Monthly Archives: March 2021

30. Reading the Room

Our guest for this episode of Agility at Work is Erin Egan. She does business development for Amazon—acquiring technology, partnering with other companies, and sometimes taking a leading role in buying them. She previously did this sort of work for Microsoft and, in France, with Airbus.

In short, Erin is a full-time negotiator. And she loves aspects of that process that most people find stressful.

“I love the unknown. I love the ambiguity,” she says. “I like having to read people, and just the twists and turns you go through trying to find a path where you get what you want. I find that endlessly fascinating!” Same is true for the negotiations she does in her day-to-day life. (You’ll hear Erin tell a story about how she used her bicycle as a trade-in for a car.)

It could be that Erin’s delight comes from a rare gift she has, the ability to read interpersonal dynamics. That comes in hand in negotiation when people are being less than truthful or when people on the other team have competing agendas.

The source of her skill stems from something that many people would regard as a disadvantage. For her, though, it gives her a huge edge at the bargaining table.

29. Negotiating Creative Differences

Lots has been written about negotiating transactions—exchanges where I grant you something, in return for something else that you’ll turn over to me. I give you money (not too much, I hope) for your truck. You then use some of that to pay your piano teacher for your kids. And so on.

But what about when it’s not physical objects or services that are on the table. Instead, it’s an idea, or a personal vision. Not something that can be easily traded. Most of us often do this kind of negotiation, though perhaps without deeply thinking about it.

It may be at work where your team is designing a new initiative. Maybe it’s in your community where you think an old school should be restored, but others think it should be torn down to create a vest pocket park.

These kinds of negotiations are light years away from conventional horse-trading. The ideas, the visions, are intangible. Their value is often hard to measure in financial terms. Yet people may feel passionately about what they envisage as it’s close to their identity. When someone rejects your concept, it can feel like a personal rejection.

Amy Chu, our guest in this episode, is back for an encore appearance. You may remember how she—with degrees from Wellesley College, MIT, and HBS—spoke with us about negotiating her way into a highly competitive, male-dominated field: writing comics.

It’s also a field that requires collaboration among people with distinct talents and often conflicting ideas about how visual stories should be told. A writer lays out the script (Amy). Someone else does the line drawing. Another person colors that in. Yet another inks in the text.

A writer like Amy must have a rich imagination, of course. But she also must be adept at fostering collaboration within a team whose members see things in different ways. Amy explains what she’s learned in the comics industry. Her focus is on the relational dimension of the process. We think her insights apply across the board, whatever your endeavor.

Take a listen!