Negotiation Blog

All that jazz: it's negotiation too

By Marianne Eby

What do the best negotiators and jazz musicians have in common? That question is inspired by a recent article on CNN Opinion: “What the best jazz musicians and business brains have in common.” The argument made, not surprisingly, is that business leaders are more successful when they are open to possibilities rather than stuck on certainties, and when they are empowered to improvise. Good negotiators know how critical this insight is to what they do.

We teach and write about the importance of creativity as a game-changer in negotiations, and the need for improvisation as a skill at the bargaining table.  But here are three deeper parallels between great jazz and great negotiation:

Exchange: In jazz, particularly in rehearsal, the musicians exchange musical ideas, take cues from each other, and find new paths through a melody or score. The more experienced they are, and the better they know their instruments and their partners, the more possibilities there are in the music. In collaborative negotiation, similarly, preparation is essential, but then bargaining is a genuine exchange, where the unexpected can happen, and new ideas develop. Open-minded listening, asking questions, and paying attention to the other party's real interests can lead to creative concessions and counter-offers that bring new value to the bargaining table. In negotiation, as in jazz, "Improvisation grows out of a receptivity to what the situation offers."

Learning and finding new value: In jazz improvisation musicians learn more about the music -- about the melody, their instruments, their partners. Similarly, in a good collaborative negotiation both parties learn more about their own and each other's businesses. A creatively handled conflict between a buyer's terms and a seller's bottom line can bring in new elements of value: a seller might offer a new packaging or delivery method, innovative payment terms, a valuable training program. Buyers might offer sources of new business, coveted tickets to a game. A good negotiator, like a jazz musician, finishes an exchange with an expanded understanding of their own and the other party's value.

The relationship: Another facet of the parallel between jazz musicians and great negotiators is that both understand the core value of the relationship. Jazz musicians treat music as something that is only fully achieved with and in relation to another musician -- they know that "creativity is a collaborative achievement," as Barrett puts it. Similarly, good negotiators know that one of the most valuable products of a collaborative negotiation is often the collaborative relationship itself.

In jazz musicians as in great negotiators, creativity and improvisation are not just skills or tactics, but they represent a whole mindset, or philosophy of negotiating: a collaborative negotiation itself finds or creates new value, just as an interactive, collaborative jazz performance creates new music.  So let's jazz up our negotiating!

Negotiating Tip

Try not to negotiate if you are in a negative emotional mood. Research shows you will make inappropriate or unnecessary concessions.


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