Want to be Better at Negotiating Life and Business? Forget the Classroom and Get in the Octagon
I am a lawyer and have found that negotiation is one of the most essential skills to being successful. It was my passion for negotiation that ultimately led me to technology entertainment and innovations. I loved understanding what was possible, what could be gained through partnerships and collaboration, and how both parties could ultimately walk away with what they needed while strengthening their relationship in the process. But what I was taught in law school — the theories, skills, and ethics involved in legal negotiation — didn’t prepare me for the “on your feet thinking” that was needed not only in the business world but as a parent too.
Often as business leaders, we need to be ready to respond to events quickly and effectively, sometimes without any preparation. I also often find myself in unexpected situations as a parent where a tough decision needs to be made but I need to understand my son’s point of view first in order for us to jointly come to a right and fair decision. It’s easy to be caught off guard and ill-prepared to argue your point but what has got me to a firm footing wasn’t the courtroom or the classroom, it was the MMA “octagon” — where I learned that every move has a defined set of counter moves.
I have been training in MMA since the early 90s and I am presently a board member for the American Kickboxing Academy, one of the top-ranked MMA gyms in the world. I became passionate about the sport not because of the physicality (I am also extremely passionate about yoga and meditation) but because I quickly realized that every person I encountered had a different specialization and background than me. I found that not only fascinating but an opportunity to enrich my approach to life and training. I quickly learned that no two “fighters” were alike. They could be bigger, faster, slower, a boxer, a martial artist or a wrestler and just like in the real world, they brought different skillsets and unique perspectives that could, essentially, on any given day, beat the most skilled fighter in their particular field if that fighter was prepared to negotiate on their feet. Overtime, I realized that I needed to continually hone in on 4 essential skills to not only be better at MMA but life too.
4 Things MMA Can Teach You to Negotiate Life, Business and the Octagon:
MMA fighters must be disciplined. You need to not only strengthen your body but your mind. One reason why MMA is such a great sport is that it requires you to commit to an ongoing practice of physical and mental discipline. You don’t get into this sport to simply deliver roundhouse kicks and knockout punches. Fighters must develop a certain joy for the process of repetitiveness: doing all the little things over and over helps them understand all the possible counter moves in a field they haven’t mastered.
A big misconception that people sometimes have about MMA is that this sport is all about getting out your aggression. The reality is different: MMA helps people focus and hone their mental strength. It disciplines them so that they get the most out of their abilities. As a parent, I found self-discipline to be one of the most important skills. I need to observe to understand when it’s the right time to deliver my point of view. Without discipline, I’d find myself moving quickly and speed isn’t always an advantage.
The same is true of business negotiation. Too often, people assume that to succeed in business, you have to be fast, tough and ruthless. The reality is so much more nuanced. Different styles of leadership and different personalities can be successful in business; sometimes the most successful business leaders are good at observation and self-discipline. In business, you can be the meanest, toughest person in the room but it’s usually the quietest and most observant leader that wins in the long run.
2. Diversified Skills
Another reason why I respect MMA so much as a sport is that it requires a diverse set of skills, combining elements of boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Wrestling. The best MMA fighters tend to be good at a lot of different things. Every time you step into the arena as an MMA fighter, you need to be ready to anticipate a variety of parries.
Good negotiators, like good MMA fighters, also tend to develop a diversified set of skills while simultaneously playing to their strengths. Not everyone in MMA is a great puncher; some fighters have a better reach than others. Some fighters are better at using their legs, pinning their opponents, or overpowering their opponents on the ground. Like a great fighter, a great negotiator, usually possess a few “winning” traits: they listen, they observe, they are patient, and they can be charming, but mostly, they learn what their opponent is willing to give up. A great negotiator is seldom right all the time. They manage what’s in their control while minding their weaknesses.
MMA is a tough sport, but mental resilience is usually the key to winning. Many of the successful leaders and negotiators that I’ve met in my lifetime have a sense of resilience that is often honed through adversity. In business, we all encounter adversity and setbacks. Not only is it inevitable, it’s desirable; if you’re not taking risks and going out of your comfort zone, you’re not trying hard enough. The real measure of a great negotiator is not how well they perform when everything is going great, but how well they respond to setbacks, downturns, bad news, and crises.
Through looking at Buddhist tradition, such as Shaolin Kung Fu monks, we can see that there is a connection between mindfulness and martial arts. There is an element of mindfulness to MMA, which also correlates with my interest in meditation practice and mindful leadership. Practicing MMA helps me to develop a set of mental skills that in turn allows me to live more in the moment and gives me that ability to think on my feet. It’s helped me to be more focused, patient, calmer, more attune to what’s going on with my body and more spiritually centered. Martial arts can help you develop self-control and self-discipline. Those two skills might be the most important foundational training needed to be a great negotiator and parent. These two skill sets teach you when to speak, when to act and most importantly when to not react.