Which Negotiator are You?

My favourite TV show EVER is the West Wing.

I hope you’ve heard of it. It was an award-winning show set in the West Wing of the White House and was noted for its intelligent scripts and “walk and talk” scenes as the actors moved through lengthy hallways.

After seven award-winning seasons, the West Wing ceased production in 2006. However, it has attracted attention again recently with various cast reunions designed to encourage voter participation in the upcoming US elections.

So, in honour of my favourite TV show, here’s my question for the week … which West Wing negotiator are you:

  • Josh Lyman – an outspoken, cocky, slightly aggressive negotiator, loved by colleagues but not trusted by adversaries?
  • Jed Bartlett – a philosophical and scholarly negotiator who uses charm, smarts and humour to disarm the other party?
  • Sam Seaborn – let’s face it, a negotiator so dang good-looking opponents are constantly distracted and just give in?
  • CJ Cregg – a strong, sassy negotiator with a high level of emotional intelligence who is a master at reading people’s moods and winning them over with quick-witted responses?
  • Toby Ziegler – a brooding and misunderstood negotiator with an acid tongue, a heart of gold and a willingness to go to the wall for his principles?
  • Leo McGarry – a quiet, compassionate yet fiercely loyal and influential negotiator who pushes others to take the limelight?

Who are you most like? I’d love to hear.



Djokovic and Blame Shifting

Photo credit: abc.net.au


One of the biggest news stories this week is about Novak Djokovic being expelled from the US Open after smacking a tennis ball into the throat of a lineswoman.

In discussions with the match officials afterwards, Djokovic kept insisting she was fine because she didn’t have to go to hospital. He was even heard to say: “If she would have gotten up right away …”.

While not explicit, the subtext of his comments is that HE would not have been disqualified if SHE had reacted in a different manner.

I don’t want to join any pile-on of Djokovic but this is a classic example of blame shifting. Yes, he didn’t intend to do it. Yes, he is sorry that she was hurt. But no, her reaction did not cause him to be disqualified; his own actions did.

It’s obvious Djokovic was negotiating with match officials to stay on the court. “It’s my career, my grand slam, centre stage”, he said. The match rules are clear so he probably had little chance of reversing the decision, but at the very least he needed to take responsibility and apologise for his actions, not blame the injured woman.

Blame shifting has no place in a negotiation. All it does is lead you away from a potential resolution. Don’t let your desire to be blameless lead to a failed negotiation. A bruised ego is a small price to pay for a big win.


If you are interested, you can watch some of the action here: Novak Djokovic disqualified from US Open

Equal Pay Day 2020

Using ABS labour force data, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has calculated that women must work an additional 59 days a year to earn the same annual salary as men.

Last Friday 28th August was declared Equal Pay Day because it was the 59th day since the end of the 2019/20 financial year.

The national gender pay gap is unchanged from last year and stands at 14%. In some industries, the gender pay gap averages 24.1%.

Using WGEA data, the full-time total remuneration gender pay gap shows that men working full-time earn nearly $26,000 a year more than women working full-time.

$26,000 a year! Who would you rather be?

You can find the WGEA’s insights here: https://www.wgea.gov.au/data/wgea-research/gender-equity-insights-series .

It’s worth noting that gender equality is good for individuals, good for families and good for business. It’s just also the decent thing for workplaces to do.

Women have a role to play too. The WGEA suggests that women should learn to negotiate their salaries and know their value. My Sustainable Negotiation coaching course has been designed specifically for this.

Get in touch in you want more information or to hear some of the success stories.

The spotlight on me

I was preening my rapidly greying hair yesterday while one of my daughters was looking on. I asked for her opinion and she said: “to be honest, Mum, I can’t tell the difference between when you think it looks good and when you don’t”. Then, in that condescending tone only teenagers can manage, she added: “It’s called the Spotlight Effect, you know”.

I did know and, ironically, I was succumbing to it.

The Spotlight Effect is a cognitive bias that makes us think we are being noticed way more than we really are. If we have been noticed, the Spotlight Effect makes us think the people who saw our slip-up or our flaw care much more than they really do.

It happens when we trip over, when we say something silly, and when we fixate on some perceived flaw or other. We think everyone has seen. And if they have seen, we think they care a great deal about it.

Have you ever felt self-conscious when you stumble over words in an important meeting or presentation? Probably. Have you ever cared or been judgemental when someone else stumbles in similar circumstances? Probably not.

What should we do?

  • Don’t let the Spotlight Effect win. Don’t avoid advocating for yourself because you are worried other people will notice or care.
  • When you do something great, don’t assume others have noticed. When you need others to know what you have achieved, find a way to tell them.

I work with my negotiation coaching clients to find ways of speaking up and speaking out in nerve-wracking situations. Get in touch if you want to learn more.


A lesson in active listening

Photo Credit: CNN.com


I know I’ve been posting a lot recently about American politics. I can’t help it; the ground is just so fertile. At least this week one of the key players is an Aussie.

Two weeks ago, Jonathan Swan interviewed Donald Trump. The interview has gone viral, even spawning numerous memes.

My favourite part of the interview was this:

Trump: There are those that say you can test too much.

Swan: Who says that?

Trump: Just read the manuals. Read the books.

Swan: Manuals? What manuals?

Trump: Read the books!

Swan: What books?

This exchange is a classic display of active listening. Swan isn’t checking his notes for his next question for Trump. He isn’t scrambling for facts to prosecute a claim. He isn’t rushing to get through his list of prepared questions. He is simply asking Trump for clarification.

The most blistering moments from the interview, the ones that have received the most attention, are those when Swan is actively listening and responding to Trump.

The high engagement levels and the simple follow-up questions expose the gems.

It’s no surprise that I recommend a similar approach in negotiation. Stop thinking about your message and the next thing you will say and start really listening to the other party. The gems are there … you just need to get out of your own way so you can hear them.


An Ethical Blind Spot


Jack and Jill have a terrible car accident. Both cars are destroyed, but thankfully neither person is hurt.

They reflect on how lucky they are to survive the collision uninjured and then start gathering any salvageable personal effects from their cars.

Retrieving a bottle of Penfolds Grange from the glovebox, Jill says “My car is completely trashed but this bottle is intact. I think we should celebrate our good luck.”

Jill hands Jack the bottle; he opens it, drinks deeply and hands it back. Surprisingly, Jill doesn’t take a drink.

“Aren’t you having any?”, Jack asks.

“No”, says Jill, “I think I will just wait for the police…”.

I like this joke. They’ve both had a terrible shock, but Jill manages to keep her wits about her.

Jack might be a bit foolish, but Jill is sneaky. She offers the wine to him to celebrate their survival, but then she doesn’t join in and leaves him exposed to a drink-driving charge.

So, actually, she’s not just sneaky, she’s unethical.

I am uncomfortable with Jill’s behaviour. I know this is just a joke, but I have been in too many negotiations where there is unethical behaviour. Sometimes it’s blatant and obvious but more often it’s what Max Bazerman, Harvard professor and negotiation and behavioural ethics specialist, calls “bounded ethicality”.

Bazerman describes “bounded ethicality” as questionable behaviour that occurs in the heat of the moment; it is most often embellishment of facts or misleading omissions. He says that our ability to make ethical choices can be affected by stress or the pressure of the situation. We don’t recognise the “bounded ethicality” in ourselves, and even after the negotiation we don’t see that our behaviour was inconsistent with our values.

According to Bazerman and his research colleagues, this ethical blind spot is more common than we realise. In my experience, parties don’t usually enter negotiations intending to deceive or defraud each other, they just get so caught up in wanting to win that they bend their own rules.

How can we resist “bounded ethicality” and stay true to our values in a negotiation? These tips are a good starting point:

  1. Use a negotiation framework that puts a strong emphasis on preparation before the negotiation so that you are less likely to deviate from the plan.
  2. Practise and preferably role play monitoring your emotions so you keep a clearer head when the negotiation triggers a volatile response in you.
  3. Ward off the win-at-all costs mentality that leads to an ethical blind spot by carefully selecting the criteria you use to judge the success of the negotiation; for example, include an assessment of whether your actions during the negotiation were values-aligned.

If you want to learn more about this, do get in touch.

As for our protagonists, perhaps Jill was impacted by “bounded ethicality”. Under normal circumstances she may not have trapped Jack in that way, but under pressure she did. Maybe she had more than one blind spot?

Embarrassment as a Superpower

Photo by me


I was on the sidelines of my daughter’s sport over the weekend, although this is no regular sporting field. The lucky girl sails and I had the pleasure of being out on the harbour on a support boat while she trained with her new sailing partner.

She has recently transitioned to a bigger two-person boat and I was chatting with the other sailor’s father and saying how pleased I am with the conscious coupling (see what I did there). The other sailor is a few years older and has been sailing larger, double-handed boats for several years. She is a kind and patient tutor to my daughter, and they are gelling well as a sailing duo.

I mentioned to the dad that my daughter had been embarrassed about her inexperience in the larger, double-handed boat but that this was abating with the thoughtful feedback she was receiving from his daughter.

To my surprise, instead of expressing pride at my praise of his daughter, he simply said: “I tell my kids that being able to cope with embarrassment is a superpower”.

And boom, mic drop, I have a new perspective on embarrassment!

I do already work with this concept (I set my negotiation coaching clients weekly challenges to help them get used to taking social risks and asking other people for things) but I hadn’t previously thought of it as a superpower.

On the surface, avoiding embarrassment seems like a good bit of self-care but there are times when it does more harm than good. If you never ask for things in case you hear “no”, you’ll never know what you can achieve. If you never make a mistake learning to sail a new boat, you’ll never learn how to improve.

Do you embrace the superpower of embarrassment?


Calling out abuse

I love this response by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC) to Congressman Ted Yoho, who called her a “f—king b—ch” for doing her job.

He does a non-apology and claims he can’t be sexist because he has a wife and daughters. AOC rejects this and delivers a superb response on the floor of Congress.

I love how calm and measured she is in her delivery, despite the clear emotion. Take a look – it’s a few minutes well spent.

Yoho’s verbal abuse of AOC is classic stereotyping behaviour. A belligerent man is “principled” but a belligerent woman is “neurotic”. A man who cries is having an EQ breakthrough but a woman is hypersensitive (or worse, has PMT). And a determined politician, if male, is a passionate leader but, if female, is a “f—king b—ch”.

We are all complicit in stereotyping. And unfortunately, women can be as judgemental of other women as men can be. I encourage my negotiation coaching clients to monitor how they react to women who have a direct, forthright manner. Do they think those women are pushy? Can they be more accepting of assertive female styles?

According to the UN Human Rights Commission, harmful gender stereotyping is a root cause for discrimination, abuse and violence. Let’s join AOC to stand against it and call it out.

Good trouble, Necessary trouble

Lewis is awarded the Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in February 2011.
Photograph: Brooks Kraft/Corbis

Since his death last week, I have been reading a lot about American civil-rights leader and Congressman, John Lewis. I’ve been intrigued by him for a while, but it has amped up since he passed away.

He is a hero in his own country but is not widely known here in Australia. His death didn’t make the TV news and there was a single article in my newspaper of choice, so here’s a little background:

  • Lewis grew up in Alabama in the Jim Crow south and was the son of sharecroppers.
  • He graduated from theological college and got involved in the Nashville Student Movement, which sought desegregation through non-violent means.
  • As an original Freedom Rider in 1961, Lewis joined twelve other civil-rights activists to ride interstate buses through the Southern states where authorities were ignoring the Supreme Court rulings that had banned segregation. By sitting in seats reserved for white travellers, Lewis and the other Freedom Riders risked their lives. The buses were attacked and fire-bombed and the Freedom Riders were variously beaten, arrested, jailed and threatened with lynching. You can read more about the Freedom Rides here: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedom-rides.
  • After the passing of the Civil Rights Act, blacks were still being obstructed in their efforts to register for voting. Lewis lent his support to the campaign and was involved in the Selma to Montgomery marches. He was there on “Bloody Sunday” when 600 marchers attempted to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and were attacked by Alabama State Troopers. Lewis’ skull was fractured in the attack. There’s more about the Bloody Sunday march here: https://www.history.com/news/selma-bloody-sunday-attack-civil-rights-movement.
  • In 1986, Lewis was elected to Congress and served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District up until his death last week.
  • When Barack Obama was elected President, Lewis was on the inauguration stand with him as he was sworn in. Obama told Lewis that his election was only possible because of the sacrifices Lewis had made.
  • Lewis did not attend Donald Trump’s 2016 inauguration because he did not recognise the legitimacy of the presidency following reports of Russian meddling in the election. In response, Trump tweeted “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”.

I could take this piece in a few different directions … maybe segue to an example from my work … but I really just want to dwell on the legacy. Setting aside Trump’s erroneous claim that Lewis was not a man of action, take a look at this quote from Joe Biden:

How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance? Perhaps it was the Spirit that found John as a young boy in the Deep South dreaming of preaching the social gospel; the work ethic his sharecropper parents instilled in him and that stayed with him; the convictions of nonviolent civil disobedience he mastered from Dr. King and countless fearless leaders in the movement; or the abiding connection with the constituents of Georgia’s 5th District he loyally served for decades. Or perhaps it was that he was truly a one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march.

I’m not sure why Lewis has piqued my interest to the extent it has but I find his life story simply astounding. There are multiple movies and documentaries already made, and no doubt more yet to come, where Lewis is a leading character. This one person has seen so much history and made such a huge difference.

One thing that particularly resonates for me is that Lewis remained committed to non-violent resolution, even though he was arrested more than 40 times and suffered numerous injuries from violent attacks. He didn’t respond to violence with violence but he also didn’t shy away from strife, regularly using the phrase “get in good trouble, necessary trouble” – you can see him in action in this short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xdbz6q1AP44.

What an extraordinary man. To walk his life with such grace and honour in the quest for justice and equality, while facing persecution and violence.

I am left with a lot of questions. Beyond Malala and Greta, who are today’s activist heroes? What important work should each of us be doing? What injustices in our society do we need to speak up about? What struggle of a lifetime do we need to commit to?

With drought, bushfires and COVID, I know that 2020 is not the easiest of years to focus on what your life’s work might be, but do take a moment to reflect on the life of this remarkable man … and have a good think about what good and necessary trouble you should be getting yourself into.

John Lewis, thank you for your example.

A $20M umbrella stand

Recently I heard a story about a 15th century Ming Dynasty jar that was sold at auction in 2016 for more than US$20M (read about it here: https://www.christies.com/features/My-highlight-of-2016-A-Ming-Dynasty-Dragon-jar-7984-3.aspx).

The large jar had been bought by a French family in the early 1900’s and, over time, its value had been forgotten until it was regarded as merely a “decorative object”.

The bombshell with this story is that the family had parked the Xuande period masterpiece by the front door and was using it as an umbrella stand! They simply had no idea of the value.

Sometimes I see this error in negotiations, when people make assumptions about what the other party values.

This is best explained in the classic story by Roger Fisher & William Ury about two sisters quarrelling over the last orange. When they can’t agree who will have it, they cut the orange in half; one sister eats the flesh and throws the peel away, while the other removes the zest for a cake she is baking and tosses the rest away.

Just as each sister has only guessed what the other values, so negotiators often leave money on the table because they presume to know what the other party prizes.

Now that its value has been exposed, I doubt the Ming Dynasty jar is still being used as an umbrella stand. Likewise, the two proverbial sisters are unlikely to squabble over the last orange without first checking why the other wants it.

When negotiating, try to uncover what the other party values – it might surprise you and even improve the outcome.