1 Big idea to think about

  • If you focus on positions, then you will often find yourself stuck. But if you focus on purpose, you will tend to find a way forward.

2 ways you can apply this

  • When you reach an impasse, instead of digging in on your position, stop and try and discover each person’s purpose.
  • Ask this question or one like it: Are you willing to see if we can find a solution that is better than either party wants right now? No compromises, both sides have to really win.

3 Questions to ask

  • What is my purpose in this negotiation?
  • What is the other party’s purpose in this negotiation?
  • How can we find a creative solution that allows each of us to achieve our purpose?

Key Moments From The Show 

  • An invitation from Greg for this new podcast (1:21)
  • A moment of impasse at the most magical place on Earth (2:33)
  • Finding a way where there seems to be no way (8:07)
  • What happens when we are focused on positions instead of purpose (10:57)
  • Finding solutions by focusing on purpose instead of positions (12:41)
  • Achieve a win-win scenario with one simple question (15:33)
  • Reviewing what we’ve learned (20:45)

Links You’ll Love from the Episode

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton


Greg McKeown (00:03):

Welcome wherever you are tuning in from my name is Greg McKeown, and this is the very first episode in the Greg McKeown podcast. I’m with you on this journey to learn how to negotiate when it matters for what really matters Have you ever felt frustrated because somebody won’t let you do what you want to do. Have you ever avoided the problem? Cause you are worried about the outcome? Well, here’s the commitment today. I’m going to share a story. I’m going to share some things that I’m learning, going to leave you with a very specific action that you can take right now to be able to better handle situations where you are faced with conflict, a difference of opinion, a difference of interest. They want X and you want Y okay, with that, let’s get to it.

Greg McKeown (01:21):

Here’s the thing I’m going to ask from you in this episode. And as you go forward and it’s a bit different than the actual learning in the episode, what I want is for you to be a teacher of these ideas, to take on that role. So even as I’m sharing these ideas, I want you not so much to be in the role of a passive listener or even an engaged listener, but of a teacher yourself. My challenge to you, my invitation is for you to share what you learned today within the next 24 to 48 hours with someone else, maybe it’s your team at work. Maybe it’s your family at home. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s your parent. Maybe it’s a friend that you work out with and you don’t have to share everything. But if you’ll take on the role of teacher, that orientation will itself transform your ability to learn. You’ll absorb what we are talking about today. Much faster, much deeper, much clearer. So that’s my invitation. I want you to teach these things that I’m about to share with you.

Greg McKeown (02:33):

We were in the happiest place on earth, you know where we were, but it wasn’t exactly happy. It was the end of a long day, a rainy day, no less, and everyone was hungry. And we had just found a place to watch the huge, magnificent firework display. That was about to start. You have to get there early. Otherwise it gets so full. There’s no room at all. And we’d found a pretty great spot actually just in front of main street, right in front of the majestic Disney castle, the smell of popcorn and Chis of just wafting through the air, emphasizing how hungry everybody is. And you know, you’ve got Mickey mouse balloons and of course, lots of tired children in every direction. And my mission was to go and get food for everyone and bring it back before the firework display began. We had about 20 minutes, so it’s tough, but I thought a doable mission.

Greg McKeown (03:29):

So I went with my father-in-law to find the food. We ordered pretty simple food, hot dogs, drinks, simple should be ready quickly. We thought, but there was a line to get the food. And then there was a line to pick up the food. By the time we picked up our trays of food, just pouring over, we had ourselves an additional problem. The firework display hadn’t started yet. However, while we’d been getting the food thousands and thousands of people had crammed into the area where our family was waiting for us. So we knew approximately where our family was, but we could not make more than a few feet of progress. I’m a pretty determined person. I’m, I’m willing to believe that the impossible can be done, but I am telling you just, people did not want to move for us. They were not interested in even stepping sort of one foot out of the way.

Greg McKeown (04:23):

We actually tried a few times. I’m serious. It was impossible. So we were pretty disappointed and ourselves hungry because we hadn’t been eating through this time and we just gave up trying. So we thought we would walk back to where we had bought the food, sit down at a table and just watch from there. And then afterwards we’d bring everyone their food, no big deal. But by that time we had another problem sort of comedy of errors because there was now nowhere to sit down and I mean, literally every single table and every single seat was taken. And not only that, but every table was full of people’s bags, their trays of food, trays of unfinished food. So there wasn’t just nowhere to sit down. There was nowhere to put these trays that we were holding completely packed in every direction. And so finally, pretty much out of exasperation, we just put our trays down on top of two rubbish bins that were there again, no big deal.

Greg McKeown (05:22):

However, it did turn out to be a big deal because no sooner, I mean the very moment we put the food down, a security guard came over to us and said firmly you, you cannot put your trays of food there. And I responded not irately where do you want us to put them? You can put them at any table, but you cannot put them there. And I start getting a little more frustrated. Look, there really is no table anywhere. We have walked up and down, he said, but you can’t put them there. And I was, I recall, at least feeling irritated to the point of being willing to have the conflict. I said, just show me where to put them exactly where to put them. And I will put them there. All right. Now let’s just take a moment. We had reached in, in pass.

Greg McKeown (06:09):

I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but it felt familiar to me. I’d been in that situation before he is insisting. I am pushing back. Of course the circumstances are different, but that tension, you know what I mean? He’s pushing back on my pushing back. And this was about to enter a power struggle phase where he had the upper hand. I mean, he could escalate this and it would certainly be an unhappy moment in what is supposed to be the happy moment with my family. This trip had been canceled by the way, multiple times it was supposed to be a magical moment, right? And it’s just going perche. Then the security guard asked me, where is your family? So we pointed over to where our family was standing. We couldn’t see them. You know, there’s hundreds, thousands of people in the way. And I’m explaining we would go and stand with them, but it’s impossible.

Greg McKeown (07:05):

And then in that moment, a security guard, his name was elder said something that completely surprised me, took me off guard. He said, it’s not impossible with me. There was the change. Instead of the power struggle I was expecting. Instead of escalation, the guard walked in front of us explaining what he was doing. He said, I will take you to your family. Those words really hit me in a symbolic way, too. Suddenly armed with him. Every person stepped back without even questioning as he steps forward. And we walked behind him, it felt like the parting of the red sea. In some ways it had truly seemed impossible to me. I did not see a way through. I had been stuck. Elder could have been fixated on my compliance in this situation. He could have dug his heels in. He could have insisted, but instead he looked for a third alternative, a third way.

Greg McKeown (08:07):

And his sudden change of perspective transformed the moment from one of frustration into a moment of magic. I mean, what else can you call it? The whole way we walked through that sea of people is words rang in my ears. I will take you to your family. And he did. And the point of the story is this, that if you focus on positions, then you will often find yourself stuck. But if you focus on purpose, you will tend to find a third way. You will find a way where there seems to be no way. What about you? Let’s go back to those questions. Have you ever been at odds with someone, have you ever wanted eggs? And they want Y and the harder you push, the harder they push back and the more unreasonable they seem, the more I rate you feel. And then of course you become more unreasonable. Have you ever felt that frustration where somebody won’t let you do what you want to do? It seems so sensible to you.

Greg McKeown (09:19):

I think that will be a familiar sensation for you. And maybe you cave in to what the other person wants. Maybe that’s your norm. Maybe you don’t fight, but you just rather avoid the conflict at any cost, or maybe you are on the other side of it. Maybe you just get so worked up so frustrated. You can become highly emotional, even volatile at moments because it’s just so unreasonable. And then if you had this experience like with elder, I have to admit it’s a rarer experience for me, where suddenly somebody completely switches the moment their, a mediator. In this moment, they find a third way, a different alternative as part of his responsibility. He can’t have these trays being put where we wanted to put them. That is a position let’s assume that that really is a correct position. And he’s just following what he’s been asked to do, paid to do on our end.

Greg McKeown (10:21):

Of course, we are step two. We want to put them there. That was the log ahead. That’s the power of positional thinking, of course, for those familiar with it, the marvelous book by Roger Fisher and William UY and Bruce Patton getting to yes, delves into this problem, this tendency, especially as we get emotional, but it doesn’t have to always be that, that we push for a certain position instead of looking past it for what I’m calling, you know, looking past to the purpose, to go from positions, to finding the purpose behind those positions, they share an unbelievable example of the problem and cost of this positional type of thinking story about Russia and the United States. So here’s the scenario. It’s 1961. And there was a complete breakdown of the talks under president Kennedy for a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. If that had been enacted, it might have headed off much of the superpower arms race that ensued over the next three decades.

Greg McKeown (11:29):

I just think of the expense of that 30 year journey. And in the midst of that breakdown, a critical question had arisen, how many onsite inspections per year should the Soviet union and the United States permit to have within the’s territory to investigate any suspicious seismic events, right? That’s the question, how many onsite inspections per year the Soviet union finally agreed to three inspections and the United States insisted on no less than 10. And that’s when the talks broke down over positions. Despite the fact that no one understood whether an inspection would involve one person looking around for one day or a hundred people pry indiscriminately for a month, the parties had made little attempt to design an inspection procedure that would reconcile the United States interest in verification with the desire of both companies for minimal intrusion, think of that cost and compare that to a success story. All right, now contrast that geopolitical breakdown with another, that almost happened focusing on positions instead of purpose, focusing on positions, instead of the purpose behind those positions almost led to bloodshed in a dispute between farmers and the national oil company in Iraq. After the fall of Saddam Husain, the displaced farmers in the south of Iraq had banded together, leased arable land from the government and used their last savings and borrowings to plant crops.

Greg McKeown (13:21):

But unfortunately only a few months later, the farmers received a letter coin for them to vacate the land immediately in accord with the fine print of their lease because oil had been discovered under it. So the oil company says just, you’ve gotta get off our land. And the farmers of course replied it’s our land. And we are not leaving the oil company threatened to call the police. The farmers said, well, there are more of us. So the national company threatened to bring in the army. We have guns too. We aren’t leaving. They said, and why? Because we have nothing left to lose. As the troops gathered, bloodshed was averted only because at the last minute, an official who had been trained to think about the alternatives to this positional type thinking came in and said, how long will it be before you expect to produce oil on this land?

Greg McKeown (14:20):

Well, probably three years they replied, well, what do you plan to do on the land over the next few months? They said, well, just mapping surveying of the underground layers. So he asked the farmers, what’s the problem with leaving now, as they’ve asked, they said, the harvest is in six weeks. It represents everything we own. So there it was, it hardly took a moment after that to come up with a new agreement, the farmers could plant the crops and they would not impede the oil company’s preparatory activities. Indeed the oil company hoped soon to hire many of the farmers as laborers for its construction activities. And didn’t object to the continued planting of crops between the oil derricks. Now there you have it again, if you can get behind the position and withhold your judgment long enough to understand non defensively, really openly, why somebody wants what they want, what they’re really trying to achieve behind it, you might find that what seems like a completely take it or leave its situation actually has many, many creative solutions before you.

Greg McKeown (15:33):

So let me share one final story today. That’s really meta moment for me because the very existence of this new podcast was made possible by following what we are talking about in this first podcast episode, without getting into all the details, the conversation between my team and the previous production team of the What’s Essential podcast had come to an impasse. There were no bad feelings and there were no bad actors involved, but I couldn’t help, but get the sense that we were about to agree to terms that were neither ideal for me, nor ideal for them. It would’ve amounted to me, starting a brand new podcast on a new feed, starting from the beginning step by painful step, trying to let everybody know about what was happening on the one side. And of course, what that would mean is that the first hundred episodes of the What’s Essential podcast would then just stay stationed where they were.

Greg McKeown (16:39):

It seemed to me that everybody was losing or at least that there were more productive ways to solve the situation. And I’m going to read to you with permission, the email that I wrote in the midst of that almost impase in it is a magic question that I think that you and I can use either the exact words or something close to it. When we find ourselves in a negotiation that may have reached a type of impase, I’m not saying it will always work, but maybe it can. So let me just read it to you. It begins dear. Well, we’ll call him ed, because his name is ed.

Greg McKeown (17:21):

Thank you for being on this journey over the last couple of years, it’s been an amazing adventure and I am grateful for the experience and the ride. I have learned a lot and have made lots of connections. I’ve never have otherwise made. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the company family I’m writing now, because the process between our representatives has come to an impase, as it stands, the show will come to an end at episode 100, and I’m comfortable with that because I’d rather have no deal than a deal that doesn’t really work for me, or really work for you with that said, I’ve wondered whether the process we are using is limiting our ability to really understand each other and therefore to find creative solutions. Are you willing to have a phone call together to see if we can find a solution that is better than what either party wants right now?

Greg McKeown (18:18):

No compromises, both sides have to really win. If there isn’t no problem. We go with no deal. My warmest, Greg. Now let me tell you what happened. First of all, I felt some intrepidation. I wondered what the reaction would be behind. All negotiations is an enormous amount of evolutionary emotion. We feel a threat, or maybe we feel vulnerable because we are putting out there what we want. And then of course we are dependent on someone else in many instances to achieve what we want. I didn’t know what the reaction would be, but ed responded warmly and immediately he said, yes, if we can find a better solution, let’s talk about it. But then even going into the conversation, I, I just wondered how it would actually go. I wondered whether it might feel defensive and again, positional from me or from him. And it wasn’t, he was open.

Greg McKeown (19:18):

I mean, he was really willing and I began, I started the journey of just listening. I said, can you just talk to me about what you are trying to achieve? What matters to you? And I listened and I asked questions and I tried to understand what was behind the positions. And by the time I understood it, it made perfect sense. I, I could even enthusiastically support what he was trying to achieve. I, I wanted to help him achieve what he was really trying to achieve. And then let’s say reasonably Goodwill. He asked what I was really trying to achieve. What do I want? And I told him what I wanted. And he said, he said, oh, we can, we can have you build the new podcast right into this feed. No problem. That doesn’t violate in any way, what he wants. And it was true.

Greg McKeown (20:07):

And it was clearly true. And so we walked away. Each of us having better than what we wanted going into the conversation, both sides, didn’t just win. We definitely one bigger than if we hadn’t had that conversation. And I put a lot of the credit down to this simple question, I’m gonna read it again to you. Are you willing to have a phone call together to see if we can find a solution that is better than either party wants right now? No compromises, both sides have to really win. Now, of course you don’t have to be limited to those precise words, but you can get the idea of it, what the commitment is. So let’s just review what we’ve covered today, so that you can go and teach this, share this with somebody else in order to be able to better handle situations where you want X and somebody else wants Y and you get in that sort of log ahead moment.

Greg McKeown (21:01):

We’ve covered the story and the happiest place on earth and the elder and what he did about the situation. We’ve talked about, what happens when you get stuck in positions, rather than understanding the purpose behind those positions. We’ve given an example of it with Russia and the United States and how there’s a breakdown in talks. We’ve talked about the farmers versus the oil company in Iraq and how they almost had a breakdown, but they didn’t. And then finally, we’ve talked here about a specific example of what you can ask of a question you can put to someone, either in written for, or just talking out openly in order to be able to break through the impase and get to the purpose behind the positions so that you can come up with creative solutions together. And my invitation to you of course, is to use these ideas yourself, use this question yourself, but the fastest way, I think to be able to, to start putting it into practice is to share these ideas with somebody else, as you do, you’ll learn about it faster.

Greg McKeown (22:07):

You’ll understand what your limits and your knowledge actually are. And you’ll be able to increase. Let’s call it something like making the wisdom go viral in your own environment. That’s what you want. You want lots of people thinking like this around you, lots of people in your team thinking in terms of looking beyond the positions and finding the purpose that’s there. Now I know that all we’ve done right now is covered a few stories and one practical thing that you can do about it, but it’s a start and just think of what can happen in your relationships with the people who matter most to you at work at home in all of your life. If you can become that kind of negotiator, if you can learn how to be like elder the peacemaker. I mean, think of the value in that, think of how much enjoyment there is.

Greg McKeown (23:03):

And there was, I’ll tell you, when we suddenly arrived back with our family with elder together, he was beaming and he was so happy to meet every person. And they were so happy because suddenly there was, and I know it feels a bit much to say it, but a kind of symbolic reunification they’d been phoning as they were trying to help us to know where they were. All this food is suddenly arrived. We get to have the memory and there’s this friendly, marvelous employee who’s helped to make it all happen. It was a touching moment of magic and elder made it happen. I want to be more like elder, and I want you to come on that journey with me. That to me is important. That that is essential.

Greg McKeown (23:54):

Well, thank you so much for listening for the very first episode of the Greg McKeown podcast. It’s an exciting moment. I hope you’ll stay with me on the journey and bring lots of people together. We are going to make a difference in the world. This is a vision worth going after. And if you found value in this episode of this new podcast, that I hope that you will take a moment to write a review in apple iTunes and the first five people that do it will get a copy assigned copy of effortless. So just send a picture of your review to info@gregMcKeown.com. That’s I N F O GRE GM, C K E O w n.com. If you haven’t yet, please do sign up for the one minute, Wednesday newsletter. It’s one minute, intentionally concise to be able to help reinforce all of these ideas that can help you to live a meaningful life. The best minute you’re going to spend online in a week. That’s the goal of that newsletter to do sign up for that and come join this community. As we try to make a difference, remember to be like elder, ask this question often of the people around you. Let’s talk until we find a solution that is better than what either of us wants right now.

Greg McKeown (25:23):

I will see you next episode.