Good Therapy Blog, the inner critic is “an inner voice that judges, criticizes, or demeans a person whether or not the self-criticism is objectively justified”. A highly active inner critic can be paralyzing – it can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being, self-esteem – and in some cases, it can cause individuals to seek help from a therapist or counselor to help balance thought patterns and change their mindset.

We so fear our inner critic, that fear of public speaking outpaces the fear of death in most Americans.

The Reliable Inner Critic

That inner critic of yours never goes on vacation—it’s there continually giving opinions on anything and everything you do. In speaking, the closer you get to the time you have to present, the louder and more incessant the critic becomes. For many people, they can get sick from the stress that the critic brings their way. Whether you are in front of an audience or sharing thoughts during a meeting, all you can see or think about are all those eyeballs leveled at you. While at the same time, your inner critic is constantly telling you how you are going to fail. So what can you do? How do you overcome this fear and silence the inner critic?

Improvisation, of course! And by employing the principles of improvisation, you will overcome the fear and silence the critic every time! 

Improv will help you change the conversation in your head and start programming your brain to use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…”. Why does this matter? Think about the difference between “but” vs. “and”. Using “but” introduces a contrasting thought and stops the other in its tracks. Using “And” instead, connects one idea with the other – allowing both to be considered jointly. So, for instance, you could be saying to yourself, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, but you’ll do awful.” Or, you could turn it into the following, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, and you can do it.” Just a slight change in words and tone from “but” to “and” has an immediate and positive impact on your confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.

The Perfect Inner Critic

This last part of the inner critic’s diatribe, “something will go wrong…” is very likely to come true—because we expect ourselves to be perfect. But there is no such thing as perfection. Of course you will make a mistake—probably more than one. Remember, however, that most of the time, the only person who knows about it is you. Your listeners and audiences won’t see it or hear it—only you and your inner critic.

If you maintain your confidence, little imperfections won’t trip you up. It would be best if you accepted the fact that you will make some slips. Think of them as opportunities to learn to do even better and roll with them… this is what keeps us interesting and interested.

Keep in mind, a certain amount of vulnerability goes a long way in winning over your audience. An excellent example of this is a TED talk given by Megan Washington, a premier Australian singer/songwriter. When she opens her speech, you are immediately aware that she has a speech impediment or stutter. She says that, while she has no qualms about singing in front of people, she has a mortal dread of public speaking. Throughout the presentation, the audience watches her struggle from time to time to get certain words out, but it doesn’t matter. Her vulnerability warmed the audience to her, keeping them engaged up until the moment she disclosed a deeply personal fact: you can’t stutter when you sing. At this point, she plays and sings a beautiful song superbly, ending with roaring applause from the audience.

While we may not have the opportunity to leverage a vulnerability like this, it’s important to remember: the inner critic will tell you far more than you need to know, and it is not true. You will hear what you cannot do or how you will screw up. And here is what you can tell that naysayer: “Yes, I know I will make mistakes, And they will not hamper me. Yes, I will not be perfect, And that means I can only get better.” Even today, whenever I get up in front of an audience, I get butterflies, but I can control them now and make them flutter in the direction of my choice.

Reasoning With Inner Critic

Despite all this bad-mouthing of the inner critic, it does serve a purpose. If I were to consider delivering a speech on nuclear physics, I would hope that my inner critic would start screaming at me long before I stood at the podium. However, the critic doesn’t know when to shut up; that’s where you need to train it. You might know enough about a topic to deliver a decent speech, but the critic keeps nagging: “Your nose hair is showing. Your tie is crooked. What a nitwit.” If you pay too much attention, the prophecies of failure could come true. You get hung up on your shortcomings rather than focusing on your strengths.

Sometimes the key is just to confront it: “Shut up! Shut up!” You can accomplish this through the “yes, and…” approach of improv. “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, And I’m going to do it anyway.” The critic may still try to undermine you but not as loudly. You’ll build up self-esteem. You’ll feel confident. Now go and do it!

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S4E1. Making Our New Normal Better with Roxanne Kaufman-Elliott, Brian Comerford, and Nick Lozano

This has been a wild year for all of us. From a leadership perspective, we have to be cognizant of all of the changes that are occurring—as well as how they are affecting our team. We have to be aware of how we are addressing these roadblocks that come up as we continue to navigate the pandemic for the foreseeable future.

That’s why I brought together a superstar team of past guests and leadership experts: Roxanne Kaufman-Elliott, the founder of Roxanne Leadership, and Brian Comerford and Nick Lozano, co-hosts of the highly successful podcast Lead.EXE.

We are all facing exhaustion from the added stressors in our lives and the lack of social contact. When Roxanne noticed this with herself and her team, she started opening up conversations with these three questions:

  • What’s going on in your head?
  • What’s going on in your heart?
  • What’s happening to your body?

As a way of coping with all of this change, it’s also important to tap into your creativity and make the most of the changes that we’re presented with. Whether it’s building, writing, painting, or anything else, it can do wonders getting away from the screen and breaking up your routine in new and interesting ways.

We also have to look at adapting to the digital environment we are in, because guess what? It’s not going anywhere. Nick’s suggestion is to look to the world of Twitch streaming, where gamers of all ages have mastered the art of digital interaction through broadcasting software, chats, overlays, and more. There’s a lot we can learn from streamers about presenting information and holding people’s attention.

And lastly, it’s important to keep your body feeling good. When we’re home all day, it’s easy to lose those excuses to get up and move throughout the day—even short walks around the office are gone. Keep movement in mind, schedule regular breaks, and try to incorporate physical activity throughout your day. Just because we’re at home doesn’t mean we have an excuse not to work at it!

We may never go back to normal, but we can adapt and create a life that allows us to continue to thrive in whatever environment we are in.

Click to Download the Full Transcript PDF

Resources:

S3E35. Improv Exercises to Build Stronger Teams

We all have been on a dysfunctional team. And, when we are, we dread driving to work or zooming in; we dread being part of the team meeting because everyone is talking over each other; we dread dealing with members of the team who are disengaged. There is always one person who thinks they are the smartest person in the room, and they continuously tell everyone. Team members are missing deadlines, making excuses, exhibiting negative body language, and are abundantly clear with their “I don’t care” attitude. No one is being held accountable, and everyone is doing what they think is right, despite what they have been asked or told to do. 

I’ve previously touched on using powerful improv exercises to build stronger teams, and I want to add on three more exercises you can use with your team: “Beach ball, bouncy ball, frog, and more,” “Emotions,” and “Yes And to solve a problem.”

Beach ball, Bouncy ball, Frog, and more

  • 5 – 7 participants
  • Items needed: Beach ball, Medium-sized ball that can be bounced (think kickball), and three other small items or balls that can be thrown (squishy ball, whiffle ball, toy frog, etc.). You will need one more item than you have participants.

The participants form a circle. The first step is introducing a beach ball to the team. The group’s instructions are to pass the beach ball to another person by tossing the beach ball over their head.

When they start to throw the beach ball, they announce “beach ball,” make eye contact with a participant and throw it to that person. When the person catches the beach ball, they reply, “Thank You.” Then they look for another teammate to pass the beach ball to by announcing “Beach ball,” making eye contact, and throwing the beach ball to the participant. When caught, the participant announces, “Thank you,” and the sequence starts over.

After about a minute, you stop the exercise and introduce into the exercise a bouncy ball. The participant passes the bouncy ball to another person by bouncing it on the floor. The same methodology used with the beach ball is to pass and receive the bouncy ball – announcing the bouncy ball, making eye contact, and passing. When receiving the bouncy ball, the participant replies, “Thank you,” and the sequence starts again.

Here is the challenge: the beach ball and bouncy ball are in the exercise simultaneously. After about a minute with both balls being passed, stop the activity and introduce the toy frog. Instruct the group that the frog prefers to be tossed underhanded using the same – announcing, eye contact, passing the object, and thank as before.

There are three objects in the exercise at the same time. Now watch the chaos begin. After about a minute or so – introduce another object passed underhanded like the frog and using the same rules.

Keep adding objects as you see fit depending on the size of the team. Once you’ve added all objects, let the chaos unfold a bit before calling the activity to an end and debriefing the team, and audience, on what happened.

Questions to ask:

  • What did you witness? Looking for someone to say that one of the participants had three or more objects at a time while others had none.
  • Has this ever happened to you, or have you done this to another teammate?
  • How do you correct this behavior?

The purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate the need for eye contact when distributing or communicating with a teammate to ensure they understand. Also, when receiving information to thank the person delivering it to you. More importantly, we as leaders should see which teammates have much more on their plate and distribute the work more evenly amongst the team.

Emotions Exercise

  • 3 participants

Emotional intelligence is one of the top 5 skills that leaders need to develop and continually develop. EI consists of self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management. The emotions exercise touches on all these topics.

The exercise begins with two people having a conversation about anything they choose. After about 15-20 seconds, the moderator randomly picks a new emotion (happy, sad, angry, enthusiastic, depressed, despondent, etc.). Whatever emotion the moderator picks, the participants must take on that emotion’s body language and tone until a new emotion is introduced. The exercise lasts between 3 -5 minutes with new emotions added and the conversation must stay the same—but the mood and tone must switch to the emotion introduced.

The purpose of the exercise is to help increase your emotional intelligence. We all need to be more self-aware of our emotions and become more socially aware of others’ emotions. A leader’s responsibility is to assess the team’s emotional context and address those emotions that might become detrimental to the team’s success, all the while, managing their response to other’s emotions and maintaining the cohesiveness of the team.

‘Yes! And’ to solve a problem

  • 5-7 participants

The philosophy of ‘Yes! And,’ is a wonderful exercise in helping the team solve problems quickly when they arise. The key here, as in all improv exercises, is to park your ego at the door, suspend your judgment, listen to understand, accept what a teammate says as a possibility, and add on to it. Accept the idea as if it is true and then what else can be true. Create a culture of phycological safety where the team is able to speak their mind and feel safe taking risks in front of each other.

Decide on a problem that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. Have the team find a conference room, zoom room, or someplace where they can work and not be interrupted. Set a timer for 15 minutes. The leader will state the problem at hand and ask for ideas. Another teammate will be the scribe capturing all of this information. Better yet, use the artificial intelligence app, Otter, to capture the conversation. When an idea is introduced, agree with the idea – no matter how crazy it is and add on to it. In improv, we say bad ideas are bridges to good ideas. No ideas lead to nothing. Explore and add to everyone’s idea. After 15 minutes look at what you have come up with and decide what is worthy of exploring further.

The purpose of the exercise is to reduce the time it takes to solve a problem through divergent thinking. You are looking for quantity, not quality. Remember, you can’t create and criticize in the same space.

Remember the keys to building a successful team are: respect, trust, support, listen, be present, adapt, and always adhere to the ‘Yes! And’ principle.

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