Prepared Negotiators are problem solvers. Do you look for solutions!

Preparation allows you to be a problem solver.

I recently went on a family holiday with my wife and 3 daughters.

We went from Australia to New York, Krakow, Warsaw, Paris, London, Dubai and then back to Sydney. The preparation for 5 people to travel that distance in a month was extraordinary.

However, it also meant that as problems arose, as they did, we were able to change our mind quickly, because of the preparation. Often working on live negotiations the more we prepare, the more we play with ‘what if’ possible solutions. The more we role play, the more we test possible ways of dealing with problems. This means that we can start negotiations not focused on stated positions, but examining the common ground that exists between all parties. We become a problem solver and solutions happen quicker.

When on the New York part of our holiday one of the key things that I wanted to achieve was to brave the crowds and go up to the 86th floor of the Empire State building
(the outside viewing platform). I wanted to see where a certain Captain Chesley Sullenberger became famous as a hero. To me he is also a great problem solver under pressure.

In a modern day context there are only a few occasions where we can describe someone as a hero. However we never stop to think about the dedication to their role that has led to the heroic act that occurred.

In 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the assisting crew landed a plane in the Hudson River. The Miracle on the Hudson is truly remarkable as not one life was loss. In the last 50 years of aviation history a large passenger aircraft has not successfully carried out a water landing without fatalities, until Captain Sully and his crew. Does this make them heros or is this an oversimplified label that does not give due credit for the skill required to carry out this landing? 

Our lives are defined by choices. There is a point in our lives where we are defined by one choice, one decision that can change not only your life but also someone else’s. In the case of Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Airways there was a moment that lasted only three minutes but it was a moment that defined him. This man, with the assistance of his crew, executed a next to impossible landing on the Hudson River in New York. It truly was the “Miracle on Hudson.”

January 15th 2009 is a day that many people in New York will never forget. US Airways flight 1549 was due to fly from LaGuardia Airport, New York to Charlotte, North Carolina Airport. The Airbus A320 took off from New York with 150 occupants and 5 staff members. It was a mere 90 seconds into the flight when First officer Jeffrey B Skilles noticed a flock of Canadian Geese quickly approaching the plane. In an instant the passengers and cabin crew knew there was trouble when a loud thud rocked the plane. Skilles made a comment on the formation of the geese that soon after ended up sprawled across the front windscreen. Decisions had to be made. There was now a ticking clock and every single second counted.

It was like clockwork that Captain Sullenberger and First officer Skilles executed their roles on their aircraft. Sullenberger took control of the aircraft while Skilles began implementing procedures to try and restart the engines. This became obvious when an eerie silence descended upon the cabin, there was no longer the expected hum of the engine. A decision had to be made; if the pilot tried to land the aircraft at the nearest airport there was a risk of a potential crash landing in highly populated New Jersey areas or Midtown Manhattan.

Three minutes was all the time they had before the plane glided to the ground. He had 155 lives to consider and only three minutes to perfectly execute his decision. His rational decision making lead to an extraordinary landing on the Hudson River after both engines had completely failed. This was a unique aviation achievement, performing a successful emergency ditching without the loss of any lives. Despite the near freezing Hudson water and impact from a water landing only one occupant required an overnight stay in hospital.

Captain Sullenberger is a real hero, his courage meant he took a difficult decision that years of practice and experience meant he was ready to take. He calculated the risk and found a solution.

Remember to be a world class negotiator you also must be a problem solver. Solving complex problems under pressure, dealing with many stakeholders at the table with competing views of a possible solution.

I recently worked on a live negotiation with a team and their goal was to secure a US$650 million deal with their number one account. A competitor had responded with a competing offer of US$600 million for the same business.

We had worked on this deal for 12 months, the team was well prepared and one of our scenarios or “what if’s”, was a competitor would come in with a low bid to win the business. As soon as it happened, the negotiating team leader like Captain Sullenberger swung into action. He convinced the board that our offer had a compelling value proposition that we could prove and he had the courage to argue strongly not to drop the price. 

When the negotiating team was awarded the US$650 million deal everyone was elated and many people came out of the wood-work to claim some ownership of the win. I met with the team leader and the team who successfully won the business, they took a couple of big risks, not based on bravado, but on prepared possibilities. They all agreed that the preparation and role plays meant that when they had to be a problem solver in the live negotiation, they could. Everyone also agreed that a joint gain was achieved because they didn’t take a positional approach and they continued to leverage value.

As I walked around the observation deck to find where LaGuardia airport was and then imagined the plane taking off, its path and then landing on the Hudson I was awe struck. I just kept shaking my head in disbelief. My two daughters said, “Dad what are you doing?” I said, “Practising my response for the next time you ask for money.” They both said, “Dad!” I then told them the story as I pointed to where the plane had landed, they were in total disbelief. I knew then that Captain Sullenberger was a real hero as both my girls said, “he was really cool”.