Negotiation – what it really is!

Often the term negotiation brings to mind high level discussions solving global problems or austere negotiation teams sweating over price or the other usual targets that austere negotiation teams target.

I feel that this is a big misconception and so, in this blog post I will try to provide a wider perspective in an effort to be-free the term from this very restrictive viewpoint.

The broadening of the term definition is a necessary start.


I firmly believe that we can define the totality of the human experience and our interaction with the world as, a negotiation between us and the world in an effort to find meaning and meaningfulness.

From the plethora of available definitions I think the below remark from Danah Boyd on the MIT Media Lab is capturing this nuance well.

“Fundamentally, social interaction is a negotiation between individuals performing within a particular social context to convey aspects of their identity. This negotiation often occurs with little conscious thought; people comfortably interact with one another, revealing what is appropriate while assessing what information is being given.”- Danah Boyd, MIT Media Lab, Master’s Thesis

When you think about it, common verbal or non verbal everyday interaction is effectively an effort to understand and be understood. This is because in its core, during our interaction with others we are negotiating the conveyance of meaning.

If we do this well we reach a positive self-image which assists in the development of our identity, among others.

Hence, the logical conclusion is that the negotiating process is:

i) far more frequent that some may think as it is the most common part of the everyday human experience.

ii) extremely important and so, to develop good negotiating skills as a basic human skill is a must.

Of course, negotiating the resolution of the conflicts in the Middle East has completely different gravity than negotiating the time your son or daughter should come home after a late night.

But in saying that, when we become conscious of the effect good negotiating skills have in our lives we may start aiming to develop more of this essential skill.

This can then become a necessary prerequisite for leading a happier and more fulfilling life e.g. the contemporary demand for work-life balance then becomes a target that good negotiating skills can definitely assist in.



As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the first step towards a successful negotiation depends on embracing the second position i.e. understanding the other’s point of view (see more about this here).

Over future posts, I will look into common errors in the negotiation process as well as different ways to approach a negotiation.

Moreover, I wholeheartedly recommend the below great resources that discuss effective communication and negotiation skills. These are now classics:

  1. Roger Fisher and William Ury – Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
  2. Robert Cialdini – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
  3. Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People.

as well as, the Harvard Negotiation Project which has great resources for developing your negotiation skills.

Have you come across other good resources? Feel free to share in the comment section below or send me a private message.

So, how were your negotiation skills today?

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How to eat an elephant?

Most of the projects that can make a difference in today’s world are big, complex, risky and generally prone to failure.

How does one counter this uncertainty and maintain a steady course?

Firstly, ask the right questions!

“Asking the right question is half the answer” Aristotle

Then, set your goal – your True North – and persevere in staying the course!

As Thomas Edison, a great prolific inventor, once said:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

What Edison suggests is that perseverance and hard work eventually pays off. He has 1,093 US patents to prove it.

Along the same lines, I have found the below story from the Jim Collins inspiring and tremendously helpful in keeping me focused when dealing with complex, big projects:

The 20-Mile March from Book Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Amundsen vs. Scott – Conquering the South Pole:

The round trip trek was roughly fourteen hundred miles, the equivalent of the distance from New York to Chicago and back.The environment was uncertain and unforgiving, where temperatures could easily reach 20 degrees below zero F even during the Summer.They had no means of modern communications – no cell phones, no satellite links, no radio – a rescue would have been improbable were they to err.One leader led his team to victory and safety.The other led his team to defeat and death.

Throughout the journey, Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in good weather, careful to stay away from the red line of exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace.Amundsen throttled back his well-tuned team to travel between 15 and 20 miles per day, in a relentless march to 90 degrees south.When a member of Amundsen’s team suggested they could go faster, up to 25 miles a day, Amundsen said no.They needed to rest and sleep so as to continually replenish their energy.In contrast, Scott would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days.At one point Scott faced 6 days of gale force winds and traveled on none, whereas Amundsen faced 15 and traveled on 8.Amundsen clocked in at the South Pole right on his pre-decided pace, having averaged 15.5 miles per day.Scott in contrast fell behind early, with no plan of a daily pace, and as the conditions worsened, enhanced by his lack of preparation for unforeseen events, he and his team never recovered.


There are countless times I have used this technique to tackle the most daunting of tasks.

The key is to set a constant and keep on it without thinking about the total. Before you know it you are there and most importantly you have enjoyed the journey!!!

e.g. I remember I needed to go over a textbook of 1000 pages. Reading 1000 pages is daunting but breaking down the task and focusing on disciplined reading of 30 pages a day made the task achievable and easy to tackle. A friend has used the same technique to run a marathon. There are a variety of examples if you think about it.


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Lao Tzu


So, as the saying goes: How to eat an elephant?

– A bite at a time!


Do you have a 20-mile March task you have been putting off for a while? Now, may be a good time to start.

Happy Marching!


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Employee Engagement: 3 Essential Targets (Part 3)

Previously, I examined of the Why and the So What we should forget trying to motivate staff and instead focus on employee engagement.

Let’s now have a look at 3 essential elements you should focus on and some practical examples on HOW to go about it.


As I argued previously there is a direct link between employee engagement and employee contribution. This link expands to include job satisfaction. Hence, in seeing how we can best engage employees I suggest we look first at the elements of job satisfaction.

There are various models that assist in exploring Job Satisfaction. One of the most useful ones I have found comes from Malcolm Gladwell.

It has three parts:

“Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people will agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.” — Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers)

So, for work to have this “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, [which] is the strongest and most pervasive drive” (Daniel Pink, Drive) we need to focus on these three things:



Autonomy does not need to mean working solo. In essence, everyone reports to someone else. However, for the parts that you can you should provide relative autonomy to the team members.

It is thus important to first agree on the Purpose, the expected result and the framework instead of the method. Then, as a manager, supervisor, team leader or fellow team member focus on providing support, guidance and feedback.

e.g. with my team we have developed a system whereas, each team member can select a pet project (a product) to work on for a number of weeks and then present to the team. The caveat is that the product is one that when delivered will have a perceived value to the team and that it is aligned with our team’s mission. Then each team member has the autonomy to work within the framework towards the agreed goal. Many great improvements to our processes and ways of thinking have come from this initiative.

This is one way to promote autonomy within the team.

Another simple way is based on the motto:

“Don’t report a problem, recommend a solution”.

e.g. team member is expected to formulate their communication so that if there is an issue the focus is on the recommended ways of overcoming it as well as reporting it rather than merely reporting. This is another way to promote autonomy.


Dealing with this concept, I often hear the argument “I cannot make this job interesting. It involves one repetitive task and it requires very low skill level”.

It appears that, for some, some positions are perceived “boring” by definition. This view though does not assist in keeping employee retention levels high. It also creates substandard realities for people who can certainly offer more if given a chance.

What can be done about it?

Try asking the questions:

  • Can the mix of work change?
  • Is there a Continuous Improvement Project that the team member can engage in on the side?
  • Is there a better way to do this?
  • If the job does not require much skill and is repetitive why is it not automated? That’s a meaningful project in itself.
  • Are there strengths the team member has which can be useful on other projects within the Organisation?


This is another point that has drawn much discussion. Do we focus on carrots or sticks.

Provided that the hiring process have delivered well suited team members to the requirements of the positions, I firmly believe that the daily interactions should be based on creating positive relationships. Hence, maximizing each team members’ strengths.

This is best done by rewarding positive behaviors and contributions as well as, working with the team to correct any behaviors and outcomes that do not contribute to the team success.

Rewards, of course, need to be customised to the character and what “talks to each individual”. In saying this, there is one need that is perceived to be universal.

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” William James

Here are some practical ways to reward effort and stimulate contribution:

1) Feedback

i) A productive way to do this is to start feedback loops as standard daily practices. A structured way to provide feedback can be found here and here.

Promoting such interactions and providing ways to go about many benefits including better bond between the team members, less frustration from each others behaviours as frustrations are positively verbalised and others.

ii) Another way to approach feedback is by performing a SWOT analysis for the team involving the whole team. A recap of how this can be done can be seen here.

2) Boost Organisational Conversation

Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind in a recent article in HBR provide some insight on the use of an element that is part of a new model of leadership. The element of organizational conversation and conclude that:

“For an inclusive leader, the term “employee communication” takes on a provocative new meaning. For generations, that term has referred to communication aimed at employees. Today, by contrast, more and more leaders are seeking ways to leverage the value of communication performed by employees”

Examples of how to do so can be found here.

3) Celebrate Successes

Allow each month for the team to reflect on the performance and projects and put forward examples of their success e.g. what each member considers the biggest success of the month. This contributes to understanding each other better and what each perceives as success. The Successful stories can also be used as a form of cross training if a quick presentation is given on these projects to the team.

Another example: As mentioned before our team has developed a system of “products” within our team that each team member can work on as a pet project for 8 weeks. At the end of 3 such sessions, every six months, we all vote deciding on the one “product” that contributed the most in our development as a team. The person that is issued a certificate acknowledging their good work.

Lot of benefits have flowed from these initiatives and hence, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

So, what are the ways you engage your team? 

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Don’t try to Motivate your team, Employee Engagement is what matters: So What (Part 2)

In the previous blog I discussed why we should forget trying to motivate staff and instead focus on employee engagement. Let’s now have a look at why this is important.


In approaching this theme, we have to first reflect on what Paul Rogers would normally ask “So, what?”

The answer to this question relies on a simple logical sequence:

Employee Engagement –> Trust –> Effective Work –> Contribution –> Customer Success –> Perpetuation of the Organisation


Trust is a basic ingredient of any positive relationship. If Trust is missing then teamwork does not exist. This is because cooperation and daily interaction easily deteriorates into arguments and conflict which is destructive for the morale of a team and diverts their attention from the real targets.

Hence, the existence of Trust is the building stone for the team members doing effective work and contributing to the team.


As I will discuss in a future blog post, employee contribution is a key element to achieve Customer Success.

This seems self-evident i.e unless employees truly care and try to excel in the delivery of their work and the advancement of the Organisation’s vision and targets (provided of course that the Organisation’s positioning is rightly adjusted), the Organisation will not succeed in its goals and hence, its customers will be less likely to be successful in theirs.

On a broader scale, Drucker’s vision takes a more existentialist view on what an organisation is there for:

An “Organization is, to a large extent, a means of over-coming the limitations mortality sets to what any one man can contribute. An organization that is not capable of perpetuating itself has failed…….. An organization which just perpetuates today’s level of vision, excellence, and accomplishment has lost the capacity to adapt. And since the one and only thing certain in human affairs is change, it will not be capable of survival in a changed tomorrow.” Peter Drucker from The Effective Executive.

So, for Drucker the organisation is a means for individuals to make a lasting contribution to the world.

From that perspective it is not only a necessity for an organisation to put in place a framework that ensures employee engagement so that employees can maximise their contributions and thus, secure the organisation remains relevant and profitable in this fast-paced world. But a responsibility to secure a framework that allows its employees and in extension itself to maximise its contribution to society overall.

In essence, looking at the grander picture i.e. that the Organisation is the lever for expression and progress in modern society or not, one thing is for sure: the success of the organizational goals is heavily reliant on employee engagement and contribution.

In my next blog post I will discuss some practical ways to achieve this.

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