In Season 4, Episode 4, ‘Successful Negotiations in Corporate America,’ the conversation centered around how the principles of improv can help you become a better negotiator. Let’s take that discussion and expand on it with some unconventional techniques to help you achieve a win-win when you negotiate. This approach to negotiating requires a give-and-take conversation, and each party will have to give something up in order to get something in return.
You don’t want to appear as an adversary. You want to be viewed as a partner and you want them to approach you the same way. How can this be achieved? I learned a technique from an attorney named Russ Riddle. It’s simple: smile. He says, “If you start with that smile, it’s disarming. They let their defenses down a little bit and it opens up the heart, mind, and ears to hear what you’ve got to say. They’re not going to agree on everything that comes out of your mouth, but it opens them up to, at least, hear it. And you know, a smile does things inside of us too. We get to feeling better and when we feel better, we’re on our A-game. There’s a law of likeability and far too many people forget that, when they go into a negotiation or a confrontation of any kind, that the likeability factor is in their arsenal.”
The only catch? Your smile has to be genuine.
Another exciting tactic comes from a Harvard Business Review article titled, “To Succeed in a Negotiation, Help Your Counterpart Save Face.” According to the article: “When it comes to negotiation, it is about both sides preserving their and their organizations’ reputations.” This quote hits the foundational principles of improv: respect, trust, and support. It’s about looking at the people across the table from you. First: think of them as human beings. Second: show them empathy.
It’s here that improv becomes a powerful tool in business. In improv, we always think about the other person more than ourselves — precisely as a leader should. Too often is the concept of ‘them before me’ lost when negotiating.
There is also a difference between being persuasive and abrasive. Many leaders think they are persuasive when they start talking louder or interrupting the other person. They think that they’re going to ‘win’ the meeting, but it isn’t a competition, and in reality, the exact opposite is usually happening. Letting emotion and ego enter the negotiation process allows it to turn abrasive, ultimately costing more time and money.
Another important distinction to recognize is the difference between preparation and memorization. Scripting your entire negotiation is a recipe for failure, but so is completely winging it. Be prepared without being over-prepared. Just remember that it’s more important to be fully present and to be able to adapt or react to the other person than it is to know everything that you’re about to say ahead of time.
Is it time to view negotiating through a different lens? I think so.