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Success and The Art of Negotiation

Alternate title: ‘Getting what you want in life’!!

My day job has recently been quite full on – the process of making that happen has been taxing, to say the least, on my brain and wellbeing!!!

Negotiating your way through life with a sense of ease resulting in a job well done, is the difference between those who seem to make it in life smoothly and those who are always getting roadblocked in life.

Most men (and women) in life who aren’t equipped with the social and emotional intelligence to read the ‘mood’ of people, events and circumstances find themselves getting constantly frustrated with the ‘unspoken’ rules of social engagement – they are, in essence, poor negotiators. They find it hard to – bargain for salaries and better pay; earn more respect at home and in the workplace; and they struggle in relationships because they don’t know how to ask for what they want.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation's 46664 " Give 1 Minute To Aids" Concert From The Greenpoint Stadium In Cape Town Africa, Bono And Nelson Mandela

The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s 46664 ” Give 1 Minute To Aids” Concert From The Greenpoint Stadium In Cape Town Africa, Bono And Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, probably one of the world’s most famous leaders, is a great example of how far the skill of negotiation can take you. This remarkable legend who most single-handedly turned the tide against apartheid, is a strong believer in negotiation. “(I) attach importance to dialogue, the solving problems through negotiation. It is an art which requires a great deal of vision and strength of character…”

During his 27 years of imprisonment the government offered to release him several times without the promise of a peace agreement, but each time he turned it down. “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts…,” he maintained.

He has a point; only free men can negotiate, and until you are truly empowered with the right skills and methods of negotiating your way through life, you are essentially in a mental prison.

Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca once noted, “You can have brilliant ideas; but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” The book, ‘The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas’ provides a systematic approach to the art of negotiation and persuasion.

It tells the story of rock star Bono’s visit to then-U.S. Senator Jesse Helms’ Capitol Hill office to enlist his help in the global war against AIDS.

Bono had all the facts and figures at his fingertips, and launched into a detailed appeal based on the data. He was, in essence, speaking to Helms the same way he had recently spoken to executives and technical experts at the many foundations and corporations he had approached about this issue. But within a few minutes, Bono sensed that he was losing Helms’ attention, and he instinctively changed his pitch. Knowing that Helms was a deeply religious man (and drawing on his own born-again Christian values), Bono began speaking of Jesus’ concern for the sick and poor. He argued that AIDS should be considered the 21st century equivalent of leprosy, an affliction cited in many Bible stories of the New Testament. Helms sat up and began listening, and before the meeting was over had promised to be the Senate champion for Bono’s cause.

Examples such as this one illustrate what the authors mean by “woo”—the ability to win others over to your ideas without coercion, using relationship-based, emotionally intelligent persuasion.

Influence concept.

“The rock star Bono is superb at the art of woo because he understands what it takes to be a super-salesman, in the best sense of that term. Here you have a rock star with tinted glasses and an elderly, conservative Southern senator. But when Bono had the good sense to switch from public policy talk about debt relief—what we call in our book the ‘rationality’ channel—to religious talk about poverty and disease—what we call the ‘vision’ channel—he touched Helms’ heart. He sold his idea and, in the process, created trust.”

The word “woo,” the authors note, has many meanings, but all of them relate to focusing on the person you are trying to persuade more than on your own needs and fears.

“There is the obvious meaning related to courtship and romance but there is also the more general idea of wooing people to seek their support.” However “woo” may be defined, the authors argue that effectively selling ideas—using persuasion rather than force—is one of the most important skills that everyone from CEOs and entrepreneurs to team leaders and mid-level managers need to learn if they want to be effective in their organisations.

‘The Art of Woo’ presents a simple, four-step approach to the idea-selling process.

1. Polish your ideas and survey the social networks that will lead them to decision makers.

To illustrate this step, Shell and Moussa recount how an unknown mail pilot named Charles Lindbergh turned his dream of being the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic into a reality. His idea was radical: He would make the crossing in a single-engine plane, flying without a co-pilot or even a life raft. The idea was followed by his campaign to overcome people’s disbelief that such a venture could ever work and to win over supporters in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Lindbergh started with contacts at the local airport who could see why his plan made sense and eventually worked his way up to the most influential businessmen in the city, using each person along the way to leverage an interview with the next. The rest is history.

2. Confronting “the five barriers”—the five most common obstacles that can sink ideas before they get started.

These include unreceptive beliefs, conflicting interests, negative relationships, a lack of credibility, and failing to adjust one’s communication mode to suit a particular audience or situation.

For example, when Napoleon was a young officer at the siege of Toulon, he set up an artillery battery in such a dangerous location that his superiors thought he would never get troops to man it. They would have been right had Napoleon relied on conventional threats and orders to get his way. Instead, he demonstrated his social intelligence by switching to the visionary channel and creating a large placard that was placed next to the cannons. It read: “The Battery of the Men without Fear.” The position was manned night and day.

Similarly, when Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on the notorious Robben Island in South Africa, he learned the guards’ Afrikaans language and reading their literature, earning their respect and winning them over to his idea of fair treatment, even as he continued to face hostility from the officials who ran the prison.

3. The third stage is to pitch your idea in a compelling way.

At Google, employees selling ideas to upper management are given a challenge: to distill their business concepts into short, punchy presentations that get right to the essence of what they are proposing. This discipline forces them to figure out exactly what problem their idea addresses, how their idea will solve it and why their idea is better than both the status quo and available alternatives.

4. The final stage of ‘Woo’ is to secure both individual and organisational commitments.

“One of the most common mistakes people make in selling ideas is to think that their job is finished once they succeed in getting someone to say ‘yes’ to their proposal. That’s only the beginning. Research shows that in most organisations, a minimum of eight people will need to sign off on even simple ideas. The number goes up from there. So after you move the individual, you also have to move the organisation.”

The authors suggest that everyone can benefit from improving their skills at the art of persuasion. “Influencing others …. to accept and act on your ideas is a challenge that never goes away.”

If you’re struggling in this area, MenStylePower encourages you to take this lesson further and enrol in a negotiation seminar OR get a few books on the topic.

The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas, authored by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, can be found on or try your local book retailer.

* Excerpts from an article that originally appeared on Knowledge@Wharton, the online business journal of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.


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