3 things we can learn from the 2 trillion dollar stimulus negotiation

Late last week, the U.S. government successfully negotiated a historic stimulus plan while under great pressure to help mitigate the economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A noteworthy outcome for many reasons, it was especially so when considering the dynamic and fast-moving conditions in which two highly adversarial parties had to come together and reach agreement.

Here are three things I believe we can learn from the negotiation:

Create the proper environment

One reason the negotiation was successful is that careful thought was given to who would lead the negotiations for each side.

For example, when negotiations began between the White House and House of Representatives, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took the lead on behalf of the White House while House leader Nancy Pelosi took the lead for the Democrats.

This was effective for two reasons. First, the post impeachment fallout prevented the possibility of direct negotiations between Nancy Pelosi and President Trump, as the two have not exchanged words since their contentious meeting last October. Second, Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin have an established track record of success working together on important negotiations, such as the initial coronavirus relief bill, and debt-ceiling negotiations last summer.

The lesson to be taken here is the importance of creating the best environment for our negotiations to thrive. The goal should be to create a face saving environment, where negotiators who’ve proven the ability to stay rational and bring positive versus negative relational baggage into the interaction are the ones sitting across the table.

Be prepared for a rocky ride

Throughout negotiation there were a number of inflection points when new demands were made, dramatic threats were issued, and breakdowns seemed likely.

For example, days after Nancy Pelosi negotiated terms with Secretary Mnuchin on behalf of the House, Senate Republicans revised the legislation with terms that were greatly in their favor. Days later, Senate Democrats successful played hard-ball, creating an impasse to secure concessions on items they considered non-negotiable. And even after the final night of negotiations, a lone representative attempted to prevent the planned vote from happening, throwing Congress into a last minute scramble. Luckily, negotiators from both sides were able to stay focused on the end goal, continuously reverting back to problem solving each time curveballs appeared.

The lesson to be taken is to embrace the process, especially in regards to the posturing and power plays that invariably occur. Likewise, realizing that oftentimes for negotiators to persuade their constituents to accept an outcome – or to accept it themselves – they have to feel like they’ve made a stand. Don’t get rattled by this ritual. Control your emotions, and never be surprised by last minute tactics to bulldoze, they’re often the norm.

Be flexible, yet firm

Finally, both sides were able to come to terms because each took a pragmatic approach, putting down their foot when needed while easing back when they were pushing the limit.

For example, after Republicans tried to renegotiate better terms for their side, Nancy Pelosi conveyed that the new terms were simply unacceptable for the Democrats, vividly and matter of factly telling Republican negotiators, “the two animals couldn’t mate.” Yet in the end, Democrats accepted enough of the newly proposed terms to ensure that a bill that included their priorities would be unanimously passed and swiftly signed by President Trump.

The lesson here is finding the right balance. Many negotiations will call for a more firmness, while some will call for more flexibility. Some will even call for us to walk away, an option that’s far more available in everyday negotiations than it was for Congress. However, as author and researcher Adam Grant pointed out in his recent NY Times article titled “In Negotiations, Givers Are Smarter Than Takers”, collaborative negotiators who use their intelligence more than their toughness tend to create better outcomes for both parties. The key then, perhaps, is to be firm yet intelligently flexible, providing ourselves with the best opportunity to discover whatever it takes for “the animals to mate”.

Tony Romo – Master Negotiator?

While former NFL quarterback Tony Romo was never able to secure his legacy with a Super Bowl trophy, he did just end up the highest paid sports analyst of all time, signing a historic long-term contract with CBS worth 17+ million dollars per year over the course of 10 years.

How did this come to be?

Avid fans of the sport know that Tony Romo has become the go-to must-hear football analyst over the past couple seasons. His incredible ability to predict what’s going to happen before it happens, while providing interesting and valuable insight on the strategy of the game has gotten so much attention that he’s even been dubbed “Romostradamus”.

After taking the broadcast world by storm, one would have to assume he would be set to make a killing when his contract expired this past February. However, the end result was a shock to many, including current NFL stars who make far less than Romo will now enjoy.

What exactly made the timing so ripe?

First, knowing that Romo’s contract with CBS was about to end, ESPN determined that signing him at a historic price before the 2020-2021 season would be a well made investment in their hopes of reviving their struggling Monday Night Football franchise. This created enormous leverage for Romo to encourage CBS to outbid their rival to retain him.

Second, Peyton Manning, after retiring as an all-time great NFL quarterback, was the next high-profile former player major networks were hoping to secure. However, despite being offered millions, and what would have probably been the highest paid sports analyst contract of all time pre-Romo, Manning decided he’s simply not ready or interested, creating even more Romo leverage.

Third, the looming multi-billion dollar negotiations between the NFL and major networks to renegotiate broadcasting rights as a follow-up to the currently being negotiated players agreement with the league. This agreement is set to redefine revenue sharing, and potentially bring future seasons to 17 or more games, an increase on the current 16 game format. Since the individual networks would like to be in a strong position in comparison to both the NFL as well as their competitors, having Romo as a top broadcaster makes him an incredibly valuable asset.

It is important to note that while Tony Romo could have let his contract with CBS expire before agreeing to a new one he did not.

All of this leads one to wonder – could Romo have known that conditions would be so ripe? So, amazingly, impressively ripe?

This would be hard to imagine. But at the same time, this is the man who made his name in broadcasting through his uncanny predictions and ability to express the future before it happens, all while looking on above the playing field.

Some do, after all, call him “Romostradamus”.

Heather Monahan on Sales, Negotiation, and Leadership

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at sales? 

Don’t take a no from someone who cannot give you a yes.

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at negotiation?

The person with the least amount of attachment to the outcome will win. There will always be another deal, don’t be desperate.

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at leadership? 

Leadership is not given it is earned. Be the person that others want to follow. That is the person that is focused on solutions, focused on elevating others and focused on encouragement and innovation. Take chances, break things, celebrate the process.

Is there anything else you would like to share on the topics of Sales, Negotiation, or Leadership?

Confidence is the epicenter of all three of these! In any moment you are either creating confidence or chipping away at it. The choice is yours.

For more on Heather Monahan please visit her website at https://heathermonahan.com/

Her Creating Confidence Podcast can be found at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/creating-confidence-with-heather-monahan/id1462192400

John F. Kennedy – Negotiating Towards Peace

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

When John F. Kennedy took the podium in to deliver his inaugural address in January 1961, he did so in the context of a country on the precipice of its largest direct conflict with the Soviet Union since the beginning of the Cold War.

The dominant position held by the United States during the 1950s, due to uncontested military supremacy afforded by their nuclear advantage was now beginning to decline. Kennedy himself campaigned on the fear that the Soviet Union had reached or surpassed the ability of the United States to decimate its enemy, as well as the growing threat of communism as a political force globally, spreading in countries as large as China and near as Cuba.

However, Kennedy’s prescription was not an escalation of the arms race, nor did he view isolation on the part of the United States as a means to achieve safety. Instead, Kennedy strongly believed that negotiating with the Soviet Union as a means to halt increasingly competitive nuclear weapons tests would be an important first step towards an all important end ultimate goal – keeping additional countries from obtaining nuclear weapons that could destroy humanity.

“You have offered us an apple for an orchard. We don’t do that in this country.”

One of Kennedy’s first challenges as president was managing the long standing and turbulent Berlin crisis.

From the end of the World War II through the beginning of his presidency, Berlin had remained divided among the United States, Britain, France and Soviet Union, with each party refusing to leave out of fear that a unified Germany might irreparably swing the future balance of Europe towards either democracy or communism.

The quote above was stated by Kennedy during an oval office meeting with the Soviet Ambassador to the United States while heated negotiations over the Berlin Crisis continued in the fall of 1961. The “apple” Kennedy was referring to was a guarantee on the part of the Soviet Union and East Germany to continue to allow access to West Berlin, which Soviet Chairman Krushchev was threatening to remove if Kennedy did not meet his “orchard” of demands. These demands included an agreement that would legitimize the communist government in Eastern Germany, as well as a rollback of military forces that kept the Soviet Union from expanding its own presence in Europe.

Little did they know that just one year later they would be thrust in to negotiations over new and potentially more dangerous apples and orchards during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world held on for thirteen days in October 1962 as the United States and Soviet Union attempted to avoid the unthinkable.

“So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

While Kennedy negotiated his way through two perilous sparks in Berlin and Cuban, he continued to stay vigilant in his desire to find agreement with the Soviet Union to prevent continued testing of more powerful and destructive nuclear weapons.

Despite numerous breakdowns during negotiations, a resumption of the testing by the Soviet Union during the Berlin Crisis, as well as subsequent lies about strategic missiles in Cuba, Kennedy continued to maintain dialogue both publicly and privately with Krushchev, in the hopes of swaying him towards a mutually beneficial treaty that could stem their recent atomic accelerations.

But in addition to managing the impressions of the Soviets internally in a way to keep them at the bargaining table, Kennedy needed to press publicly for a test ban treaty without giving his own political rivals an opportunity to attack him for being weak on communism. He was able to manage this balance brilliantly in a commencement address at American University in June 1963 (quoted above).

Just months after what came to be known as the “peace speech”, his lead negotiator in Moscow was able to seal the deal on a historic US-Soviet treaty, prohibiting further harmful nuclear testing in the atmosphere and marking an incredible triumph of President Kennedy’s leadership towards negotiating a safer future.

Shane Ray Martin on Sales, Negotiation, and Leadership

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at sales?

Teach, Don’t Sell.

When we SELL, we break rapport. When we TEACH, we build rapport. With more rapport, there often is less resistance.

(From: The Ultimate Sales Machine, by Chet Holmes)

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would share with someone looking to improve at negotiation?

Practice infinite empathy.

Maximize your outcomes by doing these 3 things:

  • Let go of judgment – Step into your counterpart’s shoes.
  • Listen actively – Speak less, listen more.
  • Leave people better – Clear next steps to serve your counter-part.

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would share with someone looking to improve at leadership?

The more you give to others, the more you’ll get from them.

(From: The Go-Giver, Bob Berg)

For more on Shane Ray Martin please visit his website at https://www.shaneraymartin.com/

On LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shane-ray-martin/

Meghan Markle – Master Negotiator?

Last month, Meghan Markle, along with her husband Prince Harry, served the British royal family with the kind of surprise notice that lawyer Rachel Zane, her past character on the show Suits, would have served her opponents in the cold-blooded world of fictional New York City law firms. This stunning fait accompli prompted the need to negotiate directly with the Queen, a much more powerful party.

Swiftly after Meghan and Harry’s decision to step back as senior members of the royal family was announced, the Queen called an emergency meeting to resolve the crisis. However, Meghan kept herself removed from the encounter by staying in Canada throughout the fallout.

The question for students of negotiation and conflict resolution is: Was this a wise move?

In a recent article on negotiating from INC.com, the author is slightly critical of Meghan for not being present for the actual negotiations. However, I differ with this conclusion.

Personally, I think it was probably a wise move for Meghan remove herself from the situation for a number of reasons. First, although it is good to face conflict head on, it doesn’t always benefit us to meet face to face initially, especially when recently broken trust means the interaction could be highly volatile. Negative reactive emotions can and often times will overwhelm an entire meeting, so much so that we can’t have rational discussions or think of rational compromises.

Further, from a hard-line strategic standpoint, it’s usually better off if the ultimate decision maker is not physically present, instead as far away as possible. For example, no matter what came up during the negotiations, Harry could lean on having to “check with Meghan” to get her approval before making any final agreements. The fact that Meghan didn’t even phone in for a live conversation (originally the plan) was positive in the sense that it created time and space.

Now, outsiders looking in could easily see the Queen as the master dealmaker in this equation. Why is this so? First, she took a firm stance on not allowing the easy breezy half-in half-out status that Harry and Meghan reportedly wanted. Second, she crafted a flexible and creative transition period over the next year, where in the couple will spend half their time in England and half in Canada. Third, another savvy move, she set up a post one-year reappraisal opportunity for both parties to see if they want to reevaluate. Fourth, she downgraded their royal titles without fully and definitely removing their formal association. Finally, she cut off the royal purse strings and secured their agreement to pay back million of dollars spent renovating their home in England.

All of this said, if you look at the outcome intangibles, it’s hard to not see Meghan as her own true winner. First and foremost, Meghan got her freedom, which is truly priceless if she feels she’s in a toxic relationship with her royal in-laws or the British media. Second, she now has immense future financial opportunity that completely outweighs and obliterates any $3 million dollar pay back, or discontinuation of royal funds. For example, according to media reports, Meghan and Harry stand to gain up to $500,000 for speaking engagements, up to $15,000,000 for a memoir, and upwards of $50,000,000 for a potential mega deal with a company such as Netflix. Even if these numbers have been exaggerated, Meghan and Harry are going to be just fine, if not better, as they’ll not only generate more personal assets but have more control over these assets – and their lives.

So while we don’t know everything that happened or was agreed to, the future will tell whether this was truly the win-win negotiation it seemed to be. Importantly in a highly public dispute, Meghan and Harry can move forward after the negotiations without losing much face, as well as having avoided causing the Queen and wider royal family to lose much face of their own. (Even though there are rumors of more sinister reasons for MEXIT, none have yet been hinted at or legitimized by the Duchess of Sussex.)

It is for these reasons that I believe Meghan Markle did extremely well as a negotiator in a difficult situation. I might even go as far to say that Meghan negotiated better than any episode of Suits I’ve ever seen, because after enjoying all seven seasons I can’t remember one when they had to face a Queen.

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 –


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.