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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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The art of quantum negotiation

Karen Walch, Stephan Mardyks and Joerg Schmitz describe predictive intelligence and the art of quantum negotiation

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12 APRIL 2018 | KAREN WALCH, STEPHAN MARDYKS and JOERG SCHMITZ


Our ability to influence decision-making and value creation is not just a function of our analyses but relies on our ability to understand the wider context, needs, and interests of our stakeholders. This is even more important in the current times of increasing complexity and insecurity. The mind and skillset of quantum negotiators can enrich our professional and personal lives – in salary negotiations, both come together.

Managing risk and uncertainty is at the heart of actuarial science: financial security, stability and decision-making critically depend on it. Its tools are highly analytic and mathematical and inform the core calculus of hard-nosed decision-making - detached and dispassionate, clinical and reliable. What it teaches about risk and risk management is that it depends on our ability to tap the underlying laws of probability and the mathematics of complexity. 

Quantum negotiation is similar, but focuses on the other end of the risk spectrum: the volatility and dynamism of the interpersonal experiences in human interactions that so critically underpin behaviour, decisions and actions. Managing the risks of human volatility, misunderstanding, unproductive conflict and mis-alignment among social actors requires that we tap the underlying laws and dynamics that govern the human experience and social interactions.

Just as predictive analytics are critical to managing risks and disruption in the global economy, climate, and social/political instability, the human nervous system scans the environment and searches for anomalies, risks and threats. It translates environmental data into stress levels, which trigger various states of alertness and comfort. Paired with functioning governance structures and decision-making processes, analytics make us responsive and adaptive as a group or organisation. Our nervous systems, paired with social intelligence, make us responsive and adaptable at the interpersonal level. 

Understanding and integrating this parallel function of vastly different systems should help us in our interactions with stakeholders and navigate a wide variety of personal and professional situations with greater ease and success. And, if this is not reason enough, here are three more compelling arguments for developing our quantum negotiation practice:

1. We negotiate all the time, whether we know it or not. 

Any time there is something we rely on others for, we negotiate. Whenever we calibrate expectations or create shared meaning, make plans, take decisions, look for new ways of doing things, share limited resources or solve pressing problems, we are negotiating. It is helpful, therefore, to explore negotiation widely and to think more deeply about our skills and identity as negotiators.

2. We interact in increasingly complex, diverse and interdependent webs of relationships. 

While the purely transactional aspects of our day-to-day exchanges are becoming mechanised or digitised, our focus shifts to the true relational, qualitative aspects of our experiences. It is in those areas where our true needs manifest and where people, companies, and brands distinguish themselves. In a digital future, success depends on attentiveness to the ‘quanta’ of social interconnectedness. Acting with deliberate attention to the emotional, neurological, cultural and strategic dimensions of social fabric is the true source-code of competitive advantage.

3. There is a better and healthier way to get what you need. 

We have worked with many negotiators who have profoundly shifted their experience and improved outcomes for themselves and their stakeholders. They have learned to tune in to the quantum of social connection in their negotiations. They have experienced firsthand that when we shift our understanding of negotiation and master the small but powerful forces of human sociality and connectedness, we not only lose fear but also tend to our emotional, social, physical and spiritual needs.

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How can quantum negotiation help us?

Threatened by massive and profound structural transformation, professionals want to keep their job prospects open and to be ready for a change at any time. 

That means that many of us are searching for new job opportunities to become more secure – organisationally and financially. Whether you are looking for the first time after certification, pursuing a new opportunity or a promotion or raise, you will need to negotiate your salary, which adds stress, because salaries are about more than money. We are negotiating our value and status in an organisational and a wider social context. How we experience and approach this reveals a host of assumptions, beliefs, and powerful emotions that are connected to our subjective sense of identity and worth.

As a result, we are likely to go into full gear researching salary benchmarks or the compensation methodology in the actuarial industry or geographic area concerned. Preparing for a salary negotiation quickly extends beyond ‘what’ you want in a negotiation, and into ‘why’. 

In addition, when you don’t have time to establish a good first impression in a face-to-face meeting, your preparation needs to be even more precise about ‘how’ you behave as a negotiator. Your ability to understand the wider context, needs and interests of your new employer will be key. But, your stress levels are likely to constrict your vision rather than widen it. 

Recruiters share with us their dismay at jobseekers – even experienced ones – who negotiate with little attention or clarity about themselves or their interviewer and the wider context. Our own research validates that jobseekers often focus too narrowly on the tangible pay structure and forget about the most sought-after intangible resources recruiters are looking for. 

Slowing down your nervous system, anchoring yourself in not only ‘what’ you want, but also ‘why’ you want it, and ‘how’ you are going to behave (strategy and tactics) as you get what you need will yield quantum results. You can deepen your preparation by thinking about ‘who’ you are and how you are feeling about the position and what purpose you can achieve in that position.

In addition, you can explore the possibility that you may not get an agreement; ‘what if’ you don’t achieve what you want in the negotiation, what other options will you have? For example, will you keep the same job, look for other roles, or perhaps look into further education?

From a quantum negotiation perspective, understanding your negotiation as a relationship of interdependent needs is key. Take time to step back from the independent or individualistic way of thinking about your negotiation as a win or a loss. Expand your perspective to see that the new relationship provides you with opportunity to create the best outcome for all parties involved, and sometimes the best outcome is determining that an opportunity is not right.

With a ‘shared interest’ mindset, you will then behave as if your self-interest and that of your interviewer are mutual. This intention to partner will ground you, enable you to connect better and project respect and confidence effortlessly. Employers appreciate self-direction, strengths, and clarity in goals and commitments and also the quality of your social interaction skills. If you think that the potential employer has power over you and you need to protect and defend yourself, chances are that it will be harder to meet your own intangible needs to be connected as an appreciated, validated and valued partner.


To learn more, go to: www.quantumnegotiation.com 

Karen Walch is a partner of Clair-Buoyant Leadership, LLC and Emeritus faculty member at Thunderbird School of Global Management

Stephan Mardyks is founder of Wisdom Destinations, co-CEO of SMCOV,  and a managing partner at ThomasLeland 

Joerg Schmitz is managing partner at ThomasLeland