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Great Negotiators Make Great Leaders

Alan Smith
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Is it any surprise that when we look around, so many captains of Australian industry have done a Scotwork program during their careers? You could argue that simply by the sheer quantum of people who have done a Scotwork program (>20,000 Australians) that it was bound to happen… but I suspect there is more to it.

We expect a lot from leaders today. They need to be authentic, have excellent communication skills, impeccable integrity, the ability to nurture and drive innovation/creativity… while still delivering on short term results (and the list goes on). It is no mean feat.

So why do I think there is a correlation? A participant on a Scotwork negotiation training program told me that we had properly landed a concept in under 3 days, for their leadership development program hadn’t quite been able to stick after multiple extended offsites. He proffered that while everyone agreed on the concepts that had been pitched, these visits had not resulted in any of the attendees achieving any self-insight.

Of course, the reason companies invest in a Scotwork program is typically to solve a short-term commercial problem - the learnings put our participants in an excellent position to excel in life!

Building trust and disclosing information

One of the first habits we need to break is that most people have a dreadful tendency to operate as a closed shop and keep all their information to themselves. There are two terrible consequences of this: the first being that your counterpart loses trust and the second being that negotiations suffocate without information to progress.

Being open with information is a trait that great leaders tend to display. They bring everyone inside the tent with them, open the kimono, and empower their people to help solve problems.

Inevitably, information you choose not to share leaks anyway… and when this occurs, it ends up hurting you way more than simply leaning in warts and all from the outset. To give you an example, a friend was telling me their global CEO asked everyone to take a 20% pay-cut to help with COVID19 and that the CEO himself was reducing his own salary by 50%... of course, my friend later read the published results and the CEO had actually taken a 50% cut on his $1m salary but kept 100% of his $9m bonus… trust broken forever.

Displaying genuine empathy and interest in constituents

Of course, it is important to be assertive and enthusiastically advocate for yourself and your company’s positions… but great negotiators and leaders are both equally interested in their counterparts as much as they are in themselves.

For some reason, people think that to be a tough negotiator you need to be in control of the narrative and do all the talking. The reality is that it is not until you start listening that you start to surface and then explore constraints and opportunities.

If I reflect on my own personal career, the leaders I have given the most to were those who I felt had a genuine interest in me. These are the leaders who knock on your office door just to shoot the breeze or walk the floor just to read the vibe. 

Finding ways to say yes instead of no

Another crazy position we must beat out of people is the notion that you have to say ‘No’ to be tough!

The reality is of course far different, the leaders and negotiators who try to find ways to work around problems, meet needs and build flexibility into how objectives are met… simply find it easier to meet objectives!

Creating psychological safety

Psychological safety is not a leadership trait that is widely spoken about but I believe it is one that is critical. It involves having a culture where it is safe to speak out, share ideas, make mistakes and take appropriate risks. This isn’t about giving someone a blank cheque to make mistakes, rather it is about giving people the ability to be creative as far as is appropriate.

Good negotiators operate very similarly to allow for more creative and hypothetical exploration of trading opportunities and ways to work around constraints. This creativity is very difficult to explore in front of the probity officers and lawyers… because of fear someone might say something they shouldn’t. Instead, when facing a deadlock, good negotiators try as much as possible to have ‘off the record’ and ‘just suppose…’ conversations.

Happy negotiating!

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