IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation


Negotiation cannot be like a transaction between two people. You want the complete trust from that person during and after the negotiation. Even if that means acting silly or asking stupid questions just so you can start to build that relationship. Companies can get a little too serious and say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, there’s no harm in a little fun and experimentation. Companies like Netflix, TikTok, or Clubhouse are all trying something completely different. They are also continuing to grow because of their teamwork and non-toxic work environment. Discover how to help your team by learning through play with your host, Christine McKay and her fellow guests, Jeff Harry and Lauren Yee. Jeff and Lauren have been working together for over a decade and are still teaching companies and entrepreneurs on how to strengthen your business by learning through play. Come and listen so that you can integrate play in your inner circles and bring the fun to the negotiation table.

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Bringing Fun And Play To The Negotiation Table With Jeff Harry And Lauren Yee

I’m doing something that I have not done before. I have two awesome guests on the show. First, I have Lauren Yee. She is a cultivator of curiosity, a builder of community and a process-driven problem solver. She has worked with a ton of companies. She has her own business and one of the cool things about her is that she helped build the largest Lego-inspired STEM company in the US. She has worked with the Golden State Warriors, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, Southwest Airlines and Workday. She helped them establish inclusivity programs and create a psychologically safe work environment where their staff can thrive.

Also, I have Jeff Harry. He combines positive psychology and play to help teams and organizations navigate difficult conversations and assist individuals and all this good stuff. He has been selected by Bamboo HR and Engagedly as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020. He has been featured in The New York Times, Mashable and Upworthy. He also has worked with Google, Microsoft and Southwest Airlines, as well as Adobe, the NFL, Amazon and Facebook. I am so excited. This is going to be a fun episode. For those of you who have been around and read some of our previous episodes, you are going to think Chris Cabbage, probably Scott O’Neal’s going to come up or my friend Blair Dunkley is going to come up. We’re going to have a great time here. Welcome, Lauren and Jeff. Thank you for being here.

Thanks for having us.

Thanks so much.

Tell us a little bit about your journey of how you each got to where you were and how you guys started working together. You guys have been working together for over a decade and doing all sorts of cool things, talking about difficult conversations in organizations and bringing play and all these things. Tell us a little bit about that.

I will also say preemptively that I feel there are many origin stories in life because there are chapters or however you want to describe it. We all have that thing that we are trying to do and we think we want to do, we get there and we don’t like it. Maybe not everybody has that but I have that. I didn’t like it and it’s everything that I had worked towards. I was like, “I got to get out of here.” That led me to feel more open to whatever because I was like, “Not that. Anything else?” That allowed me to stumble into a job that I never would have thought. I ended up in education management, which is where I met Jeff originally. We like to help people learn through play. I originally was doing architecture and project management. It’s not the same.

I ended up in this. It grew and it was fun. The people were cool and we got to do something helpful for kids and grownups in teams by learning through play because you got to get out of your own head sometimes and we are all in this together. Jeff and I grew the team building department there. That’s the quick version of that. We have gone our own ways. I have started my own company and we are helping other people work with better information and more joy bringing humanity back to work using data, play, community and stuff like that because we are all people trying to get by. That’s my brief story.


If you’re on the other side of a winning conversation, then you just have to go in for the experience. Click To Tweet

My Batman origin story starts with the movie Big. Do you remember the one with Tom Hanks?


Tom Hanks was dancing on the piano and he was offered a job in a toy company. I’m like, “You can do that for a living?” I started writing to toy companies in third grade. I did not stop until I started working for the toy industry and like Lauren, when I got there, I don’t know if you have ever gotten exactly what you wanted and have been so disappointed but that’s what happened to me. No play, no fun, no high fives and no kids. It was none of that. I leave disenchanted.

I come to the Bay Area, bump into this organization teaching kids engineering with Lego. They were seven people at the time and I found them on Craigslist. They were paying $150 a week like a joke of a job but they were playing for a living. We built it to one of the largest Lego-inspired STEM organizations. The thing that I learned was we had no business plan. We played. We were making it up as we went along. We had no idea what we are doing. We picked cities and people that we thought were fun and we embraced this play mindset.

The reason why we started doing team building events is that we’ve got the attention of Silicon Valley, all of those companies you mentioned and they were like, “Do you do team building events?” We are like, “Of course, we do.” No, we didn’t. We didn’t do any of that stuff but we said yes. For the next decade, Lauren and I got good at running these. At least for me, there was the forced fun aspect that I did not appreciate. I felt like we had not created psychologically safe spaces to play. People are not ready to play because they had not had difficult conversations, they had not addressed the toxic person at work. They did not even know how to talk to each other. That’s why I created Rediscover Your Play to combine positive psychology and play to address those issues and create a psychologically safe workplace.

I’m so excited to have you guys here. Jeff and I met when we were guests on Ottawa Experts and we had so much fun. The interesting part of how we have both Jeff and Lauren here was accidental. We don’t know how Lauren got invited but we are so glad she’s here because for some reason all three of us are supposed to be here. I’m super excited about how this conversation is going to unfold.

It’s serendipitous.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics

We bring everything on the show back to negotiation because we’re trying to help everybody elevate their negotiation. We were talking about difficult conversations. I got off the phone with somebody who’s looking at buying into a company but has an attorney that is part of the other company who believes that they should annihilate everybody. It’s all about, “I got to get you. I got to kill you.” I call them champions. We have a quiz on our web where you can learn your default negotiation style and we call this style a Champion where they go into every negotiation fully armed and armored. It is a battle and their purpose is to annihilate their opponent. In the work that you do around play, team-building stuff and the exploratory things you guys do, how do you encourage people to deal with those individuals? What are some of the things that people can do to help deal with that?

I don’t know all the names for your test but the champion is hard to deal with because difficult conversations should be a conversation and that doesn’t feel like it would be. That’s a lecture. That’s, the, “I’m right. You are wrong. This is how it’s going to go. I’m winning.” You were like, “Clearly, we are not in this together.” Isn’t that part of the definition of negotiating? It’s together. There have to be two parts to it. That can be tough to manage, especially depending on the power structure because authority matters, whether people think it does or doesn’t, it does. Whether it’s real, perceived or any of that.

A big thing that I can think of that’s basic but it’s a practice is the idea that sometimes if you are on the other side of the winning conversation, you can’t necessarily win that conversation. You have to go in for the experience, if you will, for yourself and for that other person. Can we get them to come down from this height a little bit and give them an experience of not fighting in a sense that they are going to see as fighting? Voice your opinion and be understanding. Try to share your side and see if you can get closer to the middle. It’s rough but it’s not going to happen overnight. There’s not a special light switch that you can turn on. It’s all about practice, which is tough and it takes time.

I will borrow a line from Lauren about the curiosity aspect of it. What does it mean for that champion to win? What are the criteria for that person to win? Let’s not assume. Let’s find out because maybe we still both can win by simply finding if it’s their ego. Do they need some praise during the meeting or before we start negotiating numbers? Let’s play this game with them instead of assuming that we know where they are coming from because we know the last dudebro that we worked with. A lot of times when we are having a conversation, you are not having that conversation here. You are having every conversation you have had before and all the trauma that comes from that. You have to be aware of how that’s affecting and how you are approaching this conversation in the present moment.

Blair Dunkley, who is one of my mentors and has been a guest on the show, talks about people being stuck in their why. When you are stuck in your why when people ask the question why, you respond with rationalization, justification and all these different things and it’s all stuck in the past. The person who I was talking to around this difficult conversation, I told him, “The biggest challenge you are going to have is how you figure out how this attorney has everybody stuck in their past. You’ve got to move that person from that past into the present with a mind toward the future but you’ve got to get them to the present. If you can’t get them to the present, then the difficulty of that conversation is going to continue.”

That is so huge. Too much of what happens with people in difficult situations is they get stuck in the trauma in the past but it should be about the present and the future because we can’t change the past. It’s rumination. I talked about that with Jeff a lot. It can be helpful to an extent in terms of figuring out how we’ve got here but in the terms of, “Why didn’t I? I should have.” You can’t do anything about then. You can think about it in the sense of moving forward but we’ve got to be here now together. If you can’t get there, you can’t move forward. You might be making physical actual steps but in terms of functioning and actual progress and all of the actual part of it, it’s not going to happen if you can’t get past the past.

I would come up with a different word for that starting with the letter A but the champion mindset is very insecure. There are a lot of weakness behind it. There’s this book called The Power Manual and they talk all about power. In every interaction that we have, we are choosing either consciously or unconsciously to be in a place of power or a place of powerlessness. When you are in a place of power, what type of power are you choosing? Are you choosing supremacy as power, which is, “I’ve got to win? I’ve got to slay the dragon, domination, submission.” That comes from a scarcity consciousness that there are not enough to go around. I’ve got to win and everyone else is going to starve or can you come from a place of liberatory power where there’s an abundance consciousness that’s egalitarian and raises all boats.

Is it even possible to shift that champion into that because that champion is insecure because they are out there all alone? They have constantly been winning and because they have been winning so much, no one likes them. Their only value now is winning. Coming from a place of empathy, compassion and being, “What does it mean to win for you? Let me get you your win but let’s also move this negotiation forward.” We don’t have time for this. You are losing money and I’m losing money. We are both losing now so let me help you win and stroke your ego but let’s get some stuff done.

If you want something to move forward, you have to get uncomfortable sometimes. Click To Tweet

Let me tell a story. Some people will learn about this and go, “Christine, that’s a terrible thing to do.” I had a guy who was a champion. He hated and attacked everybody. If you ever would get a phone call because he would never pick up the phone and talk to you so he spewed vitriol through his emails across multiple organizations. We happen to have common connections in our network so I reached out to some of them and asked them about this guy. Their response back to me was, “I am so sorry that you have to deal with this guy. We have been trying to get him to the table and he would not come. He wouldn’t move.”

It’s because I’m from Montana, I stepped on the head of the rattlesnake and I went, “I’ve got to move him so far that he gets pissed off to get something to shake loose from here.” I should have talked to my boss before I did it, which I didn’t. That, in hindsight, was the only regret I had about this situation. He sent this nasty email. I replied with one sentence and I said, “It’s good to know that our mutual connections are right about you.” That was all I said.

I knew that was going to make him mad but I needed to do something. Being nice and trying to cajole him wasn’t working. He was so invested in being angry all the time that the only way to get him to negotiate was to make him angrier. I’ve got in the next morning and he had written this insanely long letter to the chairman of the board, the CEO, the CFO, the COO and the two vice presidents of sales. It was this long diatribe in response to my one sentence.

The way that I wrote it could have been taken in either direction, “We have mutual connections. I would love to connect.” It could have gone that way but he chose to take it in this negative dark way. Sometimes when you are dealing with conflict at the table and you are trying to get somebody to do something, you have to do some things that are dramatic and drastic. I still negotiated that deal but the attorney became the mouthpiece for the deal because the guy wouldn’t talk to me, not that he talked to me before. We’ve got him to the table so that was a successful strategy. I’m curious what your thoughts are and feel free to criticize. It’s totally fine because it happened years ago. I didn’t know what else to do at the time. When you have that difficult conversation that you have to have but somebody is not willing to have it, how do you do that?

I love the play and experimentation of it. “We have tried everything so I’m going to try something else. I’m going to rock the boat. What’s wrong with this? Everything else that we are all doing is not working.” I respect that. Not to mention that I’m all about setting boundaries on horrible toxic behavior. That needs to stop anyway so call the person out.

I agree and also good for you. Everyone has their version of where they might draw their line. Yours seems pretty high, which I appreciate because there’s the level of asking for forgiveness, not permission and you were like, “I’ve got to do something.” I can appreciate that. Maybe the boss asking or mentioning would have been a good move but we have learned now. If you ever have to do it again, you will ask or throw it out there that, “I’m going to send this email.”

There’s this thing, a play of curiosity that if you are too comfortable and things aren’t working, you are going to sit, nothing’s going to change and that gets me chair like, “This is your new. This is where I live now.” If you want something to move forward or progress, you have to get uncomfortable sometimes. It’s not always at that level, hopefully, for people but sometimes you have to try. We have tried everything else and it’s not working. Either this is how it’s going to be and we are okay with that or we are not and it’s going to be terrible or we are going to try something else. The idea of the possibility and not being like, “I’m going to stick it to him kind of but not the questionably neutral ground.” It’s the safest version of what could have happened probably.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
Play To Negotiation: The lack of wonder of willing to try something new and experiment is why your organization will be obsolete.


Lauren brings up a good point. In a lot of companies when we have been there for so long, there’s such this philosophy of, “This is how it’s always done so this is how we are always going to do it.” No one’s happy doing this approach. Why are we still here? It’s like, “I’m thinking we should try this new thing.” “We tried that ten years ago.” Do it again. It’s different. It has been years. The amount of lack of wonder and willingness to try something new and experiment is why your organization and I emphasize this will become obsolete in the post-pandemic if you do not get your act together and own the resiliency.

Steven Johnson says, “The future is where people are having the most fun,” and look at the organizations that were having the most fun. They were willing to fail and take risks. It’s like HBO, “We are going to come out with a movie every week.” Clubhouse, TikTok and all these crazy, weird organizations that most people would be like, “This is a horrible idea. No one’s going to hop on an audio app for hours.” You were wrong. The companies that are most willing to fail are going to be the companies that will most likely succeed.

I like the idea of failure as part of the play.

It’s such a huge part of it.

It’s everything.

Related to what we were talking about and failure, the phrases that I hear that make my skin crawl a little bit are, “This is how we have always done it.” I get that to an extent where you were like, “Don’t mess up a thing that’s functioning.” Also, challenge it a little bit because there’s the opposite part of that phrase, “There’s no change without change.” If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it but then you are stuck and doing nothing.

Jeff and I talked about play and curiosity and what that looks like together a lot. Play doesn’t always mean things to grownups. It’s like recess and board games but it’s not that. It’s about being present, engaged, losing track of time and being excited about whatever, which could be reading, knitting or running. I don’t like running but some people do. Whatever it is where you are present, enjoying it, losing track of time, engaged and not thinking about all the things that you should be doing instead.

The future is where people are having the most fun. Click To Tweet

There are so much possibility with that because it doesn’t necessarily matter what the outcome is. Sometimes there’s purpose-ish but sometimes there’s not. It’s like what Jeff was saying about all of the companies that aren’t willing to fail, try and challenge new things. Industries and individuals, everything’s changing. We have talked about this before how eSports was not a thing decades ago. Those people were like, “I like playing this game and I’m getting super good at it. I’m going to play with people from all over the world.” Suddenly, “I’m making so much money.”

That wasn’t like, “I want to be that when I grow up.” That became a thing and there are so much opportunity to be seized. If you are interested in something, you are going to get there. Other people are also probably interested but they are also may or may not be trying to get there. If you are willing to try, fail and retry because you are interested, there’s so much power, energy, possibility and opportunity in it that I want people to grab.

Also, I think of a colleague of Lauren and ours. She was out of Colorado that used to work for NASA. She worked on the Mars rover. Their goal when they were working on the rover was to break it. They wanted to break it and fail all the time. That was their main goal for 2 to 3 years because they understood when they sent it to Mars and it was 1.5 million miles away, they can’t do anything anymore. There’s something about trying to fail, embracing that concept, sitting in that and being okay in the awkwardness of this even what you did where you were like, “I sent this email. That was a bad idea. He’s at the table, isn’t he? At least I’m willing to try things.”

This is part of the process and now we have a new strategy we might want to incorporate in the future. This is how we learn. A lot of times, we are constantly looking for the correct way of doing things and play is all about being about what is your way? What’s the way for you based on what’s going on in this situation and being present in the moment right now and trusting your intuition following your flow instead of being like, “Somebody, tell me what to do?” I know a lot of people in 2020 were like, “What should I do?” No one knows what to do right now. Anyone that’s claiming that they know, knows nothing. They are BS-ing like everyone else.

None of us has been in this before. We are all making mistakes and failing. There are so many quotes on failure and they are great. If you think of failure as a failure then that’s what it is. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I’m talking about curiosity, if you are curious, it’s about learning and understanding. If I’m learning and understanding, I know that I don’t know and I’m going to make mistakes because I don’t know. If you can own that, your failures or mistakes are learning new ways that things do or don’t work and you are honing a craft, skill or your relationship with somebody but it’s not failure. You can label it as a failure but it’s not as scary and terrible or life or death feeling as so many people label it as. It’s a word.

That’s a good point and something that Blair Dunkley talks about is the importance of naming and labeling things. Also, putting a name and a label on it so you can deal with it. Especially when you are in conversation with somebody else and you feel something or you are reacting a certain way, put a label on it and acknowledge it. You can say, “This is how I’m feeling.” It doesn’t mean that you need to change your behavior or anything. It’s like, “I’m mad right now. I’m happy,” or I’m whatever the emotion is, it just is and you can move forward with it. When you play and you are experimenting and trying new things and if you let your emotions get control of you, that takes you fully away from the play.

From the negotiator standpoint, when someone’s negotiating for one of the first times, crappy first drafts. Embrace your crappy first draft. It’s not going to go that well. It’s okay. You only started. Have some compassion and empathy for yourself. You are going to be better in six months. Keep trying, make the mistakes, know that they are going to come and embrace that. You will be amazed. The people that are less likely to be like, “I don’t want to make any mistake,” you are not going to learn then. You are not going to grow and you won’t be better negotiator months from now. You will be mailing it in because you are going to be doing what some book told you to do and you are following that but you don’t know how to negotiate from your intuition. You don’t know how to listen to yourself because you are trying to be right. Stop trying to be right.

Every person and situation are different. From childhood through adulthood, it happens constantly. I’m different from you and our group of people versus me with other people. It’s a different thing and you have to use your experience to shape it but it’s not going to be the same every way, every time forever. That’s not how it works. Something that Jeff touched on is the crappy first draft. It’s my first time doing it. I’m learning. I’m going to make mistakes and it’s going to feel bad but I will learn from it and it’s fine. We all have to fail and try and have a first time at some point.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
Play To Negotiation: We’re constantly looking for the correct way to do things and play is all about, what is the right way for you?


Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes progress. As adults, we don’t get to practice enough things that we are expected to know how to do. We also don’t give ourselves enough credit for having to practice certain things that we need to do. Even in negotiating as you were saying things like this where you are like, “I’ve got to do this thing and I have to do this with this other person. I’m afraid of doing it right or wrong.” It’s like parenting. You have to negotiate with your kids constantly. It’s like, “Brush your teeth.” “No.” “Take a nap. Get in the car.” Maybe not as much with pets like, “Come here. I’m going to treat you with food.”

Negotiate with friends like, “What we are going to do to hang out?” “I don’t want to see that movie.” You negotiate all the time but for whatever reason, when it suddenly becomes business, it gets so much scarier, which I get because it’s professional, maybe you need money, jobs and a career. It’s scarier but you have the skills. They are transferable skills. It’s the same skill but it’s a different situation environment. Know that you have practiced and it’s a different situation to practice some more and maybe it will be a little less scary.

I have two different sides of my business, one is more of a training component but the bulk of my business is we go in and we negotiate on behalf of our clients. A lot of our clients are terrified of negotiation. They are afraid of the confrontation. They are worried about asking for the wrong thing or not asking for enough. If they ask too much, then the customer will walk out the door. If they don’t ask for enough, then they feel walked on. How does the concept of play come into the negotiations we have with ourselves? I talk a lot about how the hardest part of any negotiation is a negotiation we have between our ears. How do we help ourselves to play more in our own heads to experience this and act out in those moments in a way that moves the conversation forward?

I will start by saying that expectations are the thieves of joy. When we build up such high expectations, then it’s all about winning. These are where a lot of suffering comes from adults who are so fixated on that one result that we ignore all of the other opportunities that are happening in front of us. I talk a lot about this in my Playing with Your Inner Critic Workshop where your rational mind is designed to keep you alive. It’s designed for survival.

Your prefrontal cortex and your inner critic are there to protect you. That’s why it’s there but a lot of times we lean on our rational mind and we ask, “Should I take this risk?” It’s like, “No. You should binge-watch Netflix and sleep under a duvet. Don’t do anything ever.” We should be leaning on our intuitive mind, creative mind and our curious mind to be like, “What is possible?” One thing I do when I’m playing with my inner critic and I do this with my best friend Dana is I will write down what my inner critic is saying to me.

In a negotiation or going into the negotiation, my inner critic’s like, “You are going to lose. You are going to lose so much money. You are the worst. You are the worst negotiator ever.” I write all the worst things down because once you write them down, you make yourself aware. You start to practice that muscle of awareness, which is most probably the important one, self-awareness. Sometimes I will text my best friend, Dana and I will name my inner critic. I will think about what it looks and sounds like and I will name it. Mine is Gargamel. I’m like, “Dana, Gargamel is telling me that I’m a horrible negotiator. I will not get a good deal. I will not make money and all this stuff.” As soon as I write it down, it gets quiet. That inner critic went quiet.

One thing that I have learned to do that’s fun is that I will take the same things I wrote down and I will flip them and be like, “I am an actual good negotiator. I will do well in this negotiation. I am confident about what I’m talking about.” When you flip those, you start to create this inner child mantra and you start saying that to yourself, all of a sudden, your inner child gets strong and your inner critic gets quiet. You do techniques like that going to a meeting and you do some power posing for Amy Cuddy and yell, “Watch out what might happen.” Something magical might happen.

Lauren, were you going to say something?

The companies that are most willing to fail are going to be the companies most likely to succeed. Click To Tweet

I don’t know if it’s because of the decades of work we have done with kids, team building and using Lego materials, not to treat people or yourselves like kids but because we have so much grace for kids that we don’t extend that to anybody else. I’m reminded of this over and over. Even what Jeff is saying, the generalized versions, kids are telling you, “Mom.” You are like, “I hear you.” It’s the address and moves on. It’s like, “I can’t talk to you about that now but when I’m finished with this, I’m going to ask you about whatever TV show you are talking about.”

It’s the address and move on, which is what Jeff is doing with the inner critic. It’s like, “I hear you and I’m choosing to ignore you,” or like, “Done. We will come back to this later because I hear you and I need to move forward.” It’s the Address and Move On Principle. I don’t know how we have done this as humanity but again so much is a practice because we have practiced and conditioned into whoever we are and however we are now. We can practice out of that but it takes practice. If a friend asks you, “I’m thinking about doing this potentially risky thing.” The encouraging thing that a lot of people say is, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We go to the negative but it’s like, “What’s the best thing that can happen? Can we flip this a little?”

It’s like what Jeff does with his, “All of it’s bad,” and flip it to, “I am a good negotiator. I can get a good deal.” There’s a reality to that self-talk. It’s going to go however you think it’s going to go to an extent. Like what you were talking about when you are in your own head about it, it’s a waste of imagination to put yourself down. You have so much power in what you are doing in your own head and if you are smashing yourself down, you could be doing so much more with that same energy but in a better way, which is a mindset shift. The practice of maybe even writing it down or telling a friend and asking for a cheerleader.

I have talked to Jeff about this where if you want to get something done on your own or with your company and you need accountability because sometimes it’s hard to do it on your own because we make excuses like binge-watching Netflix. It helps to have three different people to help you do that. We talked about them being a scorekeeper like, “Did you do it?” That’s their only job, a coach who will help you figure out how to get there if you can’t on your own but they are like your buddy in it. If something didn’t work where you fail and make a mistake, “Here’s how we are going to adjust and move on.”

As a cheerleader, when things don’t work out or you are doing the negative self-talk you could be like, “This is hard.” They were like, “You are awesome. Stop talking like that to yourself. You can totally do this. Do you remember last week when you did that other thing? You are amazing.” They make you feel good when you hang out with them even if they are not actively cheerleading you. You need that energy. Hopefully, it can come from yourself but if it doesn’t, ask for help.

That’s important. Many people find negotiation to be an intimidating thing. Part of that, especially for smaller companies, it’s often the owner that is going in to negotiate. They don’t have what you described. They oftentimes don’t have that cheerleader. They don’t have that person who’s in it with them or the person who’s keeping them on task. They feel isolated and alone to your point, Jeff. When people are operating in that world, they start listening to that inner critic and that inner critic gets louder. It becomes challenging for a lot of people to ask for more of what they want because they are so fixated on, “I’ve got to stay safe so don’t ask.”

I remember and I can’t believe I’m bringing this up because I haven’t talked about this in a while but I used to do Family Law. I was a legal assistant when I first moved to the Bay Area. Watching those divorce cases, no one ever won because it was never enough for either party. The negotiation had so much pain and suffering for each party as they were fighting. I remember one person was fighting over a golden toilet bowl cover. It was that level of sadness as you are doing your schedules of assets and debts.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
Play To Negotiation: If you’re going to own that you’re going to make mistakes, your failures will become learning ways on how things do or don’t work. That’s not failure.


I think of this play technique that I learned from this self-improvement comedian, Kyle Cease, who would do these things called Kylego. You can do this in negotiation. He would do this for his acting tryouts with his friend Diego. They would talk to each other before the tryout and describe it as if it already happened and describe like, “You can’t believe how that negotiation happened. We’ve got all of the things that we wanted. It went smoothly. I was expecting that person to attack me and they didn’t.” You start to say this back to yourself or you tell this to someone as if it already happened.

What is happening in the prefrontal cortex from positive psychology is you are starting to look for patterns. You are looking for patterns of how it can get good and you can even ask the question while you are in the negotiation, how can it get any better than this with a certain level of curiosity and that yearning, you’ve got to get better. When you are coming from that place, you are going to be calmer, more patient, more willing to look for all of the opportunities and more inflow.

When you are in flow, you see all the opportunities in front of you because your implicit mind shows up and you become highly creative and your inner critic dissipates. Sports players say that all the time. Their inner critic dissipates because I get to make decisions so quickly like that. We want to get in a state of flow when you are in that negotiation so you can be fully present and respond directly to what’s going on in the moment.

I helped a friend go through a divorce. She and her husband had been married for over twenty years. They had a huge ranch that they were selling. It started with her saying, “I can’t deal with him. He’s going to send me the spreadsheet. He’s taken everything. Could you talk to him because I can’t talk to him? I can’t listen to him. Anytime he opens his mouth, I get angry.” It started with him saying, “These are the numbers. I’m taking 70%. She gets 30%. If she doesn’t like it, she can sue me. That’s the way it is.” Two or three days later, I’ve got him to agree to give her 100% and she gave him 50% back plus $50,000 that he had loaned her for her business. She calls it good karma.

What magic are you creating? Who are you? Are you an alchemist?

They still had two things in common. One, they wanted to preserve. They wanted to know that they hadn’t thrown away twenty years of their life in a relationship with someone that they hated. That’s important. Nobody wants to look back at X amount of time they spent with somebody and go, “That’s the worst time of my life.” Nobody wants that.

What a waste.

“I wasted twenty years of my life with that person.” Nobody wants to say that and they had grandkids. When he had given her 100%, she started doing the, “I invested more. I did more.” I said, “What are you going to do when we get off the phone now?” She told me and I said, “What you did at the ranch 7, 5 or 3 years ago, what influence does that have on what you are going to do right after we get off the phone?” “None.” “What Tom did 5, 3 years ago or last year, does that influence what you are going to do when you hang up the phone?” “No.” “In ten years, when you look back at this moment in time, what do you want to say about yourself?” The next day, she gave him half plus paid the $50,000 loan that she owed.

Your rational mind is designed to keep you alive. Click To Tweet

People talk about negotiation in this win-lose. I’ve got a whole pie. If I give you a piece, that means that I don’t get access to that piece. There’s research that shows that the average negotiation, we think of it as 100. We are negotiating for 100. In reality, there are 142 of value. There are 42% more value in the average negotiation than people realize because they are not thinking about possibilities. They are not playing with options. They are not exploring. They are not discovering and they’re not in that, “How do I have curiosity?”

What does that mean? Going back to what you said. How many ways can I get there? It’s not only, “I want this.” It’s like, “How do we get there?” The process is more important than the content. It’s another Blair Dunkley thing that he talks a lot about. It’s being in the process versus being content. In negotiation, people focus on the content. What’s the price? What am I getting out of it? It’s the process of negotiation, which is where the discovery, the curiosity, the exploration is, and that’s where the value is. Lauren, dive in.

The thing that you were saying without saying the word that kept floating in my head was people have conversations all the time but when negotiation becomes the label, it’s about a transaction. Nobody wants to feel like a transaction. That reminds me of what you were talking about with the divorce thing because you were agreeing on stuff most of the time. In a mundane but feeling way, when Jeff and I worked for this learning through play Lego company, we would go to conferences to meet people, talking about programs and do stuff like that.

It’s because we utilized Lego, we had Lego bow ties and hair clips. I would wear one and we would bring a couple for the cool people that we met because we were like, “You are cool. I want you to have a present because we are friends.” It’s like a friendship bracelet for adults made of Lego. We would have these and it got known because people would be like, “That’s so cool.” We were like, “Thanks,” and we talk about it. We would be like, “Do you want one? It’s because you are cool and I like you.” People at the conference would then have them and it would get around because a lot of times at conferences, there’s swag from whoever else is there. People would ask, “Where did you get that?” They were like, “From this person. It’s not from a booth.” It’s such a small thing but it’s about how you make people feel.

I remember one time at a conference where someone came up to me and they were like, “Where did you get that Lego thing?” I was like, “I made it and brought it.” They were like, “Are you the person who has them?” I was like, “I guess so.” They were like, “How do I get one of those?” I was like, “We can start with, what’s your name? I’m Lauren.” They were like, “Okay, cool.” I was like, “Do you want to answer a fun and weird question for me?” It was a mingling time and this is one of my favorite things to do at conferences when I meet new people. They were like, “Sure.” I asked them a question, which was a random question and they responded. They were like, “Do I get one now?” I was like, “You’ve got to stop asking that. The first pathway to getting this is to stop asking me how to get it because you are making me angry and I don’t want to give you one.”

They didn’t care about me and I don’t want to care about you if you don’t care about me. It is about a transaction but it’s not the only thing. There are so much more to it like you were saying. People are thinking is or isn’t possible or what you were talking about whether you are talking about it and using the same word but it holds more meaning for different people in different ways. You can’t figure that out without having the bigger conversations around the conversation to figure out what is your winning or whatever you want to call it. Even the past you and future you how do we feel about that? Those are important things because they are all filtering into this one tiny thing that has so much more weight to it. People have a hard time fully understanding at the moment because there are so much going on internally with this other entity or whatever about this one thing but it’s not it’s never about the one thing.

You have built up such a story around that one number and if I don’t get that number, it’s all lost.

It’s what it means to you versus what it means or doesn’t mean to them.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
Play To Negotiation: Finding random little ways to connect is a practice of opening up.


It’s groomzilla or bridezilla. You are surrounded by other people that you love. You are missing out on all of the possible connections. Lauren’s story reminded me of Shia LaBeouf who was talking at Oxford Union and he was talking about giving and take. He knows when someone wants a selfie. He can feel it as they are having the conversation with him because they are building up to ask for the selfie. He can feel the take of it but there are other times when he’s talking to people and they are giving and he can feel they give. It so happens, “Do you want a selfie? We have been talking for a while, maybe we can do that.”

That’s what we have to be aware of when going into a negotiation. What am I doing now? What is my gift? How am I giving to this negotiation? As one of my play mentors, Kevin Carroll would say, “How am I making this not a transactional conversation but a transformational conversation?” That’s what you did for them. You turned it into a transformational conversation. They were all about the numbers and you were like, “What do you want to think about when you look back years from now?” When you said that to me, I was like, “How do I want to think about this? How do I want to be as a human being?” It’s transformational. We need to be asking ourselves, “How am I incorporating a transformational process into this and not focusing on the truth?”

I’m on a mission to change how people think about negotiation. Negotiation should not be about a transaction. Negotiation is a conversation about a relationship and you cannot win a relationship. You can get more value out of it, though. How do we elevate the whole thing of negotiation? Even a car dealership. People go and buy a car and they are going to negotiate for the car. I bought two cars for the price of one plus $5,000 once. I went to the dealer saying, “I’m going to buy two cars but I’m going to only pay for one.” People are like, “Who does that? That’s a horrible thing.”

There were circumstances that I knew because I had done my work, the research and I understood the market. I understood who the buyers were. I understood how the company made business and how they made money. I understood what the salesperson needed and how they sold. I realized that it was beneficial for them at that moment in time in that specific situation to sell me two cars for the price of one.

I was wrong on the holding cost so I increased the offer by $5,000. It was a good deal for them and it created a great relationship because at one point they were pretending to be upset with me for putting that offer out there. It was Friday night and I looked at my husband, I said, “It’s date night. We’ve got to go.” If you would leave the lot, then you are probably not going to buy. I looked at the manager who is red in the face over the whole process because he has never had somebody do this before. I looked at him and said, “It’s Friday night you are working. You must have tomorrow off. What are you up to this weekend?”

It goes back to the relationship that it’s never about one thing. He was taken aback by that question. We were in Massachusetts and he was like, “I’m into dog sled racing. I race tomorrow.” I said, “I’m from Montana and the Iditarod winner two years in a row is from Montana.” We happen to have a standard poodle at the time. In that year, there was a huge controversy over poodles racing in the Iditarod because some had died. We’ve got into a whole conversation about the Iditarod and it created a relationship.

Once that relationship started to develop, it wasn’t a transaction, it’s a relationship. It’s like, “What do we do about this transaction?” These are all the assumptions I have. Where are my assumptions wrong? It was a relationship plus transparency. This gentleman I was talking to, this attorney who is value taking as a total champion, play everything close to the vest. You can’t build a relationship if there are not some level of transparency. How do you guys help people build that transparency? How do you get people comfortable with the concept or the notion of transparency in their relationships?

Change “What’s the worst that can happen” to “What’s the best that can happen”. Click To Tweet

In order to have an effective relationship, you have to have a level of transparency but how do we build that when we are in situations where we have been conditioned not to be transparent like in a negotiation? I often say that there are two big things that prevent us from being successful negotiators. One is the fear of being judged and two is that we are constantly operating from the position that our counterpart is out to get us. That second belief prevents us from being transparent because we are afraid that if we disclose more information, it weakens us. That puts us in a weak position. How can we switch that around to say that, “By being transparent, it improves the relationship and creates greater outcomes?”

When Lauren and I run workshops, we were all about play. When you are showing up with a certain level of play and be willing to be a little silly, you start to be a little bit more vulnerable. We don’t start with, “Let’s start talking about the thing that is the tensest in the room. Let’s address that right now.” No, let’s start small. Let’s build up from here. When we are running our how-to navigate difficult conversations talk and we were like, “We are blaming people. Instead of blaming people, let’s blame this goat. We are going to blame the scapegoat and all of the anger and everything is going to go at the goat.”

When you start to do things that are silly and you realize, “Isn’t that serious?” The reason why we are so tense is that we are fixated on one result of, “I need to win right now.” What we try to do is we are trying to get people out of their heads. When you start to have the practice of role-playing and doing all these other things, focusing on something else, that’s much easier to negotiate first. Let’s debate whether deep dish pizza or thin crust is the thing. People get super passionate about that and then we do some other absurd thing, “Should you have mustard on a hot dog or not on the hot dog?”

You are arguing these ridiculous things and you build up from there then people feel more comfortable even having, “I’m exchanging words with you and you are exchanging words with me and we have not gotten angry at each other yet.” We are not talking about the subject. After we have done that enough times, then we finally bring the actual subject in and be like, “Let’s address this because we have practiced lifting smaller weights than heavier weights and now we are ready to lift the real weight.”

Your question is a heavy and hard question. “How do we flip the script?” You can’t do that because you have to find little ways to practice. Always practice getting out of your own head and whether that’s actively doing silly things. What it is about eventually what you are talking about trying to change how negotiation is seen. We are humans and it’s not a transaction. Being able to practice that or get used to that. If you think about it the other way if I’m negotiating with some big company about something and it’s me against them. It’s like, “Here are the facts and here’s what I want. I’m proving a good point that’s fair and fine.” People use it in marketing all the time. When big companies say good things, “Look at this good stuff we are doing.” Sometimes it’s marketing and sometimes it’s real.

As a person, if you are like, “Look at this good stuff or who I am as a person?” You can connect with more and you are willing to go there for the people more about. If you are at a networking event, people to people or whatever, you were like, “It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do?” None of that means anything but when you talk about Iditarod, it’s like, “We both learned how to knit during the pandemic. I also have a goldfish.” Finding random little ways to connect is like a practice of opening up, especially since in the last bit here, we have all been a lot more isolated. Not everyone’s as practiced as some others in digital virtual remote work.

We are out of practice with people and finding little ways to do that even at grocery stores when I have been like, “How’s it going?” People are like, “What? People don’t talk to me.” When toll booths used to be a thing with humans. I would take my sunglasses off and be like, “How’s it going? Here’s the money. Goodbye.” You are a human and I’m a human. Practicing that in little ways it’s that feedback to where if I practice and it doesn’t go terribly and if they light up more then I’m going to light up more.

It builds up that muscle but you have to find little ways that you are comfortable and trying. It’s like what Jeff was saying before. It’s priming your brain to see the patterns of why it’s good to share information. It’s the same thing, especially with social media. Sometimes when somebody gets a viral post, you were like, “Me too.” Someone shared a vulnerable fail moment or a weird conversation they had where they are like, “I can’t believe I did this.” They share and everyone was like, “Yes. Likes? Me too. Retweet and all the things.” We don’t want to share it but you did and I feel for you because that’s me. Trying to realize that can be helpful but in a safer and smaller way so you get more comfortable with it.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know

I would also say connecting to the why. If you went into a negotiation with two companies and you were like, “Why do you work here? What do you love about this organization?” Another person says, “What do I love about this organization?” You start finding out the backstory behind this. Why are we here now? What do you hope to get out of this? You start to humanize that individual, that’s so much more powerful. We want to connect as human beings. The only reason why we want to win or win the transaction is that we feel that’s going to bring us happiness when what we want is the connection.

This has been awesome. I love it. I have a couple of questions that I’m going to ask you. This is new for me. I have decided on how to tie every episode together. What is a book or a show that you have read or watched that everybody should know about?

Jeff and I both are reading this. I don’t know if this would be his answer.

It would have been.

It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers.

It’s so good.

It’s good and tough.

One, it’s great, super heavy, interesting, mind-expanding and imploding. I’m reading it but also, the audiobook is made like a podcast so they pull extra stuff and it’s also super amazing. It’s super interesting and I feel I have learned much and also now know nothing at the same time.

You can’t build a relationship if there’s no transparency. Click To Tweet

Everything we thought about the human connection is different. It’s my number one book of 2019.

We are both reading that and it’s a good one.

We were part of this book club from this guy, Eric Bailey, who wrote this book called The Cure for Stupidity. I also enjoyed that book because it was the first time I was challenged to be like, “Am I going into this conversation to understand? Am I going to this conversation to win and be right? You can’t do both and that has helped me plenty when I’m like, “I’m trying to understand.” “No, you were not, Jeff. You are still trying to win.” To call myself on my own BS is powerful because you have to do it constantly throughout the entire conversation.

Malcolm Gladwell, I have read every one of his books. He is one of my absolute heroes at the moment. I love him but I will check out that book. I am huge on philanthropy. I would love to know what’s a charity that each of you would love the world to know more about and support in whatever way.

This is an interesting answer, ProPublica. I appreciate it. I was introduced to this by a former colleague, Steve. It’s all about media transparency. It’s all about making sure that the media gets a voice, especially in the last few years. I do love supporting that organization. What I’m more fascinated by and this is another book that’s worth recommending, it’s a book called Winners Take All from Anand Giridharadas where he talks about the challenge of philanthropy and how there are a lot of elite philanthropic services that are happening now.

We are giving away more money than we ever have in the world. We have the most massive amount of discrepancy when it comes to wealth. How is that happening? How are we rethinking how we do philanthropy because there are a lot of companies and a lot of people like Jeff Bezos that will give $15 billion to some Harvard elite organization and exploit everyone for hundreds of billions of dollars. I’m now trying to rethink philanthropy from that standpoint and being like, “If the elite simply paid their taxes, we wouldn’t have to have as much philanthropy.”

I like ProPublica and I will check that book out, too. Lauren?

I don’t know if I’m quoting this correctly and I don’t officially know if they are nonprofit. They take donations so I feel that they are. I don’t know a deep amount of this but it’s HollaBack! They are a company that I believe is trying to promote access and accessibility of people with disabilities. I know about them because they partnered with AAJC, which is Asian Americans Advancing Justice. I took a bystander intervention training that they are doing for free. They are open to donations because, with the rise in violence of all kinds, they are trying to make more free public training available so they were like, “We are open to donations.” They are trying to hire more volunteers and trainers and stuff like that.

It’s great because they make it a great space. They make it actionable and anonymous. The chats are not public but you can type in they read people’s answers of, “Here are some people’s suggestions and things. That’s a great answer but also, don’t forget that you should ask yourself this when you are doing that thing.” They have scenarios that they go through. It’s tangible and real and they are making it free for people because it’s needed, which I appreciate.

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation
The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior at Work

They are doing good work responding to need and people’s want, especially with a lot of the people of color and Asian hate and things that are happening. There was a huge influx of interest in people trying to figure out what they can do as an individual who is not in government and around. A lot of people flocked to this paradigm training that they were running once a month or something like that. They have been doing it for a while. They responded by increasing the capacities and adding more training. They want to do it because it’s good to work. I appreciate that. Is anything perfect? No, but they do a good job. It’s interactive. It’s engaging and you have takeaways. It’s a safe space. They were informing you without making you feel you don’t know anything and it’s cool so how Hollaback!

I thought of two other organizations. Stop Asian Hate is doing an amazing job around AAPI awareness, especially around the violence but then I forgot this other one. Braver Angels is an organization that’s bringing people from the right and left together to have a conversation. It’s interesting. When they have a Zoom meeting, they bring ten republicans, ten democrats, some independents and they put out a question and they facilitate a conversation. They have been doing that for the last few years. It’s BraverAngels.org.

I wanted to give you an opportunity to give something to the audience if you had something to share with the audience on how they can find you?

You can go to either of our websites. Lauren and I because we are now starting to roll out this How to Navigate Difficult Conversations Workshop, we are happy to hop on a call with you to talk about your process and see what you are doing. Even if we don’t work with you, let’s help you solve the problem. If people reach out to us, they either can go to RediscoverYourPlay.com or CultivatorOfCuriosity.com and let’s have a conversation and see if we can help you. At the end of the day, we are truly trying to bring shared humanity back to the workplace and build connections and we want to do that. If we get paid to do it too, sweet.

Thank you, Lauren and Jeff. I appreciate you guys taking the time to be out of your schedule. To all of the people reading, we appreciate you. We want to thank you for gifting us with the greatest gift that you can give us, which is your time. As I have said on the show already and as I say at the end of every show, remember that negotiation is nothing more than a conversation about a relationship and you cannot win a relationship but you can get more value out of it. Happy negotiating and we will see you on the next episode. Have a great day everyone.

Take care.

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About Jeff Harry

IVZ 31 | Play To NegotiationJeff Harry combines positive psychology and play to help teams/organizations navigate difficult conversations and assist individuals in addressing their biggest challenges through embracing a play-oriented approach to work. For his work, Jeff was selected by BambooHR & Engagedly as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020 and has been featured in the NY Times, Mashable, & Upworthy.

Jeff has worked with Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon, and Facebook, helping their staff to infuse more play into the day-to-day. For his work, Jeff was selected by BambooHR & Engagedly as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020 and has been featured in the NY Times, Mashable, & Upworthy.

About Lauren Yee

IVZ 31 | Play To Negotiation

Lauren Yee is a cultivator of curiosity, builder of community, and process-driven problem solver. Finding ways to help individuals and organizations, improve ideas, and streamline processes is what makes her come alive. Before starting her own business, Lauren helped build the largest LEGO-inspired STEM company in the United States.

She has worked with the Golden State Warriors, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, Southwest Airlines, and Workday helping them to build community, establish inclusivity, and create psychologically safe work environments where staff can thrive.


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