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.

The Effects of Gender Bias and Stereotypes in Surgical Training

This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association has released a new report on (10.1001/jamasurg.2020.1127).

Eliminating gender stereotypes in medicine (and other male-dominated industries) requires broadscale, top-down changes in culture and values.

In my whitepaper, “Negotiation Skills as a Remedy for Gender Bias in Medicine”, I argue that these systemic cultural changes will be assisted by arming female doctors with skills to combat gender-based discrimination.

I argue that learning consensus-building negotiation skills could equip female doctors to receive more acknowledgement in the workplace, to negotiate better salaries and working conditions and neutralise the impact of bullying and hostility.

Send me a message if you are interested in receiving a copy of my whitepaper and do get in touch if you are interested in learning more about my training and coaching programs in Sustainable Negotiation.

A masterclass in listening by Roy & HG

Photo credit: ABC Australia Story

Last night, ABC TV’s “Australian Story” revealed some of the secrets behind John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver’s 35 year run as satirical sports commentators, Rampaging Roy Slaven and HG Nelson.

It was a great insight into the comic duo and, as a bonus, highlighted two of my favourite memories from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games – the gymnastics commentary (remember the “hello boys”?) and the unofficial mascot, Fatso the wombat.

As a negotiation specialist, one aspect of the story really stood out for me.

As explained by comedian and broadcaster, Wendy Harmer, many radio duos build a following by being combative. In contrast, Roy and HG use an improvisation tool called “Yes and …” to progressively build on each other’s ideas. They genuinely listen to each other and accept the other’s premise. John Doyle described it thus: “He’s building a safety net for me; I’m building a safety net from him”.

I loved this part of the program because it reminded me that good negotiators should also listen and react this way.

Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator and author of the hit book “Never split the difference”, describes active listening as “listening with tactical empathy”. Here is a quote from Chris’ blog on the Black Swan site:

Listening with the goal of understanding engages more of your brain and your senses. To truly understand someone, you must listen for dynamic information that will help you see the world from their perspective. In addition to hearing the words your counterpart is saying, try to identify the pictures in their heads, the emotions that are driving their decisions, and the fears that are influencing their perceptions. If you have a sense of how the world looks and feels from their point of view, you can be preemptive with tactical empathy to diminish negatives and win their trust.

With 35 years of listening intently and successfully building on each other’s ideas, I salute Rampaging Roy Slaven and HG Nelson for their enduring example of active listening.

If you are interested, you can catch the program at this link:


A negotiator’s thoughts on Zoom meetings


Earlier this week I was involved in an interesting webinar about leadership in isolation. Toward the end, there were a few comments about how exhausting Zoom meetings can be with the higher levels of concentration and responsiveness that are required.

Being on Zoom with ten or twelve people is a vastly different experience to being in a conference room with the same number. At a physical meeting with ten people around a board table, it’s impossible to be looking at everyone at once. But on Zoom, we are, in effect, sitting opposite not just one or two people but everybody.

People are also more conscious of themselves on Zoom. In gallery view, your own face is one of the many staring back at you. I have never looked at my Zoom reflection to adjust my hair or my posture, but you probably have (kidding, I find myself sneaking a few too many little glances at myself!).

Now, if you have been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know that I see most things through the lens of negotiation. My thoughts about Zoom meetings are no different.

When preparing for a negotiation, choosing where you will sit and where you’d like the other party to sit are important considerations:

  • If you want to give the perception of collaboration and engage the other party in designing the solution, sit side by side.
  • If you want open, face-to-face conversation without appearing combative, choose to sit at the end of the table at right-angles.
  • If you want opportunities to intimidate the other party or to give the appearance that the negotiation is a confrontation, sit opposite the other party.

Say what? Sitting opposite someone can be intimidating? On Zoom, this is our only choice, and hence why Zoom meeting can feel more confronting than physical ones.

Eye-contact is also relevant. In a negotiation, you need to build rapport, for which the right amount of eye-contact is important. But if you take it too far, prolonged eye contact appears highly competitive if not malevolent. And on Zoom, what are we doing? We are potentially holding eye-contact with multiple people for extended periods.

Finally, let’s consider the habit you all have (oh yes, and me too) of checking yourself out. In a negotiation, being conscious of your image is important. Research shows that self-confidence delivers results; when we feel good, we are much more likely to perform better in a negotiation.

So what are we to do? Here are some “negotiation-lens” tips for handling Zoom meetings:

  • Sometimes a phone call is more appropriate. When you are trying to dilute confrontation, don’t use video.
  • To remove the “all eyes on me” feeling and replicate a physical meeting, use speaker view or spotlighting (if you are the host) more often than gallery view.
  • If you are distracted too much by your own image, choose the “hide myself” setting.
  • If you find the image of yourself a helpful reminder to sit up straight or smile nicely, don’t hide yourself and consider using the sneaky “touch up my appearance” function.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

A Jedi improves his BATNA

Monday this week was Star Wars Day … May the Fourth be with you.

In a galaxy far, far away I thought I should honour the date by writing about the sale of Lucasfilm, George Lucas’ production company that was responsible for creating the Star Wars franchise.

Lucas sold Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney company in 2012 for a whopping USD$4.05 billion, but not before a gruelling 18 months or so of negotiations. One of the many interesting aspects of the negotiation was Lucas’ clever strategy of strengthening his BATNA, which is what negotiators call their Plan B.

BATNA stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Alternative, a term coined by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their seminal book, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In”. A BATNA is your best alternative if you walk away from the deal. It is important because it strengthens your negotiating power. If you have a strong BATNA, you won’t be tempted to give in to a sub-optimal deal. It means you can resist making concessions and push for what you want because you have a viable alternative.

So what did George Lucas do and what was his BATNA in the negotiations with Disney? If the negotiations with Disney had broken down or did not meet his minimum requirements, Lucas’ BATNA was the sale of Lucasfilm to other potential buyers. During his negotiations with the then Disney CEO, Bob Iger, Lucas never lost sight of this.

Over the months of negotiation, Lucas focused his attention on cultivating prospects for the company and increasing its attractiveness to Disney and to other potential buyers. He appointed a new, younger leadership team, he employed writers to start developing the next trilogy of Star Wars films and he approached some of the original cast (including Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill) to see if they would consider returning to the franchise in their original roles.

Lucas was determined not to sell Lucasfilm at its stand-alone value but at a price that recognised the synergies with Disney and the work underway to expand the Star Wars franchise. Not only did these actions increase the value of Lucasfilm for Disney but they improved Lucas’ BATNA as the company became more attractive for other buyers too.

This case study serves to remind us that you should never enter a negotiation without first determining your BATNA, and the BATNA of the other party. BATNAs are a key weapon in a negotiator’s arsenal.

If you can find ways to strengthen your BATNA, you’ll have good options if you need to walk away (or Skywalker-way) and you might also find that the improved BATNA leads to a more Lucas-rative deal.

Apologies for the puns but, after all, all is fair in love and Star Wars.


In isolation and negotiation, beware your biases

What things have been driving you crazy during isolation? Inconsiderate people in the supermarket? The crowds at your local park? People flouting social distancing measures and congregating at beaches?

Imagine this scenario. You are out having a run at the beach and you see a group of people ignoring the physical distancing laws and sitting together. You run by and shake your head at the “selfish jerks” (insert a different, more pejorative term as appropriate). You then see police approach them and issue fines. Admit it, you feel pretty smug, don’t you?

The next day, after the same run, you decide to sit on the beach for 10 minutes while you cool down. Unfortunately, you are spotted by the police and handed a fine. What do you do? You protest that you were following rules, you were just having a quick break after a run, you’re not a “selfish jerk”.

This type of scenario plays out on the roads every day. If you cut me off, you’re a bad driver. If I cut you off, I had a reasonable excuse for doing so.

Our tendency to blame circumstances for our own poor behaviour but judge someone’s character for theirs is a cognitive bias called the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). Stephen Covey, he of the 7 Habits, explains FAE thus: “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior”.

A few years ago, I worked quite closely with someone who was later diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. His approach to anything was an extreme example of FAE – if something went well, he was solely responsible; if it didn’t go well, he couldn’t bring himself to take any responsibility for it. Few people take their biases this far, but we are all impacted by FAE more than we know.

When preparing for a negotiation, it is critical that you identify and deal with any possible sources of bias. FAE, if unacknowledged, can have a major impact in a negotiation – it can lead to poor judgement about the other party, and impact our ability to understand their needs and make rational decisions.

For women, FAE can make negotiation even harder. Gender bias in society often means that a woman negotiating assertively is perceived as pushy or bossy, but a man with the same demeanour is seen as strong and confident.

To combat FAE, try these tips:

  • Be honest with yourself that you have biases and try to recognise them.
  • Be mindful of people blaming you for things outside your control and gently challenge their assumptions about you.
  • Likewise, remain aware of your tendency to blame others and aim to understand their motives.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt – rather than judging, practise empathy and assume a more positive explanation for their behaviour.
  • Endeavour to see the other side of the story; this will lead to more creative discussions and collaborative problem-solving.
  • Don’t get distracted from your negotiation goals by allowing yourself to be influenced by the other party’s reputation or behaviour.


This model is all you need right now

I’ve solved it!

This little model is all you need in these uncertain times.

I designed this as a guide to negotiating during these Covid-19 days but, guess what? It helps with any decision you need to make at the moment.

Should I ride my bike around the bay? If I can trust my skills but am not sure if the crowd will be too crazy, inch forward. If you know that everyone is at home watching MasterChef but your bike-riding skills are rusty, wait it out for now.

Should you fire up the oven in a moment of boredom to make a chocolate souffle? If you have the right ingredients, a good oven and you’ve done it successfully before, then go for it. If you’ve never made a souffle and you are short on eggs, then no, don’t even consider it.

See how this works?

In terms of negotiating something in these uncertain times, it’s fine to proceed if the other party is someone you trust, and you have enough predictability in the situation. But, please, don’t start negotiating with someone if there is low trust. Even if the situation has a high level of certainty, there is too much flux elsewhere so it’s not a good time. Just wait it out and spend the time building trust until the right time to proceed comes along.

If you are wondering why this model is valid now, in Corona-times, and not all the time, the answer is the context. With the souffle example, in non-Corona times you could start preparing the souffle in the knowledge that eggs are readily available at a corner store. With the bike ride, it would be fine to take your rusty skills out for a spin on a quiet day. And for the negotiation, in non-Covid times you would probably proceed while exploring opportunities with the other party to improve the relationship and decrease uncertainty.

Can you think of other ways this model applies in these uncertain times?


Day of Pink

I discovered by chance this morning that today, 8th of April, is the Day of Pink.

My first thought was of the movie Mean Girls and that iconic line: “on Wednesdays we wear pink”. But no, the Day of Pink is about standing up to bullying and discrimination.

Discrimination takes many shapes, but you may not know that female doctors experience high levels of discrimination and bullying as well as pay gaps in some specialties as high as 50%.

Surveys and reports released by ASMOF NSW show that more than half of female doctors have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace, while male doctors report a fraction of this number. Despite reaching comparable numbers in medical schools, women are also vastly underrepresented in senior medical roles such as deans, CMOs, medical college board members and hospital CEOs.

In my most recent whitepaper, I argue that learning consensus-building negotiation skills can equip female doctors to receive more acknowledgement in the workplace, to negotiate better salaries and working conditions, and neutralise the impact of bullying and hostility.

I also outline a case study where I helped one doctor negotiate a whopping 28% pay rise as well as role and roster changes.

Get in touch if you would like to receive a copy of the whitepaper.


In Praise of Doctors

The 30th of March is National Doctors’ Day in the USA. Australia doesn’t seem to recognise this day widely but right now, amid a pandemic, it’s a bandwagon worth jumping on.

Send a message of thanks to the doctors you know – those on the frontline of Covid-19 and all of the others who are holding up the rest of the health system and keeping us safe.

If you want to hear about the work I am doing with female doctors, get in touch if to receive a copy of my latest whitepaper: “Negotiation Skills as a Remedy for Gender Bias in Medicine”.

The difference a month makes

I have just emailed a follow-up to a great group of people who attended my Introduction to Sustainable Negotiation training course a month ago. I like to follow up on Learning Plans a week, a month and three months after training and today’s email was the one-month check-in.

But what a month! A month ago, we had four Covid-19 cases in Australia and we’d never heard of social distancing. A month ago, there were no queues snaking around the block at Centrelink offices. A month ago, the Liberal Party still had its “Back in Black” mug for sale.

My follow-up emails are business as usual, but it is not business as usual in Australia right now.

Strangely, there is no better time to learn to negotiate – we are all negotiating for limited resources, many of us are negotiating with staff about changes to their jobs, some of us are facing unemployment and are negotiating with Centrelink and landlords, a few of us are negotiating with banks about interest rates, and almost all of us are negotiating with family members about how to share the house while we work from home.

It is not business as usual for me either. I have always delivered negotiation coaching over Zoom but am now adapting my group training courses to be delivered this way too.

Despite all this, it doesn’t feel quite right to be marketing at present. So, if you need support negotiating something or help with boosting your skills, get in touch. But if you just want to chat, or get a second opinion on a decision, or talk through what you have on your plate, that’s fine too. Just get in touch.