Mastering Leadership and Negotiation: In that space is our power.

Mastering Leadership and Negotiation: In that space is our power.

Here are all of the places we negotiate each day.

Transcripts from Dr. Bob Acton’s Mastering Leadership Podcast.

Welcome to the Mastering Leadership Show where it’s all about practical ideas to help you get results and build powerful relationships. Every week, we discuss strategies and interview experts to help you strengthen your leadership using factual ideas and well-researched techniques. Make sure to head over to to subscribe for free updates and videos. And now, your host, Doctor Bob Acton.

Bob Acton: Hi. I’m Doctor Bob Acton and welcome to the Mastering Leadership Show Episode #5. I’m excited today because we’ve got David Savage here to talk about negotiation and collaboration of leaders. I know leadership involves tremendous amount of negotiation. I’m excited that I have David here today because he has held executive positions himself in the oil and gas sector and has recently been involved in more teaching negotiation skills for the last number of years. He is passionate about negotiating effectively and using a collaborative approach to negotiation. He is a well-respected leader himself and author on collaborative negotiation and he has written and presented throughout the world. So let’s hear that interview.

Welcome to the Mastering Leadership podcast, David. I’m really pleased that you’re here to talk with us today about leadership and negotiation and collaboration. There are some big topics in there. But I guess I’ve seen leaders always have to negotiate things whether it’s big strategic interventions or big projects or whether sometimes they’re smaller person-to-person interactions. So I wondered if you could start off by talking a little bit about your ideas around negotiation and collaboration and how they fit for leaders.

David Savage: Thanks, Bob. I’m really excited to be doing this. We’ve been collaborating in different fashions, Bob, for maybe a decade now.

Bob Acton: Yes, it’s been a few years.

David Savage: And looking to occupy this space in support of our audience and our shared future.

The negotiation is too often, I would say, in an organization around the world right now, from a command and control basis where the boss or the triumvirate at the top or in the corner office, whoever they are, dictates ‘this is what we want.’ And then negotiators aren’t really negotiators. They are missionaries or messengers with little creativity, little ability to push back and take exception and champion what they think is right.

To take it a little further, I think the toughest negotiation isn’t the billion dollar negotiations. The billion dollar negotiations, I believe, are in fact the easiest ones because you have everybody’s attention. You have the boss who is really keen to get this done. He will provide us the resources to get the data, do the homework, do the strategy, do the engagement. So you’ve got everything in line with making that billion dollar deal. The tougher ones is when you’re in the middle of an organization and you don’t have that power, those resources, those abilities or you even have a commander as a boss that may be difficult to speak back to, to stand up and say, “Bob, I think you’re wrong and here’s why. Here’s what I think we should be doing.” That is the most powerful organizational tool, to me, is the ability and freedom to innovate through diversity of experiences, expertise, knowledge, only collectively can we innovate. And to setup our time together, one of my main messages is if the billion dollar corporate deals are the easiest ones to make, at the other end of the scale, I assert that the most difficult ones, is how I negotiate with myself.

Bob Acton: Wow. That’s really interesting. You’ve used the words command and control and I think those are actually the opposite of how I think about negotiation. I think about negotiation as a free flowing, back and forth between two people or two groups in order to come out the other end with something that’s, well, if you can make it a win-win for everybody. Not often it’s a win-win, but as best you can. So the command and control thing doesn’t really work in my definition of it.

David Savage: I agree with you totally, Bob. It doesn’t work. Well, let me say it works in some situations that command and control is important. If you’re a fire chief and the building is burning down, you need to be in control. Your men need to listen to you. Your women need to listen to you. Everybody needs to be aligned. And yet, I’ve interviewed a number of fire chiefs, deputy fire chiefs and asked them, “Okay, is that the case where command and control is the only way?” And in all instances, they say, “No, actually that’s not true.” You do not earn the right to command or control anybody until you’ve negotiated with them, until you’ve collaborated with them, until you’ve built that team, until you’ve created that trust and respect that they will give you the authority in a situation when the building is burning down. But before that time, there needs to be total engagement, an ongoing culture of collaboration. A guy holding the hose has to turn it on. If he’s too slow or too fast, it just doesn’t work. And only that guy can tell you the experience of holding the hose and when and where he should be pointing.

So total command and control shows up, but I assert that collaboration and innovation comes from respectful diversity and conflict and getting back to the negotiation with myself is, am I a courageous leader to stand up and speak out when I’m the only one? And if I’m the only one and you listen to me anyways, then you are the leader. You are truly the one that creates the safe space that our organization is going to move forward.

Bob Acton: Wow. You’ve said a lot there and my mind is spinning with a number of questions. One of them speaks to, I guess, that context plays a role, the situation itself plays a role in negotiation. Sometimes when the fire chief says, “You better go in that direction or turn hose on.” you better do it, right?

But it’s what’s behind that opportunity to follow a clear direction around building the team or building that trust and relationship, I guess, in some ways. I guess it really is relationship, isn’t it? I mean, you’re building that behind the scenes or below the command, I guess, before you have to utter it.

David Savage: Yes. So the evolution of strong negotiation, strong leadership, strong collaborative culture, it takes time. And we need to do it a bit at a piece at a project at a piece, a person at a piece. This isn’t something that you can just paint your organization. Collaboration is an overused word. Sustainability is an overused word. All of these things, people talk about but we actually don’t understand.

So my view is, it’s an experience. It is a relationship. It’s, do I trust and respect Bob that he’s going to listen to me? Bob is the leader. He is tasked with leading and making the decision and all the accountability of all of us. And if I trust you to listen to me and incorporate my ideas and my pushback and my views, that’s the most important thing.

Bob Acton: So as I think about this, I’m thinking of negotiation and collaboration, as you’ve said, are these big words that have many meanings. Can we kind of notch it down a little bit for a leader who’s listening to us and he or she might be saying, “Well, okay. But what do I do?” What would be some steps that a leader could do to build this trust, to build this culture of collaboration that you’ve talked about that’s going to allow them to be able to be a powerful negotiator? What are some of the steps they have to start with?

David Savage: Not know. Those are two words that are pretty powerful. It’s, not know. Because even if you know, you don’t know it all, and you don’t know what your people know, and you don’t know what the other side of the negotiation knows. So the key word is mindfulness, presence, seeking underlying interests, what are their fears, what are their interests, their visions, their values and, really, continue to ask powerful questions. That’s the key is inviting others in to the negotiation by not knowing, by being a CEO or a president or a division head that doesn’t know everything. Yes, you’re hired to know it all, but all too often, we see people set themselves up for failure by thinking that, okay, they’re the boss, they need to know it all, and they need to tell everybody else that they know it all, and then they just have to setup this machine that does what they say.

It’s easy to run right off the cliff with that. And my belief is, most of those personalities, they set themselves up for failure simply because they are alone, they disengage their people, they don’t include conflict as a great valuable tool to learn from conflict and in that loneliness, people will actually set them up for failure, the people that they work with, because I don’t matter, you’re the rock star, so go ahead, Bob. Run yourself right off that cliff.

When you think you know the results but you’re careful in how you ask questions, how you invite the conflict, how you negotiate with me and just continue to explore, explore, explore, and serve my interest, understand where I want to be, what’s important to me, then you build that amazing long-term trustful, respectful culture in your company that people whether they’re in the same organization in the next ten years or not, they will always want to work with you.

So it’s a real paradigm shift. There are no bad people at the top. There are people that either don’t trust or don’t know how to build that culture. I think what I will also say is often times, I’m asked to negotiate on behalf of groups. Sometimes it’s renewable energy wind farm projects, sometimes it’s nuclear facility, sometimes it’s Canadian oil pipelines, sometimes it’s healthcare. And when you show up as open and inclusive and respectful and curious, that’s all you need. I don’t have to be smart.

Bob Acton: Yeah. It’s interesting. The word that was running around on my head was curious and that’s the word you just used. That if you adopt a sense of curiosity about the person’s experience, what they’re thinking about, the solutions they might have come up for a particular problem, then that takes a whole different angle on the conversation.

And you have used the word conflict a few times in a positive vein, and I use it that way too in the sense that there can be positive conflict. Often, I think that just means when we might have a disagreement about something and that we can find a way out of that disagreement without scrapping about it.

But lots of people think conflict always means something bad where we’ve got negative conflict, as I guess I call it. Is that what you noticed in workplace too?

David Savage: Yeah, very much. We are very conflict-adverse. Some of the organizations that I’ve worked for or with, they give me the hard stuff because I love it.

Nobody likes to be a bad guy and nobody likes to be exposed. I’ve had instances where a man with a gun has shown up outside my home threatening my life. That’s okay, actually. We all have the strategies. We have the support. We have the police. We can have our skills to deal with those things.

So rarely, in my 40-year career, that’s only ever happened once. But what I’ve learned in my 40-year career is, that people that are in conflict with me are a great, great gift because they’re prepared to speak up. They’re prepared to standout and tell you what’s wrong with my idea, my project, my capital program, my style of leadership. They are a great gift.

The ones that have just caused me to pull my hair out is the ones that just sit there and watch and won’t speak up. So there is something about the people that are in conflict with me that’s a great gift. I’ve had many examples in my career that by backing away from what I thought the outcome should be and listening, listening, listening, and including those who would call me a used car salesman, or even worse, a lawyer, which I’m neither, by listening to them and engaging with them over time, we came up with solutions that were way more profound.

In one case, when I was helping others run the little oil and gas company, we had a natural gas development that we thought we knew what needed to happen. There was outrage in the neighborhood. We listened, listened, listened and they helped us come to a conclusion that actually tripled our share price within six months. We wouldn’t have ever thought of it unless we would have spent that time with them and they didn’t think of it. It just organically came out of the conflict and the innovation and the diversity of opinion. So it’s not being nice, not at all. I think the being nice part is the avoidance of conflict, the avoidance of showing up. So as a negotiator, you know, when I negotiate with myself, instead of running from conflict or letting my reptilian brain control me in conflict which is the second most pervasive destructive act, if I can just take that moment in between and say what’s the value here, what’s the underlying message, what’s wanting to be heard that hasn’t yet being said. So in a way, I’m reflecting on a talk. You brought Patrick Lencioni into Calgary here a few years ago.

Bob Acton: Yes, I was there.

David Savage: And one of the things that he talks about sort of a basic premise of his work is the notion of being vulnerable as a leader, and being able to express your faults as well as your successes and lots of other things but I guess I hear you saying that as well that a leader, who’s going to create a collaborative environment, that’s going to allow great negotiation, has to be vulnerable and through that, be open to ideas from others.

If you see negotiation leadership as a zero sum game that you have to get as much as you can out of that zero sum, if there’s only a total of one, you’re going to get resistance, you’re going to get pushed back, you’re going to get, you know, oftentimes nobody gets any part of that sum because it just gets tied up in conflict and regulatory review and litigation, or worse yet, for business people, the community never accepts what you want to do and won’t buy your project or approve what you’re trying to do. So if you look at it and say it’s — life is not a zero sum game. You know what? Seems crazy but through exploration, through curiosity, through inviting all perspectives and taking the time to build that culture, my math says 1+1 can equal 11. And that’s my experience as the outcome has a negotiator not having to prescribe the outcome but being open. Here’s my intention which is step one in my book, Break Through to Yes. But set my intention and then designing it for the greatest wisdom and innovation, we get to create stuff that nobody dreamed of.

Bob Acton: One of the questions I typically ask on our folks that come on the show is, what’s one thing you think a leader could do to help them be more successful? And I think you’ve answered that already and I hear it, listen, listen, listen.

David Savage: Yes.

Bob Acton: And create that sense of curiosity. I know in positions where I’ve been a leader and through with my life, I’ve had to learn and adjust and grow as a leader. I did some things that weren’t so great at the beginning and I’ve had to learn how to be a better leader as time has gone on. What’s the one thing that you think you wished you’d have been told or that you would have known earlier on in your career that you could share with others?

David Savage: If I might, I think the most powerful, quote for any negotiator comes from Viktor Frankl, a Man’s Search for Meaning and for your listeners, if they don’t know, Viktor Frankl was a survivor of Nazi death camps. He was actually in four death camps including Auschwitz as a Jew and he survived. And he survived because he didn’t allow him to lose his purpose. His purpose was, I’m going to get through this hell, and my wife and I will be together again.

He said he could tell the people that smoked the entire cigarette would die the next day. And that means when they’d scrounge from the guards, a cigarette or won a cigarette for doing something for the guards, the people who believed that they were going to survive, would only smoke a little bit, you know, one puff a day or one puff a week. The people that smoked the whole cigarette had no purpose. So I just want to give you, give our listeners that quote.

I think this is very powerful because it is about being present, not allowing our reptilian brain to react to what the other side is saying or not saying, doing or not doing. And this is Viktor Frankl, between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.

That is the most powerful quote that I can give our listeners today, is rather than being on routine, on route, as messengers, pick that space between stimulus and response, use that to determine the quality of your negotiations, the quality of your life. Now, if I get triggered because something that’s happened or said to me, David, you’re a used car salesman, you’re a lawyer, you’re a cheater, you’re a liar, I can destroy any possibility of that relationship right in that moment. But if I pull back and say, what are their underlying interest? What are their projections of me that’s showing up in them? What’s my intention? Is my intention to manipulate them into agreeing with me or is my intention to be curious and see what organically shows up in this negotiation and this organization? And I think that is in every moment. That is a presence piece but it’s also thinking as leader, as a negotiator, as a collaborator, what’s my intention here? Do I want to react? Do I want to lead from fear, or reactivity or anger which is so prevalent? Or do I want to react with openness and innovation, creation and a sense of no matter who I’m negotiating with, how can we create something where it’s greater than the sum of the parts? How can we innovate? How can we make our future better? And it may not have anything to do with the thing that I want you to say yes to. It may be far more rewarding for my company.

Bob Acton: That’s some pretty profound things that you’ve said in there but it sounds like to me that one of the things that you’ve said that is going to really get in the way for people, get in the way for leaders to be able to be successful, is to be really emotionally reactive in the workplace. Without really thinking about that space between that you talked about, right?

David Savage: Yes.

Bob Acton: Because I guess when I’ve read Frankl’s work, I’ve took out of that the notion that meaning is really important, what’s important to me. And what we’re talking about here I believe, is that what you’re recommending is the leader shift what’s important from maybe a personal perspective or a winning perspective or a protection notion to that of let’s find a way that we all can work together to understand a better outcome in lots of ways.

David Savage: Yes. Exactly so, Bob. The commanders, the controller, the people that need certainty and demand results, lowest money, lowest time, lowest engagement with their community, are increasingly blocked. There are people, leaders of corporations that are making millions of dollars today and the next year they’re going to be fired because they just don’t serve. The values and integrity of a leader, of a negotiator are critically important. There is nothing more important as a professional than your reputation, nothing.

And your reputation will open doors that you don’t even know will be open to you. If I can talk about let’s avoid reactivity and command and open up to the collective intelligence and open up to building that culture so that the next time you and I negotiate a deal, it’s easy. We’ve done the groundwork. We’ve laid the foundation. The structure is already there. Then it’s only the topic that we need to deal with and we can go so fast. Once we go slow, we can go so fast. I think the other part of this is around, you’re raising the point of integrity and what I will stand up for. You know, we started off with that, Bob, about our respect to people most that stand up for or against me and I have difficulty with the ones that are just kind of mush, that won’t stand up.

Bob Acton: Or afraid, like I think that it’s not always that they personally respond, but sometimes people are just afraid the workplace itself can create a scary place to be, that it’s not okay, it’s not a place that’s free to be able to speak your mind.

David Savage: Yes. And this is so much of your work and your career, but whether it’s an organization that our listener is working for, it might a not-for-profit, it might be a multinational, it might be the United States of America politics, people just shrink from that anger, that fear, that hostility that I will put in my eight hours a day but don’t expect me to actually show up.

Bob Acton: Yeah. We’re coming to the end of our conversation here, and one of the things that I always ask our guests, is what’s one nugget that our listeners could take back to the office or wherever they’re working, or wherever they’re negotiating, to be able to work that through. And I’ve got a more specific question. Because what’s popped into my mind is the notion of how do I, as an individual leader in an organization, deal with what we’re talking about here, when there’s power all around me? When my boss, unless you’re the CEO, well, if you’re the CEO, you usually you got a board, but when there’s power above me, how do I show up? What’s one nugget that people could walk away with, David?

David Savage: You show up the way you want them to show up.

Bob Acton: Nicely said.

David Savage: The yearning is there for this culture, this relationship in the organizational structures in not-for-profits, so you just show up differently. You show up as yourself and you show up the way they want to show up. You model this behavior for them. It is actually an invitation to change the way we lead, the way we negotiate, the way we collaborate, the way we work together.

Bob Acton: There’s been some long-standing wisdom about this in our world because you just described the golden rule. And so these notions have been around for a long, long time and yet it’s often hard to put them into place when we get reactive and selfish and we only think of ourselves. And so I really admire your message here today, David, about how leaders can take a step forward by letting some of that go and being able to create a different environment around themselves and treat others like they wish to be treated themselves.

David Savage: Wouldn’t it be spectacular to be surrounded by a team that gets it, that you trust, that will challenge you and will be open and curious? Yes, you will still need to lead. There is still all of those requirements but the burden is far less and the production is far more.

Bob Acton: Absolutely. David, how can people get a hold of you? You brought a copy of your book here, Break Through to Yes which has had great reviews and been well-received throughout the world. And I wonder how people, I’m sure somebody is going to want to get a hold of you, how can they do that?

David Savage: Oh, thanks, Bob. My website is , Break Through to Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration, is the book which is available hardcover, e-book and audible. I’ve got a whole bunch of podcasts as well, so there’s many ways, just take a look at my website, send me an email.

One of the things that I offer to people is Collaborative Leadership 360 Assessment. So it creates this conversation, this creates this curiosity, how are we? Where are the gaps? Where are the strengths? Where are the things that we need to put in place? So for example, do we actually have guidelines as to how do we work together? Do we actually have a knowledge of how we measure our metrics as a collaborative team? So I’d be delighted if anyone, anybody wanted to contact me through and build that conversation. And thank you, Bob. It’s a delight collaborating with you, and it’s been a delight following your evolution and your service to our planet over the last decade.

Bob Acton: Super. Thanks very much for being here, David.

Thanks for listening. We hope you found it helpful. Make sure to head over to to subscribe for free updates and videos. See you next time.

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David B Savage

David B Savage