Last weekend I was at a birthday party for a friend. I met a guy there who told me that I look like Samuel L. Jackson. Now, I am not really a “celebrity look-alike” guy. Back in the 80’s, my longtime friend Jeff Barkema swore that I looked like David Robinson, who was at that time the Center for the San Antonio Spurs. Besides the flat top haircut, I didn’t really see the resemblance. And I don’t really think I look like Samuel L. Jackson, neither. Nor do I look like Laurence Fishburne.

This remark caused me to think about Samuel L. Jackson movies. One of my favorites is The Negotiator. This was a movie in which Samuel L. Jackson portrayed k1_ZJ39iR0g_moviepostera police hostage negotiator who, after being implicated in a scandal and accused of murder, took several police employees hostage in their office as a means of giving himself leverage and the opportunity to clear his name. Kevin Spacey played the hostage negotiator tasked with resolving the situation. I think that the reason I like this movie is that I do a lot of negotiation both professionally and in my personal life. To be clear, though, I have never had to take anyone hostage.

Effective negotiation skills are critical for those of us who work in small nonprofit organizations. We must be able to use negotiation in a variety of instances. For example, there are times when negotiation is used to effectuate a charitable gift. It is necessary for the organization and the donor to have their needs met, and sometimes there is give and take needed to make this happen. Additionally, negotiation is often important in the process of awarding contracts. Organizations must balance the needs of the proposed vendor with their own requirements in such a way that everyone sees it as a successful business arrangement.

One thing that I learned from a mentor, and it has improved my negotiation skills, is that I should “leave some for the other guy” (Read ‘guy’ to be male or female). This, I must admit, was hard for me at first. Prior to this lesson, I was always the type to seek to win at all costs. I would negotiate in such a way that I got the absolute best deal possible. There was going to be a winner and a loser if I was a party to the transaction. But, a successful negotiation should not come at the cost of a relationship. Instead, seeking a win-win scenario will leave open the opportunity for additional positive encounters at a future date. For example, if I beat my printer up on price so much that I get a great deal and she doesn’t make a profit, she will be less likely to want my business next month when I need something else printed. So, in that case, did I really “win?”

As I have sought to improve my negotiation skills over the years, I have found that good negotiation includes 3 components: Influence, Persuasion, and Motivation. Let’s discuss those briefly.

First there is Influence. Our ability to have an effect on the actions of others is a beneficial part of the negotiation process. I personally see this as inward, or something that we have to develop in ourselves. To be in a position to influence others, we must ensure that we are the type of people whom others would allow to influence them. This requires emotional intelligence and character traits often built over many years. It is also fragile, because years of work could be destroyed with one really bad decision.

Next, Persuasion is an important tool for a negotiator. We must be able to effectively get people to believe what we are telling them. Whether we want them to make a charitable gift or join the board, if we are not persuasive then that will negatively impact our success. This is something that will be directly related to our past outcomes and reputation. If we have a history of failure to follow through, our ability to negotiate will be hampered by our inability to be persuasive.

Lastly, Motivation is an important part of successful negotiation. Although we sometimes think that people should act solely because “it is the right thing to do,” sometimes they require appropriate motivation. This can be a staff member, a donor, a volunteer, a vendor, etc. If we understand what it takes to motivate people then that can be a big benefit to us in the process of negotiation.

In the small nonprofit organization, negotiation is an important skill – not just for executive staff but for people at all levels of the organization. Developing win-win scenarios and understanding the person on the other side of the table can go a long way toward helping us succeed in advancing our missions.

Have a great day,


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2 Thoughts on “Laurence Fishburne’s Movie: “The Negotiator.”

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