Negotiation as a Spiritual Experience—Wait, What?

Some wise person said if you want to change your life, you could read the phone book and have a transformative experience.

But negotiation as a spiritual experience? C’mon. It’s a battle. Two people trying to get what they want by any means possible—digging in to positions, shouting, interrupting, offering promises, making threats, manipulating, flirting, ingratiating.

Worse than a root canal.

While most people understand intellectually that there’s a better, more humane and effective way of communicating for mutual benefit, our life experience – specifically our relationship to conflict—often hijacks our emotions at the negotiation table. So we augur in and hold on, refusing to budge so we don’t get walked on like a doormat.

To a person, the people we’ve taught and consulted with tell us that the net effect of negotiating as a battle is exhaustion and frustration. Leaving money on the table. Hurting important relationships. Lacking influence. In the absence of skill, they feel grey around the edges, and that even though agreements get reached, they seem tenuous and temporary.

So fear, the lack of skills, and poor negotiation outcomes makes it no wonder that 49% of job candidates don't negotiate their initial offers.

"Ah, but when the student is ready, the teacher appears."

Early in my career I had a negotiation that changed my life. I was working in a PR firm in Los Angeles and I had a horrible commute. Every day my 20-mile journey took no less than 90 minutes. By the time I got to work at 8 a.m., I was irritable and pissy.

After a mere six weeks on the job, I arrived in a tempest one morning and went into my boss’s office and quit. My voice was quivering trying to hold back the tears, and I said something like, “I-I-I hate this job. It takes me an hour to settle down and get to work. I’m sorry, but I have to give notice.” Snuffle snuffle.

My boss paused for a minute, and said, “Do you have a question you’d like to ask me?” And I said, “Huh? What do you mean?”

“Turn your complaint into a request, Lisa. How else can you solve this problem? I don't want to lose one of the best hires I've ever made.”

That question turned my head around. But thinking any of my wildly ridiculous proposals would be rejected, I offered sarcastically, “Okay, sure. What if I come in to work at 10 or 11, and leave at 6 or 7?”

“Absolutely. Sounds like a great idea. Why don’t you work out the details with the team and let me know the upshot.”

I was speechless.

By today’s standards, that’s a flextime conversation. Easy peasy, right? But back in the early 90s it was not all that common. And up to that point, what informed my daily conversations and fear of asking was my 10-year-old self, sitting at the dinner table, fighting about, well, everything.

From that moment forward I began to experience asking and negotiation as a conversation. A problem-solving process leading to an agreement that benefits everyone concerned.

Wax on, Wax Off

And yes, I would definitely characterize that shift in my behavior as a spiritual experience. It changed everything. My relationships, my career trajectory, what I wanted out of life, and what I thought was possible to achieve. I became fearless.

Fast forward many years, many classes, books and certifications later, I now see negotiation as a communication discipline with a vocabulary and a process—a set of beautifully flexible, repeatable skills and practices used to achieve the simplest goals, like where to go to dinner, to the wildest of dreams, like taking a job working on an elephant reserve in South Africa.

Ready for your transformation? Learn to negotiate. Put it on your to-do list. Then wax on, wax off.

"Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Zen proverb