Saturday Morning Rounds May 23, 2020 - What Michael Scott from The Office can teach us about negotiations

Posted by BossB, MD on May 23, 2020
BossB, MD

What we're reading (or in this case, watching)

We've been ending most days lately by watching a quick episode of something comedic - nice way to finish on a light note, highly recommend it. The Office and Parks & Recreation comprise most of our rotation.

We were pleasantly surprised this week when, expecting some lighthearted entertainment, we actually stumbled upon a masterclass in negotiation tactics!

If you can read between the lines to get to the core motions of what's happening in this negotiation, there's a lot to learn. We'll break those lessons down for you in our "Tip of the week."

Quick aside - did you know Idris Elba guest starred in like 5 episodes of The Office?! 5th season, starting at episode 20. You're welcome.

Who we're following
Dr. Angela Duckworth, PhD (@angeladuckw) is a researcher, author, teacher, Founder & CEO of The Character Lab (@TheCharacterLab) and all-around badass + great human being. Her life's mission is to use science to help kids thrive, and in pursuit of that goal she's uncovered a number of truths about human nature and success that all of us can apply.
She's also got one of the most interesting, enriching, and just all-around uplifting Twitter feeds of anyone we follow. Here's an example - a gift her teenage made her for her birthday that both warmed our hearts and reminded us of some very important things that can be easy to lose sight of:
BBMD tip of the week
So in the clip we're breaking down this week, Michael Scott, the manager of a paper company, leaves that paper company to start his own competing paper company, and has a great deal of quick success, thereby putting his former employer in jeopardy.
The clip in question is the scene in which his former employers (specifically the CFO) negotiate to buy him back. Here are the motions:
  • Before the CFO can even present the first offer, Michael tells him to give him their second offer because he "never accepts the first offer"
    • We rarely give advice that has a "never" in it, but this it pretty solid (especially given that a significant portion of the gender pay gap can be attributed the fact that women are 8x less likely to ask for anything AT ALL in a negotiation than men are) - obviously don't actually say this the way he did though
  • The CFO's second offer is $12,000; Michael responds to this offer by focusing on emotion "are you kidding me - that is insultingly low" rather than the money itself
    • Where you focus during a negotiation is the single most important thing you can control, and the money itself is almost never the place you should be focusing - maximizing emotional resonance between you and your counterpart is one of the most important places to focus, and letting them know that they're jeopardizing that and breaking faith with their low-ball offer can be a great tactic
  • Next, the CFO tries to back Michael into a corner by pointing out that his fledgling business is a new company, that they can't keep operating at their current margins, and that they're probably scared - Michael flips this right back on him by pointing out that there's an investor meeting coming up at which the CFO will have to explain how Michael's departure has put the company's most profitable branch in the red, which will jeopardize the CFO's job, and that therefore Michael is really the one with time on his side
    • This is the singly most brilliant moment in the whole negotiation, when the tables actually turn and Michael realizes he can pretty much name his price - things are never about numbers themselves, they're about what the numbers mean to the individuals involved and to the organization itself
In our curriculum, we call this "thinking like your boss." And it all boils down to understanding that no matter how seemingly important, every human has a role that you can orient toward, and no matter how seemingly powerful and well-run, every organization has a goal that you can orient toward:
Quote we're contemplating
Surprisingly effective:

“Whenever I’m about to do something, I think, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.” – Dwight Schrute

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PPS - As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions by replying to this email (we read 'em all) or getting at us via Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.

Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!