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:
- Take your ego off the table
- Have and show respect for the other party
- Be in the moment/Stay focused
- Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
- Adapt to the situation
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org