Be Like Water: 3 Martial Arts Lessons for Negotiation

StrategyDrive Practices for Professionals Article |Negotiation|Be Like Water: 3 Martial Arts Lessons for NegotiationIn the struggle between the stone and water, in time, the water wins.

– Japanese Proverb

You may wonder what martial arts and negotiation have in common. As a lifetime practicing martial artist, I constantly use lessons from various martial arts to help me in my professional life. One of the most common themes running through all martial arts is the silencing of the “self.” Martial artists meditate to quiet themselves and become more attuned to the processes of the self and the world around them.

Negotiators must also be mindful, especially if they wish to be successful. When you’re doing all the talking and pushing, you’re the rock or the stone. Whereas when you’re water, you take whatever shape you need to become. This puts you automatically in control, even if that requires patience and time. You can be prepared for anything without being blocked by your thoughts and senses.

If you’re tense or distracted by the planning and anticipation of your next move toward your opponent, you’re much more likely to be hit. Similarly, if your thoughts and senses block you in negotiation, you’re more likely to give away your position, strategy and point of weakness. But if you come prepared to listen with complete openness, you begin to notice things. You find openings in arguments, unravel the essential backstories behind the arguments and realize where the actual questions lie.

Negotiation is investigative; it’s an art for the curious. Those who approach it with an open and serene mind are less likely to expose their weak points for attack. This is what it means to become the water and not the stone.

Here are some martial arts techniques to apply to negotiations:

1. Relax without showing strength or weakness

Great competitors will not show their strength because it also may display a weakness. Revealing your strength can expose your vulnerability. To be like water, relax.

I recall an instance where I did exactly this. I was attending a play in New York City’s Times Square with my business partner at the time, accompanied by his girlfriend and my wife. After the fantastic show, the audience poured through the exit. I was about 10 feet away from my wife and business partner’s girlfriend when I observed a man studying them. He seemed to be looking at their purses. I could sense he was about to make a move, so I immediately closed the gap and stood between him and the women.

I looked him in the eye and smiled and put out my hand to shake his hand, and I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He put out his hand and shook mine, and I just said, “There’s nothing for you here.” He shook my hand for a little longer than you’d expect and then smiled and walked away.

This is a perfect example of the power of a be-like-water strategy. I wasn’t threatening. I wasn’t afraid. I could have approached the matter differently and been combative and accusatory, but that would have caused far more trouble than it was worth. I knew in that instance to be like the water — calm, collected. I listened and observed my surroundings and obstacles, ultimately knowing that through the art of listening and silencing myself that I could leave the situation unscathed yet wiser.

2. Find openings

In martial arts, the search for that opening in your opponent is a patient one that eventually yields results.

Negotiation is a human process and thus rich in human interaction, showing your human side, establishing that you care and demonstrating empathy make the people you interact with more comfortable. How can you do this? By listening and asking questions.

Imagine that you enter your negotiation with questions. You come in like water. You’re prepared but don’t presume your outcome by making demands of what you want. You ask good questions.

What are good questions? Those that, like water, find an opening.

Finding openings can be the most challenging part of a negotiation, and asking and listening offer the best opening. If you’re specific about precisely what you want at the outset, you may leave something important on the table. If you ask for too much, the negotiation may end quickly.

Openings require open-ended questions and a bit of small talk. People are more receptive to open-ended questions. Asking open-ended questions creates an atmosphere in which your counterparty thinks and believes that the ideas presented are his or her own.

When you open by listening, you’re letting the other party in the negotiation lead. But you need to let them lead in a way that doesn’t appear as though you’re trying to corner them. This means asking open-ended questions, not closed-ended ones. Think of closed-ended questions as those that can be answered with yes or no, while open-ended questions welcome narrative.

Patiently search for that opening in your opponent. Consider borrowing from classic sales techniques and using questions to uncover shared interests. Respond to the opponent’s answers with follow-up questions to establish trust.

An opening I’ve used is: “So, why are we here?”

I’ve diffused tension with a simple, “How can I help?”

Openings to negotiations should be simple, non-threatening, inviting and used to establish trust.

3. Wait for the right moment

Don’t come into a negotiation with your sword drawn. Come in empty-handed. Come in formless and shapeless, like water. Come in prepared to ask evoking questions that will lead to discovering information that you can use to your advantage. But first you must get them talking.

Intently concentrate on listening so that you’ll remember everything you hear. Uncover all of the essential backstory to find out the other party’s true desires and dissatisfactions and what they most want. Then, and only then, connect your services, your products and your perspective with the other person’s needs and desires.

Openings are conceptual gaps where you can test, interject and match their needs and desires with yours. You must be so well prepared and clear on your negotiating position that introducing these as needs and opportunities will be effortless. It will be natural. You’ll be leading, but the other party will believe that the lead is theirs. When you behave and act this way, the other party will feel like they’re teaching you.

Come in ready to listen with complete openness until the opportunity to present your position arises. Most of all, be patient and relaxed. Be like water.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Cash NickersonCash Nickerson is chairman of AKKA North America’s Business Unit. He was President, CFO, General Counsel, and the second largest shareholder of PDS Tech prior to its purchase by AKKA Technologies. Previous roles include attorney and marketing executive for Union Pacific Railroad, associate and then partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago, and chairman and CEO of an internet company. He teaches Negotiation as a Professor of Practice at Washington University in St. Louis, School of Law. Nickerson has authored several books, with his latest book, Negotiation as a Martial Art: Techniques to Master the Art of Human Exchange (Made for Success, July 2, 2021), named “Best New Release in Business Negotiations” by the Wall Street Journal. Learn more at

The Key To Being A Good Leader

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Good leader|The Key To Being A Good LeaderLeading a team is a big responsibility and there are key factors to remember. Building a strong and productive workforce takes time and effort and can be the difference between a successful company and a failing one. How can you ensure you’re a leader that contributes to a positive outcome?

Set an example

Most people understand that the best way to lead is by example, but how exactly can you do that? Modelling how you want your team to perform and behave in the workplace is crucial. Creating the right work ethic involves being willing to work hard and do some of the same jobs you ask of others. Your team will watch how you behave and communicate and will replicate their leader. Setting an example will enable you to solve staff issues when they arise, safe in the knowledge you have set a boundary giving you the freedom to reprimand them if needed.

You should also follow good timekeeping if you expect your team to follow suit. If you’re training a member of staff and they accompany you to client meetings, always ensure you leave plenty of time to get to your destination. If you live in London and need to catch a flight to attend a seminar or meet a client, you can pre-book in advance, at a time and place that suits you, a taxi to Heathrow to get you across London in time for your flight. Examples of good punctuality, professional attire, and excellent preparation will encourage your workforce to take their responsibilities seriously and give 100% effort. Client satisfaction is vital for any business to run successfully.

Provide Excellent Training

It’s hard to expect a team to produce results if they are unsure of the responsibilities and tasks assigned to them. Investing in good quality training will help employees grow in knowledge and enable them to be more productive in their work. They will perform better and their confidence will increase hugely. It will also help them appreciate you as a leader and help them feel valued. Employees who have access to training will be able to upskill in the workplace providing flexibility and the ability to switch staff between tasks, and cover for others when needed.

Continued development can also help staff come up with ideas that benefit the business. New knowledge sparks ideas, and a renewed sense of creativity can form a collaborative team spirit.

Positive attitude

Positivity is contagious so leading with a positive attitude is imperative for staff morale. Adopting a positive problem-solving approach will encourage the team to remain upbeat. A positive leader will motivate his team, and as a consequence, they will accomplish much more than a downbeat one. Focusing on your wellbeing will help help you stay focused and give you the energy to help others and get the best out of them.


Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship, and it’s no different at work. Communicating effectively with your team will help you build strong professional relationships and help employees feel valued. Make time for staff that request to see you and always treat them respectfully and with compassion. Always be a good listener and hear what your employee is saying without jumping in with a solution. Staff are more likely to come to you with issues affecting the business if you are approachable and understanding.

Leading a team is a privilege, and caring for them appropriately and setting a good example should be a priority for the long-term success of the company.

5 Indications You’re Cut Out for a Job in Customer Service

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article |Customer service|5 Indications You're Cut Out for a Job in Customer ServiceContrary to a common misconception, customer service is not merely hearing complaints and speaking politely to customers; it is a critical component of any successful business operations. By ensuring high-quality customer service, any organization can build a favorable reputation in their industry, attract new customers, and keep a loyal client base.

Given its relevance, it is not surprising that customer service jobs have always been in demand in the Philippines. If you are interested in entering this industry for career advancement opportunities and financial gain, know that this sector is not for everyone. You need specific skills, personality traits, and qualities to succeed.

To ascertain if you are cut out for a position in customer service, below are several signs that you may want to consider. If most of them ring true to you, then there is a good chance that you will thrive in this field of work.

You Have a Way with Words

Although communication skills are necessary for customer service, the job entails more than merely speaking fluently and calmly. Customer service representatives should be able to relay awkward things or give unpleasant news in a way that does not upset or irritate the clients. However, it is worth noting that having a way with words is not about lying but packaging the message in a more palatable manner.

For instance, instead of giving an outright refusal to a customer request that is against company policy, you can tell the client that you will see what you can do about the issue and inform them about the result the following day. In the interim, make sure to see what else you can do to help the customer that may not be violative of your company policy. When you call the next day, the client will most likely be receptive whether you’ve found another way to help them or your reply to the original request is unfavorable. Either way, this will send the message that you tried your best to resolve the issue.

You Are Cool as Ice

Answering calls, addressing different concerns, and dealing with frustrated people all day can be taxing and emotionally draining. That is why customer service representatives should be patient enough to deal with all types of individuals and concerns without taking things too personally.

Think about how you deal with friends and acquaintances and the different circumstances in your daily life. Are you easily irritated when things do not go your way? Do you tend to lash out at others when they act rudely?

If you answer affirmatively to the above questions, you probably need to develop the value of patience before seeking a position in customer service. Take note that unless you have the ability to remain calm and unperturbed in any situation, you will probably have a difficult time staying and growing in the customer service profession.

You Have a Positive Outlook

One study published in the Journal of International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences found that more than 50 percent of customer service representatives in Metro Manila are high in cynicism due to the nature of the work environment. The finding is understandable, considering that individuals working in this sector are getting beat down by bad-mannered and frustrated customers on a daily basis. It is easy to believe the worst in people if you encounter the not-so-nice ones regularly.

That said, a customer service representative should have a positive outlook to remain happy and satisfied in their work despite frequent interaction with unpleasant clients. Positive people focus on the good things, are inherently grateful, and do not dwell on things they cannot control. They are proactive and see opportunities in all circumstances. If those around you often comment on your positive energy and optimism, you will probably be effective in assisting frustrated customers and keeping the spirit up of those around you.

You Are Highly Adaptable to Change

Customer service work is unpredictable. Apart from the system continuously evolving, there is no way of knowing what types of calls a customer service agent will receive throughout the day. There might be a downtime for a certain period followed by multiple phone calls nearing the end of office hours. Even work schedules can be erratic.

How do you usually react to changes and instability? Perhaps you are hardly bothered by surprises, or you are thrilled with the idea of not knowing what to expect. If that is the case, working as a customer representative could be a good fit.

You Maintain Long-Lasting Relationships

As mentioned above, effective customer service is about making clients feel valued by the company. That is why people working in the industry should be genuinely interested in people and build customer relationships. Doing so means remembering client names, being sensitive to their needs, and addressing their concerns in the most efficient manner.

To determine if you have this ability, you may want to assess your personal relationships. If you make friends effortlessly, get along with everyone, and maintain long-term friendships, then you might be suited to work in the customer service sector.

The items discussed above are just some of the essential indications that an individual is well-matched for a job in customer service. Ponder on them to see if they speak to you. If your desire to pursue a position in the field becomes stronger, or if the job becomes even more interesting, you should seriously consider joining the customer service industry today.

5 Tips to Improve Sales Team Performance

StrategyDriven Marketing and Sales Article |Team Performance|5 Tips to Improve Sales Team PerformanceDo you want to generate more sales? It’s a silly question to ask, admittedly – every business wants to send out more orders to customers. Yet actually making it a reality is a whole different story. If it were easy, you wouldn’t see so many companies fall by the wayside each year.

The good news is there are numerous ways in which you can boost the chances of selling more to consumers. This is particularly the case if your business operates with a sales team. Whether they are out in the field, within your office, or working from home remotely, there are ways to optimize their performance.

How? That’s where this guide will help. Below are five tips to improve how your sales team operates.

1. Accurate sales forecasting

Did you know that most organizations don’t feature a scalable, repeatable method for forecasting sales? If your business falls into the same situation, it’s time to change this process. The reason for this is simple: a lot of critical decisions – from investments to hiring employees – are down to sales forecasts.

As a result, sales forecasting accuracy – where you measure how close you come to hitting your forecast – is necessary. Generally, an accurate sales forecast can be essential in improving your sales team performance. For instance, it allows your business to spend adequate resources more effectively to facilitate a successful sales strategy. It also helps your sales department to attain specific business goals by determining issues with their sales and looking for ways to correct them. Lastly, having an accurate sales forecast can help you make sound business decisions in terms of budgeting, risk management, and planning.

With all these things being said, sales forecasting indeed plays an integral role in the success of your marketing and sales efforts. But if you’re a beginner, how can you create an accurate sales forecast? Well, One way of doing this is by working out the percent difference, also known as the percentage error. Simply put, this is the difference between forecast volume and the actual volume expressed in percentage form. You can learn more online about how to calculate forecast accuracy.

If you’re not good with math and the last thing you want to deal with is a percentage calculation, there is a quick solution available. GIGA Calculator offers a simple yet effective percent error solution for this issue.

2. Implement sales tools

In the sales world, there are plenty of repetitive, unproductive tasks that each employee has to handle. This is why it is recommended to automate as many of these tasks as possible with the implementation of sales tools. When tools like these are used, it helps to save a significant amount of time on redundant assignments like data entry. This means your sales team can then dedicate more time towards tasks that matter most.

To get an idea of what is available for automation, Intercom has put together a list of 45 sales tools worth your time.

Aside from innovative sales tools, there are also other things that can help make the sales team’s work much easier and faster. One of them is the so-called sales playbook. It refers to a document containing your business’s best sales tactics, strategies, and even templates which are based on your sales successes and failures. In other words, it’s a cohesive manual that can guide your company in obtaining an increase in sales over a certain period of time.

Like the other sales tools, a sales playbook can serve as an effective tool to ensure your sales team utilize the best sales strategies. It also helps get your team on the same page in terms of your marketing and sales efforts, thereby making them much easier and more efficient. With a sales playbook, you can ensure that the sales department will properly implement your proven sales tactics. So, if you want to include a sales playbook in your list of sales tools, then you should start creating one as early as now.

3. Establish a schedule

Yes, sales reps are not known for sticking to the most stringent schedules – particularly if they’re working in the field where travel also has to be factored into the equation. However, putting together some form of schedule for your sales team is highly recommended.

When you have structure, where sales reps also know how long each client session should last, it’s easier for them to organize their daily schedule. They will know how much time needs to be dedicated for each meeting, along with other points that may apply, such as travel and preparation.

4. Decide on daily goals

Accountability leads to results. It is a driving force that gives your sales team that extra push to, well, sell your products. To add accountability, one of the easiest methods is to set goals that serve as a form of motivation. They supply salespeople with a plan of action, a sense of direction so they can hit their set targets.

For instance, say an employee is set with the target of reaching $500 in sales for the day. To do this, they need to make five sales. On average, it takes 20 attempts for them to land a single sale. As a result, it is known they need to make approximately 100 attempts to reach their goal of $500.

With this type of information and motivation, they can plan out how to make their goals a reality.

5. Communication is key

Being in constant communication with your sales team is imperative. This point shouldn’t be overlooked. The more you stay in touch with your employees, the more you’ll be aware of their performance and any feedback they might have.

When communicating with your employees, you can start with a quick meeting each morning. Yet, it is also wise to schedule a daily one-on-one check-in with each salesperson. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen each day, of course, but it is a great way to gain insight from employees.

By going with an in-depth interaction like this, it is perfect for getting valuable feedback. You can learn about not just ways to improve your business, but also the morale of your employees and if any steps need to be taken to improve their mood.

Successful Negotiation: 5 Effective Techniques for Better Negotiation

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article |Techniques for Negotiation |Successful Negotiation: 5 Effective Techniques for Better NegotiationAs one of the most crucial components of modern business, negotiation occurs every day in a variety of forms, and the outcome of these negotiations can significantly impact your bottom line. Successful negotiations serve as the foundation for profitable interactions and allow you to cultivate valuable long-term business relationships. While every negotiation is different and features unique circumstances, there are certain techniques you can employ during any negotiation to enhance your position and increase the likelihood of reaching the best outcome for both parties.

Consider the five techniques below to discover how you can improve the negotiation skill set of your team, then contact Shapiro Negotiations to schedule training with our expert negotiators. When your employees participate in our strategic, interactive program, you can be sure they are prepared to secure the optimal results in the toughest of negotiations.

Encourage Conversation

In any kind of negotiation, your negotiating partner needs to know you value their perspective and take their priorities seriously. Encouraging conversation by asking open-ended questions allows you to gain valuable information and guide the negotiation process to a favorable conclusion. Display a commitment to reaching a win-win outcome from the very beginning of the negotiation and take time to resolve any remaining doubts so the agreement may be entered into with trust and confidence. Remain professional, polite, and friendly throughout the discussion and maintain open body language to signal your receptiveness.

Listen Actively

To enhance active listening skills, Shapiro Negotiations teaches “The 3 Cs” – connect, consider, and confirm. Connect with your negotiating partner by making eye contact and using their name frequently throughout the discussion. Consider your response carefully, pausing to reflect after the other party finishes speaking before formulating an appropriate response or counterargument. Confirm the goals for the discussion and the progress you have made in reaching them. By following this approach, you can learn what the other party feels is most important in the negotiation, as well as the limitations they face and the areas they may be willing to compromise.

Demonstrate Value

To negotiate effectively, you must retain an accurate idea of your product’s value and be capable of proving this value to your negotiating partner. Demonstrate your company’s expertise in the industry and highlight your record of proven results by sharing hard data concerning outcomes of past successful deals. Suggest potential clients explore reviews and testimonials to hear first-hand accounts of your company’s character, values, and dedication to delivering the highest quality products. If the product in question is only available from your company or in especially high demand, the value of your product is even higher, giving you more leverage in the negotiation.

Explore Alternatives

Negotiations rarely end after the first meeting, often involving extensive back-and-forth between both parties to adjust the terms of the deal until they feel they have achieved a win-win outcome. This requires thinking beyond the details of the initial proposal and exploring creative alternatives so you can reach a fair, acceptable agreement. You can discuss a variety of options, including requesting or proposing concessions, “expanding the pie” by widening your offer or providing compensation to make up for sacrifices made by the other party.

Know When to Walk Away

Recognize when the other party’s demands have become unreasonable or if the terms they suggest create an unprofitable outcome for your business and make the decision to walk away from the negotiating table. Before the negotiation begins, you should be aware of your limits and gather market data to support your assertion that an offer or price is not fair or reasonable. A potential client that does not value your offering or insists on drastic contract amendments will probably continue to be difficult to work with after the deal concludes, so sometimes the wisest course of action is to get out before the stakes become too high.

Learn More Negotiation Techniques with Our Training Program

Informed by science and strengthened by experience, the negotiation training program offered by Shapiro Negotiations has helped businesses improve their negotiating skills for more than twenty years. With training sessions customized for your business objectives, we can instruct your team on how to effectively utilize a wide range of techniques so they can conduct successful negotiations for years to come. Boasting an impressive 300% return on investment, our team has helped more than 250,000 people in all kinds of industries enhance their negotiating abilities and achieve the best possible outcomes in any future business deals.

If you would like to learn more about how we can prepare your business for a lucrative future, contact us today online, call (410) 662-4764, or email [email protected].