Insight & Analysis

Learn how to negotiate like a pro

Published: May 2023

Corporate treasury is becoming increasingly strategic, and many treasurers would do well to hone their negotiating skills. A recent bestseller, which has been written by a hostage negotiator, gives some top tips on the art of persuasion and communicating effectively.

Life is a negotiation, even if you don’t realise it. That’s the argument of one author who has some top tips on how to improve communication and influencing skills in the workplace. For treasurers, these skills have become more important in recent years, particularly as they are being called upon by business leaders to play a strategic role in the direction of their companies.

This a mega trend that Treasury Today often hears about from the treasury community and has been highlighted in recent Corporate View profiles. In the most recent issue of Treasury Today Asia, for example, Bima Tesdayu, Vice President, Treasury Management at Garuda Indonesia explains how he is involved in meetings at the highest level, especially when the company’s CEO has to make a high-profile or important decision. In another Corporate View profile, Gopul Shah, Director, Corporate Treasury and Structured Trade Finance at Golden Agri-Resources, noted how treasury is being recognised as a strategic stakeholder and partner in organisations.

With an increasingly prominent role, treasurers would benefit from honing their negotiation skills to ensure they are communicating effectively. Learning from situations where failure is not an option – and lives depend on the outcome – sharpens the mind and one’s influencing skills.

In the recently released book, Order Out of Chaos: A Kidnap Negotiator’s Guide to Influence and Persuasion, author Scott Walker draws on his 300 experiences of pirates, kidnaps for ransom and cyber hackers demanding cryptocurrency ransoms. There are many similarities, he says, with the communication skills of hostage negotiators and business leaders. The tips in this book will be useful in any situation, whether it is dealing with a new boss, asking for a pay rise or persuading direct reports to take their work in a different direction.

Walker gives case studies of his experiences of negotiating when a life depends on it and the lessons that can be learned. In extreme situations – where gangsters are demanding a ransom, for example – it is important to think clearly, stay in control of one’s emotions and find order in the chaos of the situation. Also, Walker is clear on drawing boundaries and he has told kidnappers he could only speak between 2pm and 5pm and at all other times his phone would be turned off.

One of the key lessons is finding a way to connect with other people, even if you despise them, disagree with everything they stand for and dislike their methods. The golden rule of negotiation, says Walker, is that it’s not about you. His book teaches practical steps to understand yourself, improve your emotional intelligence, prevent yourself from being emotionally hijacked, learn the psychology of negotiation and what can prevent you from communicating effectively.

Also, Walker writes about the importance of language: “Ultimately you’re a meaning-making machine and the way you create or assign meaning is through your use of language. Because if you haven’t realised it yet, words matter. They matter so much, in fact, that people are prepared to live and die by them.”

Walker navigates a path to finding order in the chaos, how you can stay in control and not let your ego get in the way of a desirable outcome.

In amongst this, it is easy for chief negotiators to become overwhelmed. Walker gives advice about how to ensure that you are taking time out to look after yourself, such as designating a certain period each day as time out. This is something he insists upon, even with the hostage takers he is negotiating with. Do you have the guts to turn off your phone for a few hours each day? Maybe you should read this book and learn how. Your work life might depend on it.

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