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To round out the year, please allow a few musings on the connections between negotiation and one of my other passions, improvisational theater (IT). Working together with my good friend and colleague Jay Rhoderick, I published a longer piece on this entitled “Playing With Icebergs” last year (full text available here).

Basically, the improvisational negotiator follows Keith Johnstone’s three fundamental tenets of improvisational theater:

1. Let Go. I am fascinated by what I consider to be one of the central dilemmas of negotiation. On the one hand, I teach my students (and myself) to always be well prepared: I am a big fan of structured, systematic strategizing and am working now to digitalize that structure for ever more sophisticated strategic planning. On the other hand, good negotiators must always be ready, at a moment’s notice, to drop their planning and listen, picking up new ideas from their partner and developing those into a win-win solution.

2. Notice More. Listening is an art and, thankfully, one that can be trained. Focusing on “them not us”, asking good questions, paraphrasing, active listening, deep listening, reading body language, cognitive and emotional empathy – these are all things we drill in my negotiation courses. For the improvisational negotiator, her “ears are like microphones”, picking up even the most subtle signals from the other side in a wholly nonjudgmental way.

3. Use Everything. From here, it is up to the improvisational negotiator to respond appropriately, applying what he hears with intuition and creativity, playing with new ideas and thus jointly developing options that could lead to a win-win solution. Some techniques of IT such as justification, storytelling, pivots and emotional depth are helpful here . Not to forget the other key IT tenet of “Make Your Partner Look Good”, a philosophy that is quintessentially win-win.

Comments welcome – I promise to respond actively!

Happy holidays and a wonderful 2017 for us all.

Visit us at and read more about our interactive app, “Negotiate!” 

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