Evaluate the principled negotiation process. Explain one aspect of the process that you think is essential and one aspect of the process that you think my not work well (you can talk about portions of some of the 4 steps; you don’t have to review a step (of the 4) in whole.
The Most Important Negotiation in Your Life
Harvard Business Review, September 2013
Life is a series of negotiations.
You negotiate all day, every day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep.
Contract terms and conditions. Hiring, managing performance, and firing. Defining deadlines, scope, and
deliverables. Collecting fees. Seeking alignment about business strategy. Enlisting stakeholders. Creating
partnerships and joint ventures. Dissolving them. You make offers, counteroffers, and agreements to settle. You
say yes. You say no. You stall for time.
When you go home, the negotiations continue. Over buying a new car, switching carpool days, or how much
screen time the kids are allowed. The stakes of negotiating at home can feel sky-high: which medical advice to
follow; how much to spend or save; how long your aging parents can live at home; whether to stay together.
From the major to the mundane, negotiating is the way we get things done. One of my clients told me, “my
toughest negotiations are with my dog.”
If you’re like most people, when you think about negotiation, you picture people talking to “the other side.”
Whether they’re pitching to a customer in an office, brokering a peace deal at Camp David, or arguing over
curfew at the kitchen table, negotiators are people trying to persuade other people of their point of view.
That’s only half the story.
After nearly 20 years of teaching negotiation at Harvard Law School, and the same years spent advising and
training thousands of executives, public sector leaders, consultants and lawyers from all over the world, I see
Actually, the most important negotiations we have — the ones that determine the quality of our lives and the
impact of our actions — are the ones we have with ourselves. Learning to communicate well and to influence
other people are essential skills in business. But even more fundamental to your success is learning to negotiate
effectively with yourself.
Negotiating with yourself?
Yes. Better results, stronger relationships, and more of life’s deeper rewards, all come from learning to
negotiate with yourself.
At first this sounds strange. Can you talk to yourself without being crazy? Can you disagree with yourself? If
you have an argument with yourself, who wins?
At the start of my leadership development programs, I ask people for examples of “negotiating with yourself.”
It’s not hard to brainstorm a list once you think about it.
People usually come up with personal examples first: Should I eat the ice cream or stick to my diet? Make a
scene with the garage for charging more than the estimate, or just pay the bill and move on? Should I raise that
difficult topic today — or wait? Accept a “friend” request from my college nemesis, or have 25 years not
removed the sting?
Soon, the list of topics grows more serious, and turns to work:
My plate is completely full, but my boss just asked me to start a new project. There’s no particular glory
in it. Do I say yes to please her? What about ever eating dinner with my family?
I want to approach my colleague who’s back from bereavement leave, but then I tell myself it’s none of
My client is pushing me hard to do something questionable. Technically speaking, it’s not against the
written rules. On the other hand, it feels a bit unethical. Should I say no?
We’re nearing our fundraising target, but we’re not quite there. Our biggest donor said I could ask him
for more money if we fell short, but I feel awkward going back to him again.
I suspect you’re no stranger to this inner tug-of-war.
As you go about the ordinary business of every day, there are inner commentators competing for your attention.
At times they speak nicely. But often their voices debate each other like hostile adversaries on talk radio.
I think of them as negotiating parties, what I call your “inner negotiators.” Like actual individuals, these internal
negotiators have a range of styles, motivations, and rules of engagement. They have their own interests and
preferred outcomes. They also correlate with different regions in our brains.
Meet your inner negotiation team.
Leading mythologist Joseph Campbell described each of us as “a hero with a thousand faces.” Mastering a
thousand faces sounds a bit daunting. If you have all of these different sides of you, how can you even begin to
get a hold on them, no less negotiate with them all successfully?
To help people develop in their leadership and in their lives, I honed in on a small set of those hundreds of
faces. I call this group “The Big Four.” Since I advise a lot of businesses, I sometimes describe the Big Four as
a top team, occupying your internal executive suite. I also use more general names because their functions
transcend professional titles.
The Big Four are:
The Chief Executive Officer: your inner Dreamer
The Chief Financial Officer: your inner Thinker
The Vice-President of Human Resources: your inner Lover
The Chief Operating Officer: your inner Warrior
These inner negotiators govern your capacity to dream about the future, to analyze and solve problems, to build
relationships with people, and to take effective action. Each one enables you with its own skills, unique
characteristics, and particular values about leading and living.
The Dreamer is led by intuition, and fuels your ability to innovate. Look at Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post.
His Dreamer is strong, so he sees a world full of possibilities. Facing an industry others see as dying, Bezos
senses opportunity to create something wonderful and entirely new. Or last week’s remarkable commemoration
of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose immortal words articulate the signature of the inner visionary, “I Have a
The Thinker is led by reason, and equips you to analyze and evaluate information. Larry Summers and Janet
Yellen are final contenders to replace Ben Bernanke because they have strong inner Thinkers, respected for
sound judgment on complex issues. Political baggage aside, they’re first-rate economists who base monetary
policy on hard data. The inner Thinker excels at challenges like managing interest rates and defining ways to
The Lover is led by emotion, and knows how to manage relationships. International Monetary Fund Managing
Director Christine Lagarde recently appealed to U.S. policy makers to deploy the communication skills of the
Lover. She wants them to explain plans to safeguard global markets in light of changing American economic
policy. The Lover’s ability to get communication right is essential now to avoid a downward spiral in reactive
The Warrior is led by willpower, and excels at taking action. In the work world, the inner Warrior steps forward
to tell the hard truth, to take a stand for your values, and to roll up your sleeves to get things done. Think of
Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard CEO. She concedes that HP has a long way to go. And yet, she says time and
again, she’s facing the challenges with a results-focus. As she wrote in a blog, “I don’t want excuses. I want
action.” Whitman’s determined to turn a once-great company around by taking aim at the Warrior’s targets:
improving execution and operations; making tough calls to control costs; and telling the hard truth to investors
until HP is fully back on track.
Despite the temptation to ask yourself, “Am I a Thinker?” or “Am I a Warrior?”, those aren’t the right
questions. You have all of these inner negotiators in you. The right questions are:
1. How do the Big Four operate in me today?
2. How do I tap more of their skills and inner wisdom in the future?
3. How do I best balance them with each other, as four inner executives working as one team? In other
words, how do I negotiate effectively with myself?
These are good questions whether you’re managing a team or running a global organization.
At the end of the day, a company will find itself in trouble if it doesn’t envision possibilities, can’t formulate a
nuanced perspective, fails to care for its people, or turns in lackluster performance. This is true for you, too.
The most important negotiation in your life is “getting to yes” with yourself. When you learn how to do that,
you’ll start winning at everything else.
Erica Ariel Fox is the author of the New York Times bestseller Winning From Within: A Breakthrough Method
for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. She is a founding partner at Mobius Executive Leadership and she
teaches negotiation at Harvard Law School.
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