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Negotiating With Your Self: Lessons from a Hostage Negotiator

Keith Stacey
Negotiating With Your Self Lessons From A Hostage Negotiator

I’ve been reading Order Out of Chaos: A kidnap Negotiator’s Guide to Influence and Persuasion’ by Scott Walker and it reminded me; we need to constantly make the time to check in -  on ourselves. We need to ask ourselves, are we embracing the mistakes we make as negotiators? Are we considering (in a curious way) what we can learn from difficult feedback? Are we working out what is worthwhile to learn? Or are we just berating ourselves if something looks like it might have failed: a strategy, a process, or an outcome.


Walker says that we need to keep working at it (negotiating with our selves) like we would work on ourselves at the gym. Each individual controls their own story. We need to bring the right mind-set to each negotiation, the right tone and more curiosity than assumptions.   We need to adopt a lens on ourselves that is critical but kind. Who we are as a person leading negotiations, makes a difference in each case and self-growth on the way is essential.  


In fact, as Henry Ford once said, “The only true mistake is the one you don’t learn from.”

You won’t get it right every time. It’s the negotiations that go wrong that allow you to learn.   One of the skills Walker highlights is empathy, and we need to practice it on ourselves before dealing with others.  


But where do you start to check in? How do you look inward and sense what might be your next personal challenge? A starting place is to notice your own behaviours, particularly when you self – sabotage opportunities for success. Some examples of this might include:

  1. Failure to prepare adequately for an upcoming negotiation: the first error would be to not allow enough time for this critical activity. As a result, you may find yourself without a clear objective, or your priorities established.
  2. Perhaps you adopted an inflexible stance in the negotiations, without a fallback position prepared in advance.
  3. Failure to adequately assess the power balance and monitor it throughout the negotiation resulting in lost opportunities to gain improved deals.
  4. Perhaps you didn’t deploy an appropriately trained team. Or perhaps you neglected to establish possible concessions you might have had to make.


I still cringe when I think about a time when I flew to Sydney to present a proposal to a new, potentially large corporate customer. Early in the discussion, when they inquired about the cost of the course and I gave them the standard fee, they flew into a rage and accused me of offering a gold-plated solution to their tin-plated problem. My failure had been to structure their expectations prior to the meeting, that our course fees were a fraction of the returns to be obtained from application of the skills. If I had taken this important step, the client may have decided this solution was not for them, and both of us would have saved significant time and personal toll. 


By understanding that these self-defeating behaviours are common, we need to understand what lies behind them. Research indicates that surprisingly, they represent a defence mechanism for our self-esteem. If the negotiation goes badly, we can blame our lack of preparation for the result, not our personal inadequacy. 


Before we negotiate with others, we must truly understand ourselves before we understand others.


Happy negotiating!

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