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.

A little rant …

Apologies in advance but I’m going to have a little rant … for women only.


Why do all you clever, hard-working, successful women feel the need to apologize for your success? Why do you get nervous asking for things that you deserve? Worse still, why do you get nervous asking for things that you need to do your job properly?

The female surgeon feels elitist when she asks the office staff to do her filing. The female chemical engineer baulks at asking her husband to make a cup of tea for her. The female executive working from home chooses not to use admin support even though the company has offered it.

I see examples like this all the time. The women I coach in negotiation are, without exception, extremely smart and successful, but they hesitate when it comes to asking for things for themselves.

For some, it’s because they are so nurturing it feels uncomfortable to be served by someone else. For others it’s imposter syndrome. For most, it’s fear of being labelled bossy or aggressive.

Look, just stop it.

There are ways you can ask for things without feeling uncomfortable. It is possible to say no without getting a bad reputation. Being assertive does not have to mean being unlikeable.

This is at the heart of Sustainable Negotiation™. Get in touch to find out more.


Sexual harassment in the High Court

Dyson Heydon.

It’s an unusual name and one associated with power. As a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Dyson Heydon wielded power in the highest court in the land.

And now the name Dyson Heydon is associated with sexual harassment and a shattered reputation.

If you have seen the press in the past few days, you will know that an independent investigation commissioned by the High Court of Australia has upheld numerous allegations of sexual harassment against the former High Court Justice.

Since then, additional stories of harassment have come to light and it seems Mr Heydon’s reputation for predatory behaviour toward young women was a widely-known secret in legal circles.

What is it about powerful men and the bullying and harassment of younger women?

A study released in March by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, found that workplace sexual harassment occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level in Australian workplaces (see https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/respectwork-sexual-harassment-national-inquiry-report-2020).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, workplaces with a higher risk of sexual harassment are those in male-dominated industries. Of particular interest to me was the finding that workplaces with a higher risk of sexual harassment also include those with fewer women in senior positions.

The report also sets out the impact of sexual harassment on the workplace. Put simply, it is devastating for the victims and enormously costly for business.

We must have zero tolerance for the abuse of power. If it can happen in the upper echelons of society it can happen, and is happening, everywhere.

Dyson Heydon. An unusual name, and perhaps the name needed to start a #metoo movement in legal circles.


Let’s get more women into senior roles so that there are more gender-balanced leadership teams and fewer workplaces in the higher risk categories for sexual harassment.

I have helped women to secure pay rises and promotions by coaching them in negotiation skills. Get in touch if you want to find out more.





Can learning to negotiate really change your life?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but it takes practice.

You negotiate every day. It may not seem like it, but you are negotiating every time you try to influence someone to give you something or do something for you. Sometimes our negotiations are big ones – promotions, pay rises, supplier negotiations – and sometimes they are small – who is picking up the kids or getting the coffee.

It’s clear that being a better negotiator will help us with the big negotiations that have profound impacts on our lives. New jobs, partners, promotions, homes – the outcomes of these negotiations do change our lives, undoubtedly.

But are the small negotiations that important? I would argue that they really are. Getting used to asking for small, low stakes things will help us prepare for when we are asking for the big things.

A client of mine is highly successful in her chosen profession and has a unique and sought-after skill set. Even though she is extremely capable and well regarded in her industry, she was paralysed when it came to negotiating a promotion she knew she deserved. Over several months I challenged her to engage in larger and larger negotiations with people around her. She learnt to ask without getting agitated, she learnt to identify her stress triggers and she progressively gained the confidence to tackle the big negotiation she was facing.

We all want to be great negotiators when we are in the big arena, in the big moments that change our lives, but success there starts with practice in the small negotiations.

And no-one wants to be the person who always gets the coffee, so learn to say no from time to time and build your negotiating skills one day (or one coffee run) at a time.

Coming of age in a turbulent world

Next week, my beautiful, funny, clever, quirky middle child will become an adult.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the world she is facing at this milestone. She enters adulthood as the world is reeling from a pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout, and as worldwide protests rage about racism and police brutality.

Luckily, the genetic lottery means she will embrace adulthood with privileges many don’t have … she is white, she has a middle class family, she has received an excellent education, she has wonderful friends and she has a happy, supportive home life.

BUT … even with all that privilege, she will face discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions simply because she is a woman. With the Total Remuneration Gender Pay Gap in Australia currently standing at 20.8% (source: https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/the-gender-pay-gap), her lifetime earnings may be hundreds of thousands of dollars less than men her age. She may also face bullying and discrimination at levels not experienced by her male counterparts.


Last week, I spoke at a webinar about negotiating tips for women and was asked what I thought the future would hold –whether young women will face the discrimination and bias, and specifically the negotiating backlash, that generations before have faced.

I am hopeful that they won’t. I have seen the change in men’s attitudes over time and the growing confidence of young women. I think that Covid-19 isolation arrangements have also probably educated many men about the realities of life at home with small children. This can only help.

And yet, there is a long road to travel before unconscious bias has vanished.

In medicine for instance, there are more women entering medical schools than men, and yet it remains an industry dominated by men. There is some progress with campaigns like Operating with Respect, which was launched by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in 2015 to improve patient safety and counter bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.

There are also informal campaigns like the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon, which is used to promote diversity in surgery as well as to highlight discriminatory behaviour. The hashtag has been circulating for several years but continues to get dozens of mentions every day on Twitter.

Nonetheless, discrimination remains. Yes, there has been a lot of progress, but the need to highlight and denounce gender, race, and other biases remains necessary.


So, what of my gorgeous girl? Next week, she becomes an adult and she is as ready as she can be. Let’s hope our training institutions, places of work, social norms and personal levels of awareness can treat her fairly. Let’s hope the turbulence and pain in the world at present will lead to a more equitable future for all.


I offer a range of programs to help women and mixed teams improve their negotiation knowledge and skills. This includes one-on-one coaching, pre-conference programs and group training.

All of the programs are based on Sustainable Negotiation™, the approach I developed to move people from avoiding negotiation to engaging with it so that negotiation skills can be incorporated into everyday life.

Get in touch if you want to hear more about the programs and send me a message if you are interested in receiving a copy of my whitepaper, “Negotiation Skills as a Remedy for Gender Bias in Medicine”.

Cheap Remorse and Genuine Apology

The murder of George Floyd, the subsequent protests and the reaction of those in power in the States have really been playing on my mind.

With 246 years of institutionalised slavery followed by the shameful Jim Crow laws, the USA has a very complex history and I feel ill-equipped to express an opinion, let alone make any meaningful contribution to the discussion. But I do know how to negotiate, and I have been wondering how I would go about negotiating an end to the protests.

Even there I’m a bit stumped to be honest. The power imbalance is just too stark – how can the response to protests about police brutality and violence be more police brutality and violence? It’s absolutely confounding.

In a mediation, we often ask “what do you need to make this right?” and, very often, the details of the settlement take a backseat to the apology.

But here’s the thing, the apology needs to be genuine.

A close friend of mine is a brilliant barrister and I always enjoy her descriptions of cases she is working on. A few years ago, she was heavily involved in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I recall her account of a witness describing “cheap remorse”, where a person or an institution makes a show of giving an apology to victims and then demands a pardon, without really demonstrating contrition.

Maybe this is at the heart of the emotionally charged conflict happening in the States right now. There have been apologies, of course, including the apologies made in the House of Representatives in 2008 and in the Senate in 2009 for slavery and the discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Even these apologies, however, did not lead to the passing of a joint bill.

Furthermore, these apologies came years after the official 1983 US apology for shielding a Nazi officer wanted for war crimes, the 1988 apology for the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII, and the 1993 apology for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Too little too late, perhaps.

As I’ve seen in mediation and as my friend saw at the Royal Commission, a genuine apology isn’t cheap, and it often needs to be delivered time and again. A genuine apology leads to change.

The generational pain and discrimination we are witnessing in the States can’t be fixed with “domination” by the descendants of those who initiated the pain and discrimination. This type of pain needs to start with a genuine apology.

While I am still somewhat stumped, if I were tasked with negotiating an end to the protests, the first step would be finding an independent mediator who is respected by representatives of both sides. I’d follow this with education until the oppressors finally understand the oppression, and I’d do this relentlessly so that any resultant apology is genuine.

With a genuine apology, perhaps the future could hold physical and emotional safety and economic equality.

On a final note, I know that here in Australia we see racism, injustice, discrimination and generational pain too. While the Australian government delivered a heartfelt apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the work of reconciliation is far from over.

RIP George Floyd.


A bleach cure and other myths

We are being inundated with misleading claims about COVID-19 and phony remedies. We’ve all seen President Trump discuss injecting bleach and we’ve heard people blame 5G mobile networks for the virus. In fact, there are so many misleading claims circulating about causes of the virus and how it can be treated that the World Health Organization was compelled to set up a myth busters page with downloadable graphics (à la the one I have posted).

It seems that myths gain traction in uncertain times as we try to make sense of what is going on.

Similarly, it is easy for myths to develop around skills that seem elusive or intimidating … skills like leadership, selling or negotiation.

So, while we are here, I thought I’d bust a common myth about negotiation: that great negotiators are born, not made. A commonly held view is that good negotiators possess some scarce, innate ability to persuade other people. While it’s true that some negotiators are naturals, most are not. Most people who have developed into successful negotiators have honed their skills through training in proven methodologies, lots of practice, and steely determination.

Here are two public service announcements:

  1. Don’t drink bleach.
  2. Let me show you how you can become a self-made negotiator.