What I learned at Harvard #2: Negotiation as Improvisation

Written by Suze, October 12th, 2017

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Michael Wheeler, professor of Negotiation at Harvard Business School, former Director of Research at MIT’s center for Real Estate Development and the author of 9 books on Negotiation.  A fascinating concept that he returns to often is that of negotiations as improvisation.

We’ve been teaching and refining the idea of unscripted sales and negotiations for years. (Deliberate Conversations & Choose a Non-intrusive Approach to Real Estate Conversations)

This idea of negotiations (and I would extend it to sales) as improvisation adds a beautiful depth to the same idea. It brings to light that in negotiations, we must be ready for anything. Michael Wheeler uses improvised Jazz as an example. After all, as Miles Davis said “Jazz is the art of collective negotiated expression.”

When incredible jazz musicians improvise they are highly engaged, catching the soft notes, tempo, rests, and progression of their band mates. The music is quick, unpredictable, full of energy, and unique every time. The ability to play jazz at this level comes from being a master of the craft, and a master of communicating and sharing the control and space. Ultimately, it demands and practices a high level of emotional intelligence.

Negotiations, at a high level, are the same way. If we can be confident in really knowing our material, can be acutely focused and present, and be deeply engaged with our negotiation partner- this is when negotiation becomes an art. At this level we’re accomplishing amazing win-win outcomes for our clients, forming strong connections with our clients and peers, and starting to have a ton of fun.

In short, we’re feeling pretty inspired by this idea of negotiations as improvisation- and all the other skills from Harvard that intersect with it. In coming months we’ll be digging deep on how to help people step into the confidence needed to negotiate at this level- so stay tuned for future material.

2 Responses to “What I learned at Harvard #2: Negotiation as Improvisation”

  1. Springing off from your idea of negotiation as a form of jazz improvisation, I wanted to add that in my experience, amazing jazz artists are masters of studying and rehearsing patterns. They dive in deep during their individual practice time to solidly work on patterns in every key, in every combination, in every rhythm, in every style. They know the basics inside & out. It’s really only through this intense solo work that they can come together as a band and actually start improvising – the patterns come out in an instinctive way that make sense in the context of the chord progressions because they’ve had so much time to “cook” inside the musician. And that’s when the fun begins – where “flow” is experienced and the act of music making becomes a pure joy.

    It’s the same with real estate: all of our practice time building knowledge, learning about people, understanding different situations, etc. all culminates in amazing negotiation experiences for us, our clients and our colleagues. It’s all really quite similar.

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