Bob Iger’s Two Minute Master Class on Negotiation

Recently, Disney CEO Bob Iger was interviewed on the Tim Ferris podcast, going further in depth on the lessons and wisdom shared in his best-selling 2019 business memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime”.

While the interview touched on a number of interesting topics (So great to learn that Mr. Iger is a fellow Pizza connoisseur!), his two minute monologue on what makes a successful negotiator is especially noteworthy since one might consider him the greatest business negotiator of our time, having negotiated a number of billion-dollar brand acquisitions, ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to Star Wars.

Though I highly recommend listening to the entire interview, I felt motivated to share his answer transcribed in full, as I believe it’s impressively insightful for an off the cuff response –


What in your mind separates the A players from the B players from a negotiation standpoint?


Well, I think first of all, the thing that sets a good negotiator apart from a bad negotiator is one that gets a deal done. It starts there, in a way that I think is satisfactory to both sides. I’ve always been a big believer, and this is sort of cliche, but you know, negotiation should work both ways, the buyer and the seller should come away both feeling good about it, or maybe both not feeling good about it, I’m not sure.

But I happen to believe that a good negotiation is one that is conducted efficiently and effectively. I don’t think it’s something that should be necessarily protracted, as it takes a lot of time and energy. It should be one where the value that is seen by the buyer is delivered by the transaction, which means that the price and the circumstances ought to in some form or another conform to the value proposition, that’s really important. 

I like being very honest. I like getting to the heart of negotiation fairly quickly. I like putting my cards on the table instead of keeping them completely close to one’s vest. There are times though in a negotiation where I’ve found you do have to get up and walk away from the table if the terms that you’re looking at just don’t make sense, and being willing to lose a deal if you can’t get the right terms. I’ve done that a number of times.

That’s I think just good honest negotiating. I don’t approach negotiations with the need to win, I approach them with a desire to close a deal. I guess winning, that certainly contributes to winning, closing a deal, but when I mean winning I mean winning on all points, on all terms, etc. It’s not that necessary to me.

The above is truly the tip of the iceberg in regards to the thoughts he shares on deal-making, leadership, emotional discipline, and much more.

Full interview can be found here –

Saving Face on the Negotiate Anything Podcast!

I’m excited to kickoff the New Year by sharing my recent conversation with Kwame Christian on the Negotiate Anything Podcast.

I am a huge fan of Kwame’s work and could not be more honored to have been invited on his show to talk about the concept of saving face.

I highly recommend subscribing to his Podcast if you have not already and hope that everyone enjoys this episode!

Here are some links to listen via the apple Podcasts app or on any browser:



3 takeaways from the record-setting deal between the Yankees and Gerrit Cole

Earlier today, the New York Yankees held a press conference to show off their headline-grabbing winter acquisition – phenom starting pitcher Gerrit Cole.

Cole, a wildly dominant ace the Yankees have been chasing for years, also happens to be a lifelong Yankees fan, now finally living his dream to play for the historic franchise.

Lucky for fans like myself, the negotiations did not stretch out over the entire months-long off season, as has recently often been the case with all-star talent and their ruthless agents. Instead, they were finished quickly and decisively.

With that, here are three key takeaways we can all learn from this impressive deal:

Patience is a virtue

The Yankees, who have been increasingly criticized for not going for the right player at the right time, not going big enough, and not shelling out the dough, finally seized their opportunity. Their acquisition of Cole is a great reminder of what we can achieve when we stay disciplined, not chasing the wrong deals even if we are under pressure or withering criticism. This continued focus on the end goal – what Brian Cashman and the Yankees call “big game hunting” – has now placed them in the position of being the clear front runners for the significant future.

Don’t be afraid to show how much you want it

In sales and negotiation, it often is taught that we should avoid revealing a great desire to close a deal, and instead express our willingness to walk away or let it go if our terms are not quickly met. However, the Yankees approached Cole very differently. There were no games, no false posturing, or mixed signals that the Yankees didn’t really need or want Cole. Instead, the Yankees took the reverse approach, indicating from the get-go that their clear focus was securing Cole, that “ownership had given approval to provide a record setting contract”, and even making it known early on that “they would not be denied”. This level of transparent interest is something you don’t see very often. It’s little wonder Cole felt secure making an early choice to go with a team who wanted him badly and would pay him in line with value he represents.

Get it to the decision makers

Finally, shortly after news of the agreement it’s learned there were as many as five direct conversations during the final negotiations between agent Scott Boras and Yankees owner and managing partner Hal Steinbrenner. (As opposed to General Manger Brian Cashman.) These conversations were considered a “turning point” toward the end result of Cole receiving his nine year $324 million dollar contract (the 9th year being an apparent tipping point), one of the biggest investments ever made for a player. Even an experienced, skillful, and accomplished negotiator like Brian Cashman knows to get the ultimate decision makers talking is to create magic.

With that, I, as a passionate Yankees fan, am incredibly excited to see what the future holds, while also extremely grateful that the Yankees refused to play games during their negotiation with Cole for weeks or months on end.

We can now spend the off-season looking forward, versus having to follow a bitter, drawn-out, stressful, ordeal of a negotiation just for the sake of money, power, appearance, or habit.

Play ball 🙂

Dalio and Kissinger on playing the Infinite Game

Earlier this week, Ray Dalio, author the brilliant book Principles, posted on his social media a speech that he gave at an event for the Committee on US-China relations. He also shared another short speech from the event by Henry Kissinger, who famously opened our relations to China in the early 1970s. In addition to some great insights on power, influence, and conflict resolution, I found what I believe is a strong connection to the philosophies and concepts in Simon Sinek’s recent book The Infinite Game.

In addressing the conflicting opinions that many have over the policies over the United States and China, Dalio spoke about the importance of being able to see through the other’s eyes. For example, if looking at the emphasis in the United States on the individual compared to the emphasis in China on the family or collective, we could better understand the actions of the other party.

Next, Dalio presented an incredible chart demonstrating the rise and falls of empires over the course of history. In this visual Infinite Game, we see in stunning context the ups and downs of China throughout history. However, despite having their ups and downs, it’s clear to see their consistency among the leading empires.

Wrapping up his remarks, and lightly addressing the ongoing negotiations between the two countries, Dalio stated:

So when I look at it, I hope that it is done with mutual understanding, that instead of wars which mean lose-lose relationships that we approach this with win-win relationships by seeing each other through each other’s eyes, and not expecting the others to be like us in all respects and as we evolve through time.

Next, Kissinger spoke about US-China relations, also from a wide lens to provide context. Kissinger emphasized his belief that part of the problem between the US and China is that many feel the other party is an adversary. Kissinger recommended – alla Sinek’s The Infinite Game – that they should instead be seen as a rival, and that we should not be focused on competing to win but on coexisting over time, while doing our best to find solutions to the problems we have. In his remarks, he illustrated:

So both countries, used to being exceptional countries, and used to being unique countries, have to get used to the fact that they have a kind of a rival, and that competition is, in a way, permanent. Modern economics and modern technology link the world into one system, and when two great countries encounter each other in this manner it is inevitable that on many issues there may not be a complete agreement. But what is imperative is that both countries understand that a permanent conflict between them cannot be won...

So, what can we take away from all of this? I believe three things:

  1. There is great power in seeing through the other party’s eyes, and accepting that there might always be some level disagreement for the relationship to exist.
  2. That in contentious conflict context is important. When we take a wider lense and see the overall process, we see that we are players in an Infinite Game. Taking this perspective humbles, yet it also something from which we can draw confidence.
  3. As Kissinger so widely believed though his decades of diplomacy and negotiation with China, it is correct to view the other party not as an adversary to beat permanently, but instead as a rival to complete with while we all try to be exceptional playing in the Infinite Game.

Churchill and Roosevelt Negotiate a Quid Pro Quo

It was the summer of 1940 and Winston Churchill was waiting patiently to hear back from President Roosevelt regarding his increasingly urgent requests for war time assistance.

Weeks earlier, France had formally surrendered to the Nazis, and now Britain was also hanging on for dear life. Determined to avoid becoming another one of Hitler’s recent victims, Churchill reached out to President Roosevelt immediately after becoming Prime Minister requesting a loan of 40-50 older US Destroyers. These seemed easy enough to spare, yet would be invaluable to the British during a time that reinforcements were still being built.

While he was waiting, Churchill learned that the United States had come to desire certain specific assurances regarding the future of the British fleet before they would grant any Destroyers. The fear of the United States was that in the unfortunate event of Britain succumbing to the Nazis, the powerful navies in the peripheries of their empire would be turned over to Hitler, or destroyed by the British themselves. (Instead, it was hoped they would promptly set sail for friendly countries in the event they needed to take matters against Hitler into their own hands…)

Anxious to get things moving, Churchill writing under the alias “Former Naval Person” informed Roosevelt that Britain was prepared to lease a group of military bases to the United States indefinitely. This presented an impressive new carrot that would allow the US to expand their defensive abilities well beyond their current capabilities.

With this enticing new offer on table, it seemed as though momentum was growing towards a deal for British bases in return for American Destroyers. However, one of Churchill’s conditions was that both the bases and the Destroyers should be presented publicly to their government as simultaneous gifts – not a connected bargain – as it could be difficult for him explain an incredibly one sided deal to his Parliament.

Everything seemed agreeable until an interesting new wrinkle developed: Upon reviewing the terms, the Unite States Attorney General determined there must be be a formal quid pro quo for the deal to occur. Why so? According to the Constitution, for the United States to justify providing the type of military assistance being requested they would need to receive something of equal or greater value to their own military defenses.

Responding to this development, Churchill expressed to Roosevelt that he empathized with his situation regarding the Constitution. But, due to the urgency of the situation, he proposed they maneuver around this slight roadblock, stating –

“If your law or your Admiral requires that any help you may choose to give us must be presented as a quid pro quo, I do not see why the British Government have to come into that at all. Could you not say that you did not feel able to accept this fine offer which we make, unless the United States matched in some way, and that therefore the Admiral would be able to link the one with the other?”

Further, just in case this was truly not possible, Churchill presented the following plan to navigate forward:

Britain would immediately grant a portion of the bases, since giving the bases to the United States was already considered “settled policy”. In regards to the rest of the bases, they would continue to negotiate a total package that was fair to both parties. Finally, in return, the United Stated would allow the Destroyers to be sent to Britain immediately, which Roosevelt proceed to do.

Conclusion –

What both leaders wisely leveraged in their negotiation was the remarkable power of framing. By doing so, both created the ability to meet their nation’s overall interests, as well as a way to sell the deal publicly without too negative of repercussions. As for Roosevelt, he could go to Congress and say there was a Constitutionally ‘close enough’ exchange of valuable new military bases for old Destroyers, with even more bases on the way. As for Churchill, he could stand behind the fact that Britain already decided to gift the bases, and they would continue to negotiate the total package. Most importantly, with Hitler pressing on every front, much needed gifts to ease their struggle were now on the way.

A Counter-intuitive Lesson From Two Top Negotiating Experts

Last week, the Schranner Negotiation Institute held their renowned N-Conference in New York City for the first time, assembling an incredibly impressive lineup of experts to speak on the topic of “Decision Making Under Pressure”.

In addition to the tremendous amount of insight provided for making better decisions when negotiating in high pressure situations, one counter-intuitive theme resonated strongly throughout the day: While it might be easy to think of conflict as something to avoid, we should actually embrace it.

Why is this so?

Global Negotiation Expert and CEO Matthias Schranner suggests that forces in business and culture are now moving towards increasingly tougher negotiations. For this reason, he suggests we should begin our negotiations by creating a “conflict playground”. This means starting with high demands, communicating our ability to walk away, and moving to a mode of cooperation only after we’ve respectfully signaled to the other side we are not be taken advantage of. (More on his perspective on embracing conflict can be found here.)

Another masterful speaker who highlighted the importance of embracing conflict was retired NYPD Lieutenant and regarded Hostage Negotiation expert Jack Cambria. After 14 years as the head of the NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team, Lt. Cambra provides an ocean of invaluable wisdom for dealing with high pressure and high stakes encounters.

During his presentation, Lt. Cambria highlighted our most common responses to conflict:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze

However, what the accomplished Lt. Cambria recommends instead of the options above is to choose an additional yet ultimately correct fourth response: face the conflict. And to deepen this perspective, he shares a powerful and optimistic learning lesson

“Embrace difficult people because they become our greatest teachers.”


What we can take from two of the world’s top negotiation experts, who’ve been involved in life threatening situations that make our most challenging business negotiations seem like a walk in the park, is to embrace and even love conflict – because doing so will not only help us be stronger in our negotiations in the short term, but also help strengthen our character in the long.

Before The Duel – What We Can Learn About Conflict Resolution From The Negotiation Between Hamilton and Burr

Before there was the duel, there was the negotiation. And it is hard to find a better example of what not to do when trying to save face and resolve conflict than can be seen in the letters between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

The incident begins when words leaks to the press that Hamilton made sharply critical remarks about Burr in front of others at a private dinner. Upon receiving word of this, Aaron Burr – having had it up here with Hamilton’s seemingly personal and malicious comments over the past years – decides to initiate an “affair of honor”, which is an elegant name for the ritual of challenging someone to a duel.

In his first letter to Hamilton beginning the negotiations, Burr starts by proposing that Hamilton make a “prompt and unqualified acknowledgement or denial” of whatever he said on that occasion, especially whatever was implied by the word ‘despicable’, used by a witness to describe the accusations.

If there’s ever an example of how to get a conflict resolution off to the wrong foot, it can be found in Hamilton’s first response. Instead of expressing any regret, Hamilton’s makes a fiery counter-proposal that Burr describe something specific to which he could address, flatly refusing to “enter into an explanation upon a basis so vague as that which you have adopted.” Hamilton ends the letter by telling Burr that he is confident that after more reflection he will come to “see the matter in the same light” as him. And, that if he does not or cannot, Hamilton is prepared to accept the consequences of the occasion – i.e. a duel. 

Burr responds back escalating the exchange and banter, as tends to happen when negative defensive emotions are involved. First, he rejects Hamilton’s proposal to provide more specifics. In Burr’s view, whatever was implied or said that could be taken by others against his honor and character requires restitution. Second, he decides to escalate the negotiation even further, adding a negative concession. Now, because of Hamilton’s tone and his outright refusal, Burr believes he is owed an even bigger apology than was asked for in the first letter, ominously stating, “Your letter has furnished me with new reasons for requiring a definite reply.”

Noticing the dangerous turn of the negotiations, advisers to Hamilton and Burr desperately attempt to find some way for the parties to resolve the conflict and save face. However, the parties soon learn that Burr has taken defensive measures to ensure Hamilton cannot wiggle his way out without a full apology. He increases his demands by having his adviser relay that Hamilton would now need to a make blanket apology for anything he has ever said about Burr and his character, at any time, ever.

While Hamilton’s final letter does not reduce the combative tone, it is worth noting that he does provide Burr with a subtle last minute opening to give them both a way to avoid the coming hostilities, writing, “I have no other answer to give than that which has already been given. If you mean anything different admitting of greater latitude, it is requisite you should explain”.

In his final letter, Burr declines the offer, responding in a firm and formal manner explaining his belief why a duel is warranted and why his original demand for an acknowledgement based on general remarks was requested. In building his case, he also brings backs for consistency Hamilton’s challenging and daring remark that if Burr could not alter his views to match his own then a duel would be inevitable.

As we know, the duel happens, and things go tragically awry. Shortly after being hit by Burr’s fire, Alexander Hamilton, one of our greatest founding fathers is dead. 

What can we learn over 200 years later from this horrible negotiation to resolve their conflict?

First is to recognize that although we thankfully no longer have formal duels, it is very easy for our disagreements, especially when personal, to transform into harmful “affairs of honor”. It is still true that when we feel insulted or disrespected we get defensively emotional, and this defensive emotion tends to create an escalation that guides us into a destructive path of which becomes difficult to reverse.

On top of our escalation-prone defenses is the consistency trap. Often times, we say things and do things that we later regret, yet because of our social desire to maintain a consistent public face or self image we feel compelled to stand by or defend them. Usually, when conflict is resolved and face is saved, parties find a way to avoid this consistency trap with selective listening, empathetic understanding, or creatively adjusting their proposals, something Hamilton and Burr were unable to bring themselves to do.

Finally, in many everyday encounters much less dramatic we also have the tendency to speak to each other in two different languages. For example, in Burr’s letters to Hamilton he is speaking a language of common sense. In his view, it is common sense to know that if Hamilton’s remarks implied Burr had done acts that were considered despicable it is enough to warrant an apology. However, in Hamilton’s letters to Burr he is speaking in a completely different mode both legalistic and abstract. In his view, the remarks do not yet warrant an apology, because despicable could mean any number of things. It could be a soft insult, it could be a hard insult. How is he supposed to offer a genuine apology when he cannot speak to its grade?

While it might be tempting to fault Hamilton for this, how many of us have been through this same experience, where we find ourselves speaking in two different languages and the fight continues and escalates because neither party is willing looking at it from the same frame or perspective as the other person?

Unfortunately, far too often…

In conclusion, if there’s anything we can learn from the negotiations between Hamilton and Burr, I believe it is the following:

  • Because of our ritualistic need to protect face, “affairs of honor” (and pride) still exist, and these encounters spark defensive emotions, which can in turn spark unhelpful escalation.
  • We have a tendency to fall into a consistency trap, when we say or do things we feel we have to rationalize, justify, stand behind, or defend later – even though it might not be in our best interest.
  • We have a tendency to speak past each other in our own personal languages. Languages that suit our view of the situation, languages that make it easy for us to rationalize our behavior, and languages that are convenient for our consciences.

Though we live in far different times, I believe we can learn from Hamilton and Burr’s tragic negotiation to recognize and avoid these tendencies when resolving harmful conflicts in the present and hopefully less often in the future.


Brian Cashman’s Face Saving Press Conference

Last week, Yankees General Manager and top Negotiator Brian Cashman had to face the media for the first time after the team’s devastating ALCS loss against the arch rival Houston Astros.

At a certain point things took a harsher turn, resulting in the press conference becoming more newsworthy than it would normally be after Cashman got into what was widely described as a “testy” exchange with Sweeny Murti, a leading team commentator and New York sports personality.

The exchange took place after Murti asked if Cashman and the Yankees owners regretted “passing” on three star pitchers who were available before the 2019 season, all of whom are now playing in the World Series for either the Houston Astros or Washington Nationals. (A brief video of the exchange can be found here:

While neither Cashman nor Murti did anything wrong, one would assume they would probably like to avoid the argumentative appearance of the exchange given the opportunity to try again.

So what can we as managers and negotiators learn from this noticeably uncomfortable interaction?

Cashman’s very human response was a great reminder that we can often get defensive when our decisions are questioned, something that is especially true when we’re in the presence of others and when appearing anything close to incompetent means losing face.

Further, according to much evidence in Social Psychology, our impulse to react in a “fight” mode can be even more pronounced when the implied incompetence relates to an area that we subconsciously view as core to our self identity, something most managers and negotiators who’ve experienced great success in the past usually do.

I know at least for myself it can be easy to fall victim to emotions, making strangely cutting remarks either in my head or out loud when it feels like my decisions are being second guessed. In these scenarios, I try to remind myself that humility is more important than ego, and part of being a manager or negotiator who makes important decisions for a group of people means answering for the consequences of our decisions.

Of course, this is certainly way easier said than done. However, it’s well worth encouraging ourselves to at least try and avoid this very human tendency as much as possible. Also, to remind ourselves that we do have the power, it’s just a matter of having the discipline to use it.

Along these lines, Steven R. Covey shares a powerful quote from Victor Frankel in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” –

Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

The key for managers and negotiators involves the habit of giving ourselves and others the space, so that our responses can be less “fight” and instead much more face friendly for everyone involved in the interaction.


Being ghosted is one of the common phenomenons that salespeople experience day in and day out. After so much perceived “rejection”, it can be easy for anyone to fall into the trap of believing their prospect is no longer interested.

According to face theory, the most common way that we deal with face threats to ourselves and others is avoiding. This means that instead of meeting potential conflict or an uncomfortable interaction head on, we are much more likely to simply avoid the interaction entirely. 

For this reason, it’s important for us in sales to constantly question our belief that the prospect is no longer interested. First of all, the world doesn’t usually work in such black and white terms. Just because a prospect does not respond does not mean they are not interested at all. What ghosting more likely means is that I’m not as interested as I was, and that’s a highly complicated and potentially awkward conversation that certainty threatens face for those involved.

The unfortunate sting of being ghosted deals with our awareness of the fact that responding actually takes very little time, even for the busiest of people. However, we should also remain aware that we can easily all feel too busy for a not so urgent conversation about how we’re not as much in love with a person (or a product) as we once were.

Once Upon a Time in Washington D.C…

The year was 1969, and Henry Kissinger was shortly to become the world’s most famous negotiator. 

One of his early victories as National Security Advisor was getting the Sovet Union to reduce their restrictions on Jewish emigration, resulting in tens of thousands being able to leave the communist country over just a few years time.

How did Kissinger pull off this extravagant deal? He did so by wisely trading face with his Soviet counterparts.

The deal was that Kissinger and President Nixon would recognize this favor from the Soviets, while also keep the arrangement to themselves, not taking any public credit for the increase in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. This of course allowed the Soviet leaders to save face, since no one would be hip to the fact that this favor had been granted.

All was going according to plan until 1972 when an ambitious Senator named Henry “Scoop” Jackson decided he wanted Congress to negotiate the issue of Jewish emigration, publicly and with a hard line stance.

Trying desperately to rescue the successful understanding and now playing middle man, Kissinger creatively designed a new way for all parties to save face on the world stage.

Instead of asking the Soviet leaders to agree to the demand of Jackson to meet a certain high number (something they would never do), he asked the Soviets to simply declare that they would “allow” levels of emigration that nobody realized were already happening. Importantly, this would include an estimate of future emigration made by the Soviets themselves.

After securing this commitment, it seemed that Kissinger could bring back to Jackson something he could work with. Couldn’t he?

Unfortunately, it turned out not to be, as Kissinger learned that Jackson and Congress were far less sensitive to the face needs of the Soviets, and would not accept anything less than a public commitment to an American target of near 100,000 emigrants.

So why after such creative negotiating by Kissinger did Jackson refuse to go along?

Jackson declined because of the unspoken reality that sometimes making any deal means losing too much face, and for this reason such negotiators who appear to be acting in good faith know all along that they are not.

This turned out to be the case for Jackson, and the ever savvy Kissinger had been around long enough in Washington D.C. to know this time he would not be riding off into the Potomac sunset with a victory.