One crucial part of being a business leader is negotiations. It is where opportunities get tapped, deals are made, and relationships are created. So how do you become a good negotiator? In this episode, global business negotiation strategist, Christine McKay, joins host, Jeffrey Edwards, to share with us some secrets on what it takes to master this great business skill that could take your business leaps and bounds towards success. Starting with the basics, she discusses the art of negotiation and the importance of understanding and learning about its value. She then provides the tools that you’re going to need to help you negotiate the best agreements that will benefit not only you but everyone as well. Join Christine in this conversation as she lets us in on more tips and tricks on asking more for what we want in our business.
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The Art Of Negotiation: Asking More For What You Want In Business With Christine McKay
It’s wonderful to have you here. Thank you for allowing me and the rest of our crew to be a part of your day. As we begin this episode, I want to speak to what are those areas for every leader’s experience and talking about negotiation. You can imagine that whether you’re in business or in organizations, having the skills, abilities, and experience of negotiating deals, with coworkers, with clients and customers, it’s all part of the everyday experience of life as a leader. Take time to sit back and reflect on what is negotiation, and its importance in learning and understanding the value that it brings. Not only to you but the people that you work around and to the stakeholders that are going to be impacted by the decisions that are made.
Our guest is Christine McKay. She is a global business negotiation strategist. She has 26 years of experience negotiating with dozens of Fortune 500 companies. One thing about Christine is she has a passion and she brings that passion to everything she does. She has a passion for finding that common ground leveling the playing field and resolving complex issues on behalf of her clients. She will empower you. She will take you by the hand and help you move forward in your situation to get the best results and outcomes. She’ll help you provide the skills and tools that you’re going to need to negotiate the best agreements that will benefit everyone. The wonderful thing about Christine as well, she’s an author of the book, Sign Here: Negotiation Strategies for the Real World. It is a pleasure to have her in the show. Christine, how are you?
I am doing fantastic. It is awesome. I want to see you. It’s amazing to see you. I’ve always loved every conversation we’ve ever had. It’s an honor to be here. I’m excited for you that your show was launched and you’re rocking. I love it.
Thank you, Christine. It’s one thing to have the opportunity to run into people, and throughout the course of a career, to have this platform to reconnect, learn and allow that knowledge to be shared with other people that say, “It always brings me pleasure to do that.” I know you’re a negotiation specialist and you’ve done some great work. I want to get into that a little later. One question I have for you if you can share with our readers is your origin story. Your story is such a unique path. Oftentimes, you associate origin stories with superheroes. I hope you have a favorite superhero or not, I know you’re a hero to me in many ways. What was the road that brought you to where you are? Maybe you can share a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in a small town of 550 people right on the Alberta and Montana border. We used to cross the border to go over to Medicine Hat all the time and we hung out in Regina. I grew up in a rural agrarian community. I had a successful high school career for being in a school where I graduated with the same twenty kids I started kindergarten with. That was a big school. We were a Class B school. I was a beauty queen. I was the most outstanding speaker in Montana in the event that I competed in public speaking and debate. I was an international exchange student. I was an honor student and I was voted most likely to succeed for my class.We convince ourselves of what we can't do without giving ourselves the opportunity to ask for what we want. Click To Tweet
I left home when I turned eighteen. I started at the University of Montana in Missoula. It didn’t take long before I found out that I was pregnant. I wasn’t married and I lost my job. It was January of 1985, I got evicted from my trailer that I was living in. I started living in the back of my 1972 Chrysler Newport with my black cat, Athena. I thought that I’d done all these amazing things and I decided that I wasn’t capable of making decisions for myself. I broke all my trophies. I smashed my tiara because I looked at myself and said that I didn’t deserve it and I wasn’t worthy. I met a guy who I thought was a nice guy and turned out not to be a nice guy, but I abdicated my decision making over my own life to him.
He was more than happy to assume that responsibility. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow through with it. I had two more kids. I had three kids at the age of 22 and I wasn’t allowed to work. I wasn’t allowed to get an education. He wasn’t supporting us. We did all our grocery shopping at the food bank. People brought us food and clothes for our kids. We boiled water on the stove and in order to bathe the kids in the dead of winter. We’d moved to Massachusetts by that time. One day, my oldest daughter was hungry for lunch and all I had to feed her was a can of tomato soup and she hated tomato soup. She started throwing a temper tantrum. I remember I picked her up and I shoved her entire little body into the cupboard to try to show her that I didn’t have anything else to feed her.
I decided then that was it. I was done. He was an aggressive man. I took a risk and decided I was going to go to community college and I did. I got a 4.0 GPA and I was awarded a scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a Senator spent. You know the RPI Engineers, men were all hockey. I decided it was going to be easier to do it on my own than it was with him. I took my daughters and we moved from Western Massachusetts across the mountains to Troy, New York. I became the first woman to graduate from Rensselaer as both a full-time student and a single mom. That launched me on this amazing career where I started working for what’s now Verizon.
I found an opportunity at once I’d started there to start working in international mergers and acquisitions. I had thankfully remarried at this time. By that time, I met the man of my dreams. We had our 27th anniversary this year 2020. He’s a remarkable person and he’s super supportive, the exact opposite of everything that my first husband was. He encouraged me and he’s like, “Go do this thing that you’ve wanted to do.” I started doing international mergers and acquisitions work in Southeast Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe. I was negotiating billion-dollar deals with ministers of finance and telecommunication. I’m working with senior-level investment bankers and negotiating with banks to secure funding and to help fund deals. It was a crazy amazing time. I realized I needed an MBA. I applied to one school and my daughters crossed in front of me on a stage. They got this little teddy bear with a little T-shirt that said HBS on it. That was the day that I got my MBA from Harvard Business School.
I’ve been passionate about negotiation. I’ve found a way to make it part of every job I’ve ever done since I graduated from business school. I’m from this small town and my parents are small business owners as they worked with Fortune 500 after Fortune 500. I’ve worked with almost half of them. I noticed that small businesses simply do not have the same amount of leverage. They do not have the ability or the knowledge to negotiate for more of what they want. They often settle. I launched Venn Negotiation out of that passion for helping small businesses level the playing field. We do a lot of work with smaller companies who are in what I affectionately called David and Goliath negotiation.
We negotiate on behalf of many of our clients, but we also have educational programs that we offer so that people can learn to negotiate in a different way. We have a different approach to how to teach negotiation. That’s practice-oriented, interactive and creative in terms of things that we do and how the tools we use to teach negotiation. We know how to negotiate by the time we’re seven. Seven years old to thirteen years olds are the best negotiators. They know what they want. They demand it. They don’t apologize for it, but as we get older, that changes for us and many people are terrified of negotiating. We’re focused on trying to help people get more comfortable being okay, asking for more, and then showing them how to get it.
The road that it’s taken to where you are now and the impact you’ve had out there in the world, it’s inspirational. How many people that you’ve run into and I’ve run into that we see where there are many reasons they could have stopped along the way. It sounds like part of that journey for you was having that learning how to negotiate with yourself, “I can do this. I can do that. What am I going to choose?” That led to where you are.
That’s one of the things that people don’t talk about when they talk about negotiation. There’s a professor out of Columbia who released a book called Ask for More. She’s the first person I’ve seen talk about this concept, the hardest negotiation we always have is the negotiation happens between our ears, the negotiation we have in our own head. People negotiate against themselves before they’ve ever even engaged with a counterpart. Whether they’re looking for a new job and want a higher salary, they’ll say to themselves, “That might be a little too much. I probably shouldn’t ask for that. I’ll take that back a little bit. I want five weeks of vacation instead of four. I might not get the job if I asked for that. I might not get the deal if I tell them that I want to have the ability to take a longer delivery time. I don’t have the resources in the deal that allows me as a small business to get things to them faster as a bigger company could.” We tell ourselves all the time, “I’ve got to have this deal. I have to have this account.” We convince ourselves of what we can’t do without giving ourselves the opportunity to ask for what we want. That negotiation we have with ourselves is something that we fight with constantly.
In your work with small business owners, what are some of the stepping stones that you see them having to go through to become more comfortable and confident in negotiating, whether with their clients, their suppliers or even with their employees?
This is a secret with big companies too. They don’t do a good job of this either, but because it’s smaller businesses, we think they do. We give them a lot more credit and then give them more power than we need to. It’s a simplistic concept. One of my mentors is a gentleman named Blair Dunkley, out of Edmonton. I love Canadians. I do a lot of work with Canadians. He gave me this language and I was like, “That’s the perfect language.” We focused on this high-level thing of what we want. We define it in terms of price. Price is an output of assumptions that go in there, a lot of assumptions that go into driving price.If we negotiate assumptions, then price becomes an output of the negotiation, not an input. Click To Tweet
If we negotiate assumptions, then price becomes an output of the negotiation, not an input. In order to be able to do that, you have to have clarity. Without clarity of what you want and an understanding of why things are important to you, you lose the ability to manage the conversation because negotiation is a conversation. It’s a relationship. That’s all negotiation is. If you lack clarity of what you want and why it’s important to you, it’s no different than that saying, “If you don’t have a destination in mind, any road is going to get you there.” The same is true with your negotiation. Having clarity around what you want and why it’s important is critical and that comes down to preparedness.
If you have that understanding down to what my grandmother calls the gnat’s ass level detail, the little tiny details. Even things that you think are not important, you still want to know what those are because they’re not the most important things to you, they could be the most important thing to your counterpart. Not only do people not have clarity around what they want and why they want it, they also constantly think about the negotiation in terms of themselves only. That’s the other big challenge that people need to overcome is because once they know what they want and why it’s important, how is that going to impact your counterpart? At the end of the day, we’re all in business. We’re all here to make profit.
If you’re a nonprofit, you have other objectives. It’s not profits, but you still have objectives that you’re trying to make. In a for-profit business, you’re trying to generate profit, so is your counterpart. How do you create an environment that allows you both to generate more profit without sacrificing quality and all the other things that are important to you? There’s some research that’s been done out of Europe that shows that when we’re negotiating for something, if you think about it as a circle and this circle represents 100%, people look at the circle and they say there’s 100%, that’s all the value. How do we divide the circle up in the deal? What the research shows is that 100% that we see, there’s 42% more value often available to us that nobody at the table is even observing. We’re focused on what it is that we want, that we’re not looking at what is possible. That’s part of the importance of understanding what you want, what’s important to you and how it translates to your counterpart.
I’m thinking there’s 42% left on the table for both sides, it sounds like there are a lot of missed opportunities that happen on a regular basis where people don’t see the maximum or don’t yield the maximum benefit from that negotiation on both sides.
Part of that is because we tend to negotiate from a position of scarcity instead of a position of abundance. I use an egg as an example. If you’ve got three parties and one egg, and everybody wants the egg. How would you think about that? People think, “I’m going to smash the egg and nobody’s going to get anything.” There’s only one of us who gets the egg. Two people are going to walk away without the egg and one person’s going to get the egg. What happens if you take a pen, you poke a hole in the egg, you drain the egg, and you separate the yolk from the white? You find out through the course of the negotiation that one of you wants the shell because you’re an artist and you make amazing egg art. I have some amazing stuff out of Eastern Europe that I put on my Christmas tree every year, that is eggshell art. Or you want to use it for compost, you are making a souffle, and you need egg whites. Maybe you’re doing an egg wash and you need the yolk. We don’t often ask good enough questions to get us to the point of understanding like, “I don’t have to smash the egg. I don’t have to boil it, cut it in thirds and assume that everyone’s going to get an equal part.” We all want the egg for a different reason. What’s the reason? That’s how you create additional value.
Part of how we do that is that we ask the wrong questions. Most people do not ask good questions when it comes to negotiation. Most people ask the question of death in every negotiation, which is why. The problem with ‘why’ is that ‘why’ is a defensive question. It puts the respondent on the defensive because you’re implying that there is a better way or a different way of doing it. The way that they’re talking about it is wrong. If you ask what and how questions, that will get you a lot more information from which you can build a deal. When you act overlay, what and how, and you put when and where questions, you get specificity and you can’t negotiate something general. You have to negotiate something specific. It all leads back to this clarity around knowing what you want and why it’s important to you because you need it to be specific. The more specific you are, the easier it is for you to identify and create opportunities of abundance for your counterparts, so that you can see where that additional 42% of the value set.
There are many opportunities in working with small companies, not-for-profits and different organizations or industries. When you have that young manager, the intern or the up-and-coming emerging leader that’s sitting around the table reading this, it would be best if you can approach them at an earlier stage in their career where they’re learning these techniques and learning what you’re sharing here, that would prepare them better for that next level of leadership in their lives.
Everybody reading this has two parents and you have different relationships with each of your parents. You may not have any relationship with your parents, but the reality is, you are somebody’s child. When you were a child, you learned how to negotiate. You learned how to ask for something. You learned how to influence others. You learned a way of doing that, that worked for you, that got you results that you wanted. Some of you threw temper tantrums, screamed, yelled, kicked, bit and behaved in that way. Some of you were super sensitive, you cried, you hugged everybody, and you wanted everyone to get along. Some of you tried to play both sides of the equation to figure out how to resolve something. Some of you got upset about one thing but got a whole lot of other things.
The problem is that many of us are still using those same styles of negotiating that we learned and discovered when we were seven, and we’re still using them now. They’re not working as well as they used to. As adults, the thing that makes you an amazing negotiator, one of the things, is learning how to use all those different styles in different ways and at different times, but nobody teaches this how to do that. I was talking with a gentleman who is in his mid-70s, he said to me, “Christine, my wife hates how I negotiate. It makes her uncomfortable,” because he is an aggressive value taking negotiator. In our world, we call those champions. They’re champions for themselves, they see negotiation as a battle, and they go into it armed and armored. They are all about annihilating their opponent. It’s all win-win. That’s his style and his wife is the exact opposite. She hates conflict. She’s trying to avoid it at all costs. They’re both hard styles and they both sit on a spectrum. They’re my bookends is what I call them because they’re of two ends of the extreme. This is the guy said, “I realize that I’m mean in my negotiation and I don’t want to keep being mean.” At 76 years old, he recognized finally that style isn’t serving him as well as he thought it was.
I had an interview for the podcast that I’m in the process of launching called In The Venn Zone. I talked to a gentleman who came to the United States with $1,500 in his pocket, parlayed that into a $100 million business, they do carpet cleaning but in a damaged environment. They do mold restoration, carpet cleaning for mold and fire damage, etc. He went from doing his business out of the back of his Volvo to having over 100 franchisees in North America. Our discussion was, “How do you identify your franchisees, and what are the most important factors as you’re negotiating with them?” To your point around leadership, it epitomizes what an amazing leader understands when it comes to negotiating.We're focused on what it is that we want that we're not looking at what is possible. Click To Tweet
We’re talking about this champion style and he said, “I will get up and walk away from the table. I will not negotiate with somebody who is like that. I know that style is not going to be successful in our business.” He’s working with people who’ve suffered catastrophic damage to their home from floods, fire, hurricanes. He needs somebody who’s got compassion. He needs somebody who is going to relate to a customer at a different level. That champion style, he won’t do business with. He’s like, “I’ll get up and walk away.” They’ll never even know it. They will have lost that business without even knowing why. Leaders understand how to think about their negotiation in a way that is not about getting what they want, but also about what do they give to their counterparts and how does that create a better ecosystem as they grow their businesses together.
It would seem in line with the Millennials, the upcoming that Gen Z, and all the social groups that are coming up through the ranks and how they are entering into organizations. The emphasis on the value system of an organization and how they’ll work for a company because of what they represent and their value statement versus wanting to make a whole lot of money. It’s part of the negotiation. There’s an emphasis on what do you value? What do you represent in terms of the overall, that greater good, the contribution or social impact, that willingness to sit at the table and have that discussion?
There’s a generational aspect to things in terms of how people from different generations define what’s important and generational values that can be applied to a large percentage of a certain demographic. Chris Voss and his book, Never Split the Difference, one of the things I love about his book is that he recognizes that negotiation is inherently personal. Our personal values, whether they are as a result of when we grew up from a generational perspective. I’m Gen X and we values are self-reliance, hard work, getting things done on your own, and not asking for help. Those are not the same things that Millennials and Gen Z value. They have other things like social consciousness, equality, social justice, and environmental causes. Those are different things.
Knowing the generations gives you insight into what may be driving somebody in their negotiation or influencing their negotiation. At the end of the day, negotiation is inherently personal. It goes down to the individual values that somebody has and the things that are important to them. There’s a woman named Cheri Tree who has this methodology called BANK. I like BANK because it talks about value systems. Are you somebody who values status? Are you somebody who values the scientific method? Are you somebody who values the community? Are you somebody who values structure and tradition? There’s a lot more to it than that, but those things influence how we negotiate. One of the things for me is that I’m a huge student of all things. I love studying different methodologies and ideologies on how to think about people in sociology and psychology, as well as on myself. I’m a huge student of Christine McKay, what works for Christine, and what doesn’t work. Where am I strong? Where am I weak? That influences and benefits me as a negotiator by having that understanding.
It’s such a rich insight into this whole world of negotiation. To that first point, it starts with clarity. That clarity of what is it you want and now saying that the context for how you go about pursuing what you were looking to achieve. At the same time, it starts with the self. What’s that negotiation you’re having with yourself? You mentioned with your daughter in the kitchen situation, in that negotiation with yourself, where was that tipping point where it’s like, “I’m moving this direction here?”
I’ve had many tipping points. When I got to business school, my ex-husband decided to sue me for custody of my kids because the rigorous and demanding nature of Harvard Business School made it impossible for me to provide proper maternal care to my kids. That was a tipping point. I let that situation. That was a terrible negotiation that I did with myself. I believed that I was up against a society that was said to me as a mom, “You can be successful, but there’s this imaginary line in the ground and you can’t cross. If you cross that line, I the society, I’m going to take your kids away from you.” I put the brakes on my career a lot.
I still had an amazing career. I worked for a large consulting firm. It was a fantastic opportunity, but it was still settling in not doing what I wanted to do. What moved me into the direction that I’m in and I’m living my best life right now. I’m having the most fun I’ve had in my career. I love speaking and working with smaller businesses versus big companies. There’s everything about my world that I am liking. I worked for a company that I was consulting for them. They had hired me as a consultant and then they hired me full-time. A friend of mine there who was the COO, he made a comment to me, “Christine, you try too hard.” I was like, “What does that mean?” The thing in my head that wasn’t giving myself permission to go off and do something on my own. I had all reasons why I couldn’t do that. I was like, “No. Trying hard is a good thing.”
I refuse to believe that was a bad thing that I wanted more and to be at the table, the main table or the head of the table. I wanted to be driving something. I had negotiated with myself in a way that said because of this custody thing, I wasn’t allowed to be at the head of the table. People kept reinforcing that. I kept believing that. He said that to me and it hit me. I will never forget it. I was like, “I’m done with that.” It was after that I started Venn Negotiation. I had this newfound strength and I feel like I’m living in my power. I want to share that with people, help other people find that and experience that because it’s an amazing thing. Once you have it and you’re living in it, it’s like, “Why wasn’t I doing this many years ago?”
The information you shared is amazing. It’s given me a different perspective on negotiation and some of the insights that I’ve missed as well along the way. I’m going to have to sit back and reflect on all of this. It’s likely I have to give you a call and get through your book once again, read through some of those chapters, and figuring out what I need to do that I’m not doing now. With your company, how are you helping to work with small businesses, organizations, and helping them in the negotiation?
We’re doing a lot of contract renegotiation work for small businesses with respect to their landlord’s suppliers. There are many supply chain issues both because of the pandemic but also in the US because of tariffs. Small businesses are not getting a product that’s instead of going to larger companies. They’re struggling to service their customer base. We’re helping a lot of those companies negotiate and renegotiate those relationships. We’re launching a new training program that we’re calling Venn Masters, which is essentially Toastmasters for negotiation. It’s six weeks and every session is two hours for the first level. It’s an experiential negotiation program.Most people ask the question of death in every negotiation, which is why. Click To Tweet
There’s a teaching portion at the beginning but then you practice negotiation. We go in, we observe and we’ll point out things that you’re doing. It’s like, “What if you tried this? What if you did this? What if you had this piece of information? What if you said something in this way or asked a question in a different way?” We start to put into people’s minds that there is a different way of thinking about the negotiation. We come back and we debrief, and we’ll have more education from that perspective. I’m super excited about that. It’s a revolutionary way of teaching negotiation. It’s different than how people teach negotiation now. We’re getting ready to start enrolling people.
It’s a great time. The time is always now. As people continue to move forward, especially as a year comes to this where we are right now in the year and prepare for that next step. That sounds like a great opportunity for training, learning, gain your negotiation chops, and in order for that next step as well. Christine, I want to say thank you. I’m blown away by your story, what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished. I’ve shared with you privately how inspirational you’ve been to me in our conversations. This is the example that you put out there as a leader in your field, and also a beacon for a number of leaders out there who can turn to you for that assistance that they need to get to that next level in their personal life and also in their careers as well. Thank you for being here on the show.
Thank you. It’s always an honor to see you. I love every time we get to spend some time together. Thank you to the readers too.
Thank you for being a part of the show. Look for Christine’s website. Until next time, remember to be good and lead well.
About Christine McKay
Corporate and consulting leader. M&A and divestiture veteran. International business professional. Multi-industry background. Educator.