Resourced Leaders

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Your ‘little black duck’ is getting you into trouble…

Posted by Phil Owens
Phil Owens
Philip is one of Australia’s leading performance and leadership specialists. He
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on Thursday, 18 July 2013 in Leadership

I recently ran a one-day workshop on negotiation.  This was an experienced group of sales managers, each with lots of experience in negotiating big deals, and all with previous negotiation experience.  Even the best of them was being sabotaged in their negotiations by their 'little black duck'.


Whilst they could all describe the core skills and elements of negotiation (what a BATNA is, for example), within the first two exercises it was clear that it wasn't only what they knew, but rather which 'part of them' was negotiating.  For many of them, their 'little black duck' was getting them into trouble.

In one exercise, participants were giving away 30% of their value, turning the negotiation into a battle or even accepting things which were not in their interests - because they were allowing their self-concept (identity issues) and emotions to drive their behaviours, rather than their considered interests and the issues at hand.

In essence, their 'little black duck' was coming forward and taking over!

It was great learning - by exploring the key elements of negotiator style, thinking about the personal and identity issues that exist for each member, the impact of actions and words on feelings and self concepts and learning about the rules of social influence applied to negotiations, the group was able to shift to the next level.

It is not removing the little black duck, but rather understanding it.  By including the intra-personal elements in your negotiation preparation and conversation, you allow yourself to be aware of times when you are doing what is only human - to use the situation to satisfy deeper needs (often around competence, control, being significant or being liked) and doing something different - getting back to the process of problem solving and creating value.

It is also useful to understand how this plays out in others - how you can either tap into the other party's little black duck, or even better - help them avoid their little black duck - to get higher quality negotiation outcomes.

In the following exercises, this level of self awareness and application of new skills led to dramatically improved outcomes, as well as feedback from the group as to how these understandings really enhanced their ability to negotiate well and find valuable solutions.

Regardless of what you are negotiating - from where to eat with a group of friends, buying a house or a multi-milliondollar business deal - are you aware of what really drives your behaviours?  Are you creating the space for you and the other party to really extract all the value from the discussion?

It might be time to have a chat to your 'little black duck'.


Philip is one of Australia’s leading performance and leadership specialists. He honed his skills working with executives and leaders around the world, coaching and consulting in over 30 countries, from entrepreneurial start-ups to boards of multi-billion dollar businesses.


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