Jul 01, 2016

Successful Negotiations: Improve with Improv

Peter Margaritis, CPABy Peter A. Margaritis, CPA

Corporate America thrives because of successful negotiations. But not every negotiation involves a client on the other end. Opening negotiations with employees, giving them a voice in the direction of the business, takes successful negotiating to new levels. Before you can engage in this strategy, you need the right tools, and those tools, believe it or not, can be found in the world of improv. 

Conducting successful negotiations requires the use of six major improve skills; methods that can help ensure positive outcomes. They are as follows:

  1. Take your ego off the table.
  2. Respect the other party.
  3. Be in the moment (focus).
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants.
  5. Adapt to the situation.
  6. Yes, and…

These steps help remove emotions from the table. Heated engagements cause negotiations 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. When our goals for a negotiation are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, 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.

Improv at the Root of Skillful Negotiation
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.”

Driving positive change inside a company depends on how well leaders can negotiate. That equates to how well business professionals can manage blocking scenarios. Blocking happens every day. It is something brought to the table that was unexpected. It halts forward momentum. It is something that doesn’t neatly fit inside the box of your agenda. 

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 quickly grind to a halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. 

This is when the six principles of improvisation can come to the rescue!

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. 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 together until they can’t build anymore.

We are more likely to succeed in negotiations when both parties envision a common goal. This is what improvisation teaches: setting aside personal agendas and ego, and taking whatever the other person gives you and go with it. The glue that ties it all together is the principle of “Yes, and …”. Successful people 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 provide respect to 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 with the boss, one’s spouse, or one’s child. This is the kind of straight talk that can truly make the biggest difference.

Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, is a speaker, educator, trainer, humorist, and self-proclaimed chief “edutainment” officer for The Accidental Accountant. He is a member of the Ohio Society of CPAs, Georgia Society of CPAs, National Speakers Association, and the American Institute of CPAs. Margaritis is also the author of Improv Is No Joke: Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life. 

Here are a few upcoming programs Peter is presenting for the PICPA.

Negotiating Unmasked Webinars
Aug. 5, 2016, 10:00 a.m.
Oct. 7, 2016, 10:00 a.m.

Identify, Explain, and Present Financial Data to Nonaccountants
Aug. 22, 2016 | Hershey | 8:00 a.m.
Sept. 20, 2016 | Trevose | 8:00 a.m.

The Eight-Hour MBA: Business Strategy
Aug. 23, 2016 | Hershey | 8:00 a.m.

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