Prior to becoming an Executive Coach my background had been in sales. You could say that sales was in my blood!
When I left corporate world in 2005 I was a Global Account Director for one of the large Silicon Valley IT companies. My path into sales was, in hindsight, inevitable. My father set up his own sales company 40 years ago and still loves going to see his customers despite being able to retire a few years ago. My first sales job was at 13 years old working weekends in my local village health food shop. This saw me progress to the dizzy heights of a weekend sales person at well known furniture retailer by the time I was 15.
As a result I thought I knew a thing or two about negotiation……that was until my baby turned into a toddler. Now my life seems like it’s made up of daily minute-by-minute constant negotiations. Along the lines of
“If you put your shoes on you can listen to the tractor CD in the car”
“If you brush your teeth you can play with the hoover” (my son seems to have developed an obsession with vacuum cleaners!?)
“One more minute playing with that toy and then you have to go to bed”
You get the idea I’m sure.
This total immersion in the art of negotiation has highlighted to me the biggest obstacle to successful negotiation. An aspect that I believe was almost totally neglected when I received negotiation training years ago in my sales career.
What’s the biggest obstacle to achieving the success you want in a negotiation whether it be round the kitchen table, conference room table or boardroom table?
It’s you! Or, in my case, with my son….it’s me!
As William Ury, Cofounder of Harvard Negotiation Project puts it:
“The biggest obstacle to success in negotiation is not the other, however difficult they might be. It is ourselves. The true difficultly lies within, in our all-too-human tendency to react – to react impulsively.”
Negotiation expert Erica Ariel Fox who teaches negotiation at Harvard Law School writes brilliantly in her book Winning from Within
“It turns out most people find a disparity between what they know they should do to be successful (their optimal reaction) and what they actually do in daily life (their current reaction)”
So I know that if I remain calm and consistent with my son things tend to go smoothly with my daily negotiations with him. However when he doesn’t listen or appears to be defying my requests and expectations it is sooooo easy for me to loose my calm approach.
Whilst logic tells me that he is toddler, logic doesn’t always win. Logic tells me that he naturally should be exploring and navigating this world. That this is the time that he will be testing boundaries and learning what is expected, that he won’t respond perfectly and reasonably each time. This still doesn’t stop frustration and despair creeping into our negotiations. When this happens I always end up losing. I might not lose my position but I certainly end up losing to the tears and tantrums. I end up losing the intended outcome.
Erica in her books calls this your Performance Gap – knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.
How often do you plan to do one thing but in the moment you do something else?
Do you ever plan to listen to your partner but find yourself yelling or shutting down instead?
Do you ever intend to collaborate with other people but then get rigid and stuck in your opinions?
Do you ever become defensive or reactive when you want to keep your cool?
Do you say yes when you want to say no?
Do you say things and later wish you hadn’t?
Do you ever sit quietly wishing you would speak up or take a stand?
These are often challenges that I work with my clients on. My clients tend to be highly intelligent and highly experienced executives. They know what they should be doing to get the optimal results that they want. But as I’ve already pointed out – knowing what to do and actually doing it aren’t the same thing.
To overcome these all too common unintended reactions it requires self awareness and self management skills. More than self awareness it requires state awareness – this is self awareness in the moment.
Whilst many senior executives recognise their tendency to exhibit negative behaviour under pressure, they often don’t realise they’re exhibiting that behaviour until well after they’ve started to do so. Hindsight is a great thing isn’t it! At that point, the damage is already done.
So I’ve come to realise that the most important, and often the hardest, negotiation we ever have is with ourselves.
Whilst I would like to think that my 2 year old is the most unpredictable and unreasonable person in our negotiations, I reluctantly have to admit that it is actually my reactive inner-self.
“Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game. The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal….The inner game….is the game that takes place in the mind of the player…..and it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.” W. Timothy Gallwey.
The good news is that there are some great tools and strategies that can help us to close our performance gap. But it requires more than knowing these tools and strategies. To work effectively they have to drop from your head into your heart and body. This enables you to be able to call upon them in the moment, in the right moment, and use them effectively.
This is where coaching comes into play. In my work with my clients I help them to make these learnings operational. I help them turn these principles into every day practice. Coaching is proven to be one of the most effective ways of helping people to see their reactions without needing to act on them. It is in this gap that people can make wise and conscious choices about how they act.
It is in this gap where I catch myself wanting to react to my son in an unhelpful way during our negotiations and then realise he is at the most incredible stage of his life. Where my ability to steer his everyday adventures will shape the person he will become and how he will react to others. It is in this space that I become the best negotiator I have ever been and embrace it with joy rather than frustration. Not every time though, as we’re all human after all!