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

Contrary to popular belief, 9 out of 10 times you will benefit greatly by making the first offer.

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Negotiation Blog

In Memory of John Nash

By Thomas Wood

I learned about the power of collaboration in negotiating from John Nash. The death of John Nash and is wife in an auto accident this weekend is tragic. He influenced my work with negotiators around the world, and we are forever grateful for his contributions.

John Nash (1928-2015) is widely known on several levels: he suffered from acute chronic paranoid schizophrenia; he was a genius in mathematics; and with other collaborators, won the Nobel prize in Economics in 1994 for their work on game theory. There was an Oscar winning 2001 film, "A Beautiful Mind" starring Russell Crowe as John Nash, loosely based on parts of his life, in which most of us probably got our first glimpse into his thinking -- into his beautiful mind.

Before Nash, most negotiations were focused on the deal – the outcome – the conditions. But Nash introduced an original idea that doing what is best for all parties can result in more value than in pursuing what is only best for each party. In essence, he proved with mathematics that focusing on Relationships allows us to achieve win-win results.

Are relationships new to win-win? No. Ancient cultures have valued relationships for thousands of years. What was new was that Nash came up with a way to represent win-win so that the results are predictable and repeatable.

If you try to maximize your gain, your personal outcome, you may get nothing. In the movie "Beautiful Mind," the character John Nash refers to the renowned economist, Adam Smith's theory: "Individual ambition serves the common good. Best result comes from everyone doing what’s best for himself."

Nash determined that Adam Smith's theory was incomplete. Instead, Nash showed that the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what is best for himself/herself and for the group. If you pursue a result that benefits all – that’s win-win. And how do you get there?  – by developing trusting relationships, collaborating on ideas, and addressing parties' interests.

Many news organizations, colleagues and individuals have left tributes to show appreciation for Nash's work in mathematics, economics, and bargaining. Actor Russell Crowe and Director Ron Howard tweeted their respects. One person who says he spent an afternoon with Nash commented that Nash taught him that "brilliant ideas are not the exclusive domain of people with great minds."

This is what we teach: brilliant ideas are those that solve ordinary problems, and those creative solutions come from the parties collaborating on how to bring value to each party and to the group.

I would have loved a chance to talk with John Nash.​

Negotiating Tip

Debriefing key negotiations makes you a better negotiator. Reflection on what worked and didn’t is money in the negotiating bank.

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