Chris Rock’s Netflix special, Selective Outrage, aired recently, so everyone’s talking about ‘Slapgate’ again. It’s the first time Rock has spoken about it publicly. His response was a no-holds-barred onslaught. A year ago, the incident dominated news cycles. At the risk of adding to the furor, let’s contemplate negotiation lessons we can learn from ‘the slap’. All of life is a negotiation after all, so let’s glean some positivity from the ordeal.
6 Negotiation Lessons
1. Our First and Most Important Negotiation: Our Mindset
We negotiate with ourselves every day – which stories we’ll buy into, what limiting beliefs we’ll tolerate (or not), how we’ll deal with fears, who we want to be, and even our sense of self. It’s a constant work in progress.
In the space between any stimulus and response we negotiate the meaning we’ll attach to the stimulus and how we choose to respond. Will Smith was faced with a stimulus – Rock’s quip about Jada. He had the space to negotiate what meaning to attach to it and how he’d choose to react. A wide range of options were available – taking it in stride with grace; using body language to indicate displeasure; leaving the room; speaking with Rock privately at an appropriate time; and more. He chose poorly. There are significant consequences, both personally and professionally, arising from our internal negotiations.
By contrast, Rock used his pause to reflect, choosing not to reciprocate in kind or escalate the situation.
Unless in imminent physical danger, take advantage of the pause when facing a stimulus. Get intentional about your internal negotiation. Recognize your power to choose your thoughts, who you show up as, and how you respond. This power is a gift. Use it wisely.
2. How We Define Success in Negotiation Matters
We’ve been deeply conditioned to define ‘success’ based on a competitive, winner-take-all model. For too long, both men and women have eschewed soft skills in favour of a harder approach, believing that’s the only path to success. We talk about ‘sides’, ‘opponents’ and ‘adversaries’ as if negotiations were a UFC sporting event.
Assertiveness is one of 6 key traits for effective negotiation. Many mistakenly conflate assertive with aggressive. They are not the same thing. ‘The slap’ represents the worst form of misguided purported assertiveness.
There was none of the necessary preparation or thoughtfulness needed for best outcomes. Smith chose a full-on aggressive mode (often referenced as masculine toxicity). It was the poorest possible modelling of conflict resolution.
Ironically, the other 5 skills necessary for superior negotiation are typically considered ‘feminine’. Rapport-building, empathy, flexibility, intuition, and trust are all critical to secure better outcomes, better relationships, and better buy-in. Seeking to put ourselves in the shoes of the other party and truly understand and meet their needs, positions us to find more creative solutions that better serve all. Imagine the possibilities for better outcomes in the Rock/Smith situation had these skills been brought to bear instead of the traditional so-called masculine approach.
3. 7 Deadly Sins of Negotiation
Ego, attachment, reactivity, not listening, jumping straight to business, lack of integrity, and lack of clarity are the 7 deadly sins of negotiation. Each of these deadly sins led to ‘the slap’. Had Smith reflected on best approaches for meaningful outcomes rather than being driven by ego, attachment, and reactivity the incident wouldn’t have happened. There was no opportunity for discussion to listen, obtain clarity and show up with integrity (in both senses of the word, including in alignment with personal values) versus jumping straight to fight or flight business.
By contrast, Rock released ego and reactivity in the moment, thereby avoiding an even worse fiasco.
Humans are terrible at perspective-taking. This lack of perspective causes unnecessary conflict. If you drew the number 6 on the floor and someone stood on the other side, they would see the number 9. You’d both be correct based on your individual perspective points.
This is one of the reasons that empathy, rapport-building, and trust are critical in negotiating. When we set aside our ego, and instead, get curious, we better understand the other party’s position and needs, thereby improving our perspective and with it our ability to find creative win-win solutions.
In ‘the slap’ incident, Rock’s perspective was that he made a joke. Smith’s perspective was that it was an insult. That’s why open communication, dialogue and meaningful listening is so important in negotiations.
5. Impact versus Intention
Tied to perspective, it’s valuable to consider intention versus impact in a negotiation. Rock’s intention was to make people laugh – Smith and Jada included. Ironically, Smith initially seemed to see the humor – until he saw Jada’s offended reaction. The impact of the statement was not consistent with the intention behind it.
Learning to have the grace to consider another’s perception and intention is a precious gift that can lead to unexpected opportunities in a negotiation.
6. Unstated Needs
In negotiation, stated needs typically represent only a fraction of the actual issues driving the process. Much like an iceberg, unstated needs lying below the surface have the potential to sink the negotiation ship. In this case, quip versus insult wasn’t really the issue. Rock’s long-awaited response suggests hidden agendas and subtexts (having nothing to do with the evening in question) triggered the extreme reaction.
Recognizing negotiation lessons we can learn in everyday life experiences allows us to grow and step into the best version of ourselves. Hopefully these brief take-aways from this unfortunate situation inspire you to take a step on that path.
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