Can you keep your cool in a tough negotiation?

Posted by  Mike Adams —September 2, 2021
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Communication, Corporate Storytelling

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
—from ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling.

Two men in suits negotiating

In 2011, Mohamed, one of our story workshop participants, was asked to travel from Egypt to Iraq to represent his company in a dispute meeting with a major Iraqi telecommunications company.

The Iraqi telco was experiencing serious network failures, and the main suppliers, including Mohamed’s company, were pointing the finger at each other.

It was dangerous to travel to Iraq, and company security policy required Mohamed to travel by armoured car and dress in full military protective clothing, including a bulletproof vest.

Alone inside an armoured car en route to Bagdad, Mohamed lifted a bottle of lemonade to his lips. The armoured car lurched on a pothole, and the lemonade went down his windpipe. He started to choke.

With the bulletproof vest strapped tightly around his chest, Mohamed panicked. He couldn’t unstrap the vest, he couldn’t get the attention of the driver, and he couldn’t breathe.

As he fought for breath, Mohamed had a sinking, desperate fear that he would die alone inside the armoured car. He even thought to send a text message to his wife with his last few seconds of consciousness.

But eventually, he wheezed some shallow breaths and recovered just as the car reached his meeting destination.

Entering a room full of angry, antagonistic suppliers, Mohamed was oblivious to the commotion. He sat calmly and luxuriated in every breath of air, so happy to be alive.

Then suddenly, accusing voices rounded on Mohamed’s company. It was all his company’s fault!

Wordlessly, Mohamed stood up and went to the whiteboard. The room fell silent. As he sketched the configuration of his company’s technical solution on the whiteboard, Mohamed calmly explained how his company’s equipment could not have caused the network fault.


“Ok! So it’s not their fault, it must be…” the room descended back into acrimonious argument.

Mohamed walked back to his seat and sat down next to the local manager, who turned to him and exclaimed, “How did you do that?”


Of course, it was Mohamed’s newfound existential perspective that allowed him to calmly manage that heated situation.

We could enjoy this story just as an anecdote, but we could also retell it in a similar fractious situation to help gain agreement.

There is no chance of agreement when opposing sides lose their cool, and it’s the role of a negotiator to shift the emotional landscape. Stories can help.

We might say to a team member preparing for a tough negotiation, “You know, the way we control our own emotions can make a massive difference in a negotiation…” and tell Mohammad’s story to make our point.

Good stories can be re-purposed, and it doesn’t matter if it’s someone else’s story.

Mike Adams About  Mike Adams

Mike is an expert facilitator and story consultant who has helped numerous national and international companies, across many industries, to tap into story-powered sales. He is also the author of the international bestseller Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell. Connect with Mike on:

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