Simon Horton is one of the world’s leading negotiation skills trainers, having taught hostage negotiators, senior purchasing officers for some of the largest global manufacturing companies, and solicitors at the most prestigious law firms in the world. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Imperial College, University of London, and has worked with many tier one banks, pharmaceutical and oil companies. In his spare time, he is a trapeze artist and used to perform as a stand-up comedian.
His book, Leader’s Guide to Negotiation: How to Use Soft Skills to Get Hard Results, was published by The Financial Times in 2016 in which he describes the Strong Win-Win method which solves the challenge of negotiating win-win outcomes in a world where not everyone is naturally a win-win player.
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Before discussing The Leader’s Guide to Negotiation, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Jesus, the Buddha, and Elvis. Half-joking, of course, but it’s not far from the truth. I was brought up a Catholic and Jesus’ ethics have certainly stayed with me and the Buddha teaches pretty much the same thing. But Elvis could dance, and that’s important too!
Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Yes there was. I started my career working in the finance industry, designing derivatives trading systems and similarly wondrous stuff and I was successful at it but I didn’t enjoy it. I was quite unhappy but didn’t really know what to do about it until someone recommended I took an NLP course. I did and loved it and so studied it further.
Eventually, I decided to set up my business in the field but the corporate world doesn’t really buy NLP per se but it does buy it in an applied context such as negotiation, influence and leadership.
Originally, it was all very much from a psychological perspective but as the business grew, I focused more and more on negotiation and brought in more and more models from other fields.
To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Well, my first degree was in physics, so I certainly can’t say I’ve applied it directly to what I do now but I think it did train me in problem solving and the importance of a practical, data-driven approach. On the other hand, I’m a lifelong learner and I am always exploring new studies or fields of study and I think that self-driven informal learning has been equally important.
Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what [begin italics] not [end italics] to do.”
This is definitely true. Life is infinite and the number of opportunities to take you away from your goals is huge. If you want to achieve something, it’s important to be able to say “no” to those issues that aren’t relevant.
Interestingly, this can involve a negotiation with yourself and it’s important to find win-win results even here. If one part of you takes a win-lose approach in that negotiation, the other part will find a way to sabotage the outcome.
For example, when I decided to write my book, I was already leading a busy life but now I had to find extra time to write. It meant I had to say “no” to many activities that I enjoyed doing. Now, if I said “no” to everything that was fun in my life, it would not have been sustainable and almost certainly I would not have completed the book. But the win-win deal I struck with myself was that I decided to do as much of the writing as I could in nice places so in the end, much of the book was written in Australia, Ibiza, or other great destinations.
From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”
This reminds me of Schopenhauer’s three phases of a new idea: firstly, everyone laughs at it; secondly, they consider it dangerous and try to shut it down; finally, it’s “Oh of course, everyone knows that.”
So I suppose it should give hope for leaders and people with new ideas. Though it might not be accepted straightaway, the idea can spread rapidly. It’s like technology – no one has a smartphone, then the next day they are everywhere.
From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”
Curiosity. Curiosity is such an important attribute. It enables you to question things and find new (and perhaps better) answers.
From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
As the Japanese proverb says: ‘Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare’. We need both. My definition of leadership is simply having a vision and making it happen. Having a vision of how things can be different, can be better than they are now. Then making that vision become reality. And Edison certainly had the vision and the persistence in making it come about.
Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Which goes back to the Porter quote: identify what you should not be doing and it leaves so much space for what you should.
Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?
The biggest challenge for CEO’s in the near-medium future is going to be dealing with change. Technology is already changing rapidly but the theory is that each invention tends to enable the next invention to happen quicker. For example, inventing writing enables us to record and spread ideas further. Inventing the printing press accelerated the process. Inventing electricity, telecommunication, computing, mobile communication and so on each enabled inventions to occur faster and faster. Now we have a major invention every couple of years or so, soon it will be two a year, then ten a year and so on.
This will have huge implications on every business and CEO’s will need to have great leadership abilities (as we saw, vision and execution) to deal with this. Just one obvious example is the impact of A.I., algorithms, robots and chatbots that is likely to remove a large number of jobs from all kinds of industries. CEO’s will need to have a strategy of dealing with this and its implications.
Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?
Well, there is a whole industry that can advise on that and there are many angles to the advice. My own will obviously stress the importance of win-win negotiations. In fact, the dynamic is almost exactly like a negotiation.
If change is forced upon people, without explaining the reasons or benefits, they are very likely to resist. (It’s actually a very sensible response. I would resist it).
But if care is taken by the change agents to listen to those who will have to go through it, find out their fears and their desired outcomes from the situation, then work together to find the best way to align all the interests, they will probably be much more successful. If the people see the benefit for them from the change, and if they are given ownership of the results, they will fight for it rather than against it. This is exactly as it is in a negotiation.
As an aside, one thing I have always noticed about change programmes is that the change agent typically likes change and is excited about it and talks about how new it is and how everything is going to be so much faster, better, shinier, brighter.
Unfortunately, the poor person who has to go through the change typically doesn’t like change. And every time they hear how new and different it is they find another reason to resist it. If the change agent focused on how similar it is to the old way (and, in fairness, 95% of it is likely to be the same), the programme would be more happily welcomed.
What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive?
For me, it is the qualities that came out from the quotes earlier, openness and curiosity. Both of which imply a humility, that we don’t know everything, that we haven’t yet learnt everything that there is to learn, and that there are other people who have spent a lifetime studying their field who will know more about that field than us. And it’s great those experts exist because we can then learn from their years of experience and knowledge.
And if this growth attitude exists throughout the organisation, and is supported in practical ways, it will be a very successful organisation.
Recent research indicates that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the success of their organization? How do you explain this situation? What’s the problem?
Again, there are many ways you can tackle this question and I will obviously answer from the perspective of my field. But for me, an organization that has a win-win approach in its DNA is going to be a high-performing organisation with fully engaged and motivated staff.
Businesses are built on the micro-negotiations that take place between colleagues; whether it is boss-to-staff or peer-to-peer, almost every conversation is a micro-negotiation. Far too frequently, those conversations take place in an unsatisfactory manner where, say, a boss demands something of their team member simply because they can. Not surprisingly, the team member will go away de-motivated and do the task half-heartedly.
On the other hand, if all members know how to reach win-win results quickly, all staff will feel a greater ownership and will be much more engaged. This is the basis of a high-performing organization.
People tend to think of negotiations as the big set-piece that deals with clients or suppliers or lawyers. But, in actual fact, each of us is negotiating all the time. That is why it is such a great and important skill to master because it is so pervasive. Getting good at negotiation really can transform the results you get in your work and in your home life.
In your opinion, what specifically must be done immediately to increase the percentage of actively and productively engaged employees?
Ha, ha! Give everyone a copy of my book or let them attend one of my workshops!
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Simon invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His website link
His Amazon UK link