May 2020

We're only human, after all

by Katherine Edgecombe

Back to insights

We're only human, after all

May 2020 by Katherine Edgecombe

Back to insights


The extraordinary time that we are currently living through focuses minds on the fragility of being human. Because what this current crisis is showing us all too clearly is that, as humans, we are vulnerable.

The extraordinary time that we are currently living through focuses minds on the fragility of being human. Because what this current crisis is showing us all too clearly is that, as humans, we are vulnerable. 

Like many others across the world I am finding myself pausing and reflecting. For the past 15 years as a negotiation consultant, I have worked with thousands of people across a diverse mix of business roles, functions and geographies, and I have promoted the idea that negotiation happens “inside the other party’s head.” 

But in reality, what does this actually mean?  

Firstly, it means that as humans, we have a tendency to get caught up with our own pressures, stresses and targets. These drive our subsequent behaviours, often inappropriately. 

Secondly, it means that we don’t spend nearly enough time trying to understand the pressures, stresses and targets of our counterparties. But ultimately, this is where you will start to open up opportunities in your negotiations and your wider life. 

We would all do well to recognize that however advanced we are as a society, fundamentally we still deal with human beings. Your fastest route to a successful outcome will always be to understand the person that you are dealing with. What drives them? What motivates them? How are they targeted? What’s important to them right now? What time pressures are they under? And so on

How do we get to know these things? Is it because of the business they work for and the title they have? Of course not! And yet, all too often, I work with people who tell me they feel nervous, or lacking in confidence, or lacking in power, because the person they are meeting works for “x”, or the person they are meeting is “the CEO.” 

It doesn’t matter. Never give away power to another party based on their business or job title. You have more power than you give yourself credit for! 

So, let’s revisit this simple but overlooked concept that the current global pandemic has shone a light on: we are all human.  

What does this mean for negotiation? Take a step back and do your preparation. How can you find out more about the other party? Of course, there will be plenty of information online - industry knowledge, industry insight, LinkedIn, and so on. But don’t be afraid to engage! As many of us enter a new phase of working from home, the temptation may be to “hide” behind the screen. But now more than ever is a time to connect. Pick up the phone. Turn on the video when you are having your conversations. Try to keep everything as human as possible. 

Ask questions. And think about the type of questions you are asking - challenge yourself to ask ones that are open and that allow the other person to really talk. Find out as much as you can about others. By doing so, you may find opportunities to work together. And working together right now seems like the right thing to do. 

Fundamentally then, we are united in our humanity. And as such, the more we understand each other, the more we can work effectively together. 

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please download our report on virtual negotiation, Negotiation without a table, below. 

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Katherine Edgecombe