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You Can Laugh at Negotiation Conflict – If You Follow This Simple Plan

Diving - video linkDave Hill discusses the tact of using humor when negotiations turn hostile.

To illustrate this he shares a crazy story of when he was on a diving expedition with the Australia Queensland Museum Divers. They were exploring a historic shipwreck called the Pandora (The ship that captured the “Mutiny on the Bounty” sailors).

A healthy sense of humor is a powerful tool for dealing with conflict. When people are laughing, it is very difficult for them to be angry. You are derailing the train of negative thought. Imagine the relief you feel when someone makes a humorous comment during a tense negotiation meeting. Another very important thing I have learned along my life journey is to push my emotions aside and put myself in their shoes. If I was who they are, how would I feel and act? The third and equally important thing is to evaluate all the options. Think creatively on how a mutually acceptable alternative can be achieved.

Enjoy the video! I am proud of this moment… more details below.

When I was about 25 years old, I was on a scientific ship called the Sir Walter Raleigh with the Queensland Museum scuba divers on a six week diving expedition. We were diving on the Pandora wreck on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Pandora is a famous wreck; it was the ship that was transporting the captured Bounty mutineers (Mutiny on the Bounty) back to Britain, but went aground on the reef. I was on the scientific ship as a volunteer engineer officer working in the engine room without any pay. There was an agreement that in return for working for free, I would participate in the diving expedition. When the ship was anchored near the site of the Pandora wreck, there was tension between me and some of the Queensland Museum divers. They did not want me to accompany them on their dives because it was at a depth of 90 feet. I was a novice diver, and most importantly, I “sucked air” (which basically meant that I used up my air quicker than anyone else and someone had to escort me to the surface ahead of time). They had a valid point, and they were getting angry with my insistence. I was frustrated that I might not be able to dive on the wreck with them again, and I was determined to find a way to be able to dive on this historic wreck.

Somewhere along my life journey, I acquired the ability to come up with creative, wacky ideas that would make people laugh. While working in the engine room on shift, I happened to see a large welding bottle. A flash of inspiration came to mind. With some help from my fellow co-workers, we got the huge bottle up on deck and put it on the aft end of the ship where the divers would get into the rubber dinghies to head to the dive site.

The next morning, about half an hour before the divers assembled on the aft deck, I was fully dressed in my diving gear as I awaited their arrival. When they arrived in a group, there was thunderous laughter when they saw “that crazy Irishman” ready for a dive with more than enough air in his “air tank”! While they were laughing at my mischief, I made my plea. I discussed an alternative plan that would possibly be an acceptable solution to them. I told them that I understood their concerns, that I was sucking air, and that I was making their dive somewhat inefficient. I then offered my thoughts on a solution. I would dive with them, but stay close to the rope that led from the wreck up to the rubber dingy. I would not exert myself; I would just sit on the bottom and watch. In the event that my air consumption was still excessive, I would signal to my dive buddy and go up the rope alone to sit in the dingy.

 What can we learn from humor and negotiation

A healthy sense of humor is a powerful tool for dealing with conflict. When people are laughing, it is very difficult for them to be angry. Imagine the relief you feel when someone makes a humorous comment during a tense moment. Another very important thing I have learned along my life journey is to push my emotions aside and put myself in their shoes. If I was who they are, how would I feel and act? The third and equally important thing is to evaluate all the options. Think creatively on how a mutually acceptable alternative can be achieved.

When tension in the workplace is not managed correctly, there can be a gradual erosion of respect and trust amongst employees as well as other destructive mechanisms such as:.

  1. Employees do not work creatively together to come up with a solution
  2. Future negotiations are set up for failure from the start
  3. Energy levels and creativity are sucked out of the workplace and employees lack trust and are combative
  4. Teams that are not cohesive become inefficient and unproductive
  5. A culture of “doing the minimum”
  6. Increased turnover of valued employees
  7. Loss of profits
  8. Deadlines get missed
  9. Stressed worker are more likely to call in sick

Ten ways exceptional workplaces use humor to maintain working relationships and derail tension are:

  1. Employees at all levels of the organization have a sense of playfulness amongst each other, and it is encouraged
  2. Communications include lighthearted humor to take the edge off any upcoming changes or challenges
  3. Confrontational meetings have adversaries making fun of each other in a respectful manner
  4. People make fun of situations rather than people- it emotionally distances us from the circumstances
  5. A sense of humor is considered a core competency, and provides resilience and a means to cope with stressful occasions
  6. People make fun of themselves (the safest type of humor)
  7. We have a lot of celebrations for special events where people can be themselves and have fun and laughter without fear of being criticized
  8. Use humor wisely; do not allow negative humor and sarcasm to erode the workplace. Make fun of the situation- not the people.
  9. Conflict should be resolved face-to-face where possible, so that body language can be observed and used. Reflective & emphatic listening, eye contact, and other body language is critical
  10. Employees use humor often enough that they get to read the mood of others and determine if levity is appropriate for the situation

Negotiating with Humor and Dog Massages

Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, & Speech Coach

If there is one thing I hate with a passion, it is shopping, but if there is one thing that makes it tolerable for me is when I am in a foreign country where playful bargaining is part of the game. Our family lives fairly frugally, and one of the things we save up for are internationally travelling vacations. In June 2008, we found ourselves in Bali, Indonesia, staying in a basic beachfront Balinese cottage. Along the shore was a boardwalk where small nick-knack shops were located. While walking along the boardwalk it was common to get pestered by the local peddlers, “Do you need transport?”, “Come into my shop mister – good price for you”, “You want massage?”

After we had been there for 2 weeks, my wife had been checking out the stores to buy some gifts. She wanted me to do the bargaining to get some good prices. As a seasoned bargainer, I decided I would try and get a bargain by going to a store about half an hour before it shut. My wife, two kids, and I walked along the boardwalk in the darkness, smiling at the locals who were saying, “You want massage, you want transport?

We arrived at the store where my wife had seen the trinkets that she wanted to buy. As we entered the store, my kids saw a dog and immediately had it lying on its back as they made friends with it and caressed it. My wife pointed out the ear rings, necklaces, and bracelets she wanted, and the storekeeper and his assistant put them on the counter.

The games began as he gave me the first price with a cheesy smile on his face. I immediately went into play mode, became animated, and jokingly stated – “I am an Irishman, I am a very poor man, my country has had a potato famine”. I offered him about a quarter of the price he was asking and he shook his head in fake distress. He counter offered with what he called his best price. Backwards and forwards we bargained, until about ½ an hour later, we got to about 50% of his original asking price. With a big smile on my face, I stated, “This is my final offer, this will make you happy, it will make me happy, my wife will be pleased, and my children will be ecstatic“. He smiled and shook my hand and we had a deal. I then added, “See, my children are so happy they are giving your dog a free massage – even your dog is happy!” With that last statement, he and his fellow store owner burst out in belly laughter and were just about rolling on the floor. As we walked away from the store, I could still hear the uncontrolled laughter. It was a good night of bargaining.

So how can this translate to the workplace?
Negotiating is a very common occurrence in most workplaces. As an engineer, I find myself negotiating with project engineers to make sure that there are enough safety features in the proposed design to keep people safe. We have to work together to make sure we get a final concept that works with the constraints of budgets etc. When we are trying to convince people to consider our point of view, we are in negotiating mode. A win-win negotiation is the best outcome, and it can also build bridges for future wheeling and dealing.

What can we learn from this?
A healthy sense of humor is a powerful tool for dealing with negotiations. When people are laughing, it is very difficult for them to be angry or stubborn. Imagine the relief you feel when someone makes a humorous comment during a tense moment.
When tension in the workplace is not managed correctly, there can be a gradual erosion of respect and trust amongst employees as well as other destructive mechanisms such as:
a. Employees do not work creatively together to come up with a mutually agreeable solution
b. Future negotiations are set up for failure from the start
c. Energy levels and inventiveness are sucked out of the workplace, and employees can lack trust and be instinctively combative
d. Teams that are not cohesive become inefficient and unproductive

Eleven ways exceptional workplaces negotiate successfully and build ongoing relationships rather than adversaries:
1. Seek win-win negotiations, not win-destroy
2. Aim for a long-term relationship of mutual respect and trust
3. Be truthful- being deceitful will destroy the success of future negotiations
4. Negotiate using lighthearted humor- smile and laugh at appropriate times
5. If a preposterous offer is made that is way-off, make it clear that it is not worth negotiating if rational thinking is not being brought to the table
6. Keep the negotiations respectful
7. Use active listening skills, don’t cut off the other persons sentence and jump in with your contradiction
8. Use emotional wording such as:
a) “The offer you have put on the table is generous. It makes me feel that I can trust you and that you understand the importance of both of us succeeding.”
b) “Imagine my predicament: we made a bid for your project that you accepted, we shook hands, and a week later, the price of steel sky-rocketed. It would help me out if you could work with me to get a bit more funding. I feel awful about asking, but I am boxed into a very difficult corner.”
9. Make fun of yourself (the safest type of humor)
10. One of the most powerful negotiating relationship builders is to give the other person an additional benefit once the deal has been made (in Bali, the shopkeeper got a free massage for his dog). This creates good-will for future negotiations
11. Negotiate face-to-face so you can observe body language. Smiles can go a long way, narrowed eyes can mean skeptical, lack of eye contact can mean deception.

 

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