4 Tips – The Theatrical Art of Negotiation

Recently, I was asked to participate on a panel discussion about NEGOTIATION for University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business. I was honored to be asked and accepted the invitation with only a few reservations regarding how valuable my contribution to the discussion would be (read: hoping not to make a fool of myself).

The moderator was a professor who teaches international negotiation. The other panelists were esteemed in their fields and ranged from a financier with a large, international company to a director with a national physician’s group to a renowned labor and employment litigation attorney. And me. Certainly an impressive group if ever there was one.

The evening was lively and provocative – even funny at times. The large room full of students asked great, thoughtful questions and everyone walked out pleased with what they had learned – the panel included. I was asked to stay and role-play some negotiation scenarios with students, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What I realized during and after the discussions that evening was this; so much of negotiating is an acting exercise, and that the art of negotiation is based primarily on goals and communication, much like good theatre. Keeping that in mind, below are four of the most salient points to remember when negotiating:

1. Know your audience. Take the time to do the research prior to beginning a negotiation. You must know to whom you are talking, whether it’s a hiring manager, or counsel for a corporation. Research the culture. “Corporate culture” is a hot button now and companies want to know that you understand who they are when dealing with them. People, all people, want to know that you have valued their time enough to do the research and that you’re approaching them from a position of interest and knowledge. How can you hope to negotiate with someone when you have no idea what they want? This brings us directly to number two…

2. Know your goal. It is important to go into a negotiation with an idea of what you want to accomplish as a whole. The details are where negotiation happens. Everyone wants to get the deal done or else they wouldn’t be there to begin with. Negotiations are conversations, not a mugging. No one should feel that they are winning or losing, since the objective is for everyone to get what they want. There are those rare time though that things may not go well and the other party will not offer value. If you feel you’re being mugged, you must be prepared to walk away. It’s the strongest card in the deck and it’s also the most costly, so use it wisely. It’s a basic acting tenet that you play your objective as if it were life or death, otherwise there’s no point.

3. Be fluid. Again, this is the essence of negotiation – fluidity. As an actor, we are constantly defining and redefining the characters we play. Negotiation is no different. You never know what item or skill set or commodity may affect the outcome of a negotiation. By actively listening to the other party (listening to the tone of their voice, their body language, etc.), doing your research (see #1) and working toward a mutually beneficial outcome, everyone will get what they want and no one needs to feel beaten up.

4. Be your best self. This is key. Bringing your best, most authentic self to the table will go a long way toward reaching your goal. Be honest, truthful and pleasant. Learn to present and speak well to a group. Learn to effectively engage your audience. Whether it’s a job interview or a billion dollar deal, trust that you’re there because you’ve got the goods, skills and knowledge to get the job done well. Save the drama and the intrigue for the movies.

Till next time.

LB Adams

LB Adams is the Owner of Pragmatic Dramatics based out of Charleston, SC. Her company uses basic acting techniques and theatre skills to train business professionals to communicate more effectively.

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