Luck as a negotiation strategy

Thinking that luck will help you get what you deserve? Here is why you should think again.

My great friend and I were having one of our favorite types of discussions; a mini debate on the importance of striking luck and being blessed.  This was not the first, and it won’t be the last time we get into this type of discussion. And why stop? Even if we do not agree, we always learn something new and refine our thinking.

I do not believe in luck or talent.  Ok – let’s be clear: I am not dissing your ability to do something amazing, I am just saying that if you or your child is doing something amazing it is because you made it happen.  Nothing was handed to you on a platter. I also strongly believe that your state of mind dictates if you are going to be successful or not, regardless of what you are doing.

What confuses me, even more, is that my friend is the perfect example of having the right mindset. He got a full sports scholarship to college, he won all kind of awards as a sales rep during his first job, including an all paid trip to the Caribbean and he is now enjoying a successful career in the medical sector. There is no way someone can be given so many different talents.  The only explanation I see is that his talent is being great at working hard, applying himself, being resilient, and always seizing opportunities.

The other reasons I dislike this concept of luck is that:

  1. It is too easy for people to rely on it and blame bad luck for their failures
  2. It downgrades other people’s success, by insinuating that it is based on luck.

You can probably sense that this touches a raw nerve. It is too easy to look at me now and say that I was lucky to get where I am.  Investing $200,000 in my education to get where I am wasn’t luck, finding ways to prepare for competitive exams wasn’t luck, shmoozing the business school admission team wasn’t luck. Answering “yes, of course I would be happy to spend the next 6 months in the middle of nowhere for this consulting project” and being promoted after it wasn’t luck. THIS WAS “MAKING IT HAPPEN”. It was about building interest, learning and being enthusiastic about the things I was doing.

My most successful friends are dedicated to everything they do. They do it and they do it well, sometimes they obsess about it.  One of them is a Chess Master who used to be a body builder and is now one of the most successful stock brokers in his field.  Another one is a great macro economist with his own successful hedge fund, and learned absolutely everything you can imagine about baby related topics once his son was born (I mean everything… he can tell you about vaccine differences between countries, the best diapers in the world – actually from Japan – but can be bought in Canada for a bargain).  My other friend puts the same amount of effort into his investment banking career as he does when he plays Playstation against me.  None of this is about talent.   They put their mind to something and they don’t stop!

Now let’s go back to the topic of this post.  What do you think would happen to you if you entered a negotiation believing that talent and being blessed will help you succeed against one of my hard core friends?  Yup, you guessed right… there is no way you would have the upper hand. They would eat you alive. And if you think that being blessed will be your wild card, then ask yourself: Why do you deserve to be blessed more than another person working harder and wanting it more than you?

Key take away: I won’t convince all of you that talent is rubbish, but why not focus on what you can influence? Be the most prepared person, be the most enthusiastic person, be the most informed person. Forget about luck, and just know that you are blessed to have the opportunity. Now don’t mess up!

Eunice Lituañas

Jay-Z’s 4:44 Footnotes: Self-reflection on Racism

I decided to reflect on the insight of Jay-Z and his friends to build on an ongoing conversation about Jay-Z footnotes and I love it.

Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album gave goose bumps to everyone.  An amazing display of emotions and touching lyrics.  Now Jay-Z is shaking the hip hop world in his own way.  The lyrics cut through topics I thought I knew but realized I didn’t. As if it was not enough for him to rap about his infidelities, his mom coming out, his relationship with his dad, Jay-Z releases weekly footnotes for each song on the album.

The footnotes are an opportunity for listeners to hear from Jay-Z notable friends on various subjects.  The first footnotes are about the song “The Story of O.J” a song talking about how Black men realize that society uses their color as a constraint.  During the footnotes, Kendrick Lamar, Will Smith, Mahershala AliChris RockMichael CheMichael B. Jordan, Van Jones and Trevor Noah share personal experiences about being Black in America.  The way they talk about is so candid, you vividly feel what they had to go through, what they learned and what they are potentially scared of.

What’s the connection to negotiation? Your cultural background has an impact on how you are influenced and how you influence people.  So the more you understand yourself, your situation and your environment, the better you can succeed in negotiations and get what you deserve.  So, I decided to listen carefully and reflect on the insight of Jay-Z and his friends.  Why? because these topics can be controversial, and as I write this post, there is already a conversation going on about Jay-Z footnotes, so this is more likely to resonate with people, and you can read different perspectives on the same topic – always a great idea to develop your own opinion.

Let’s dive in and talk about my favorite quote from the footnotes: “The Story of O.J”:

Quote 1 – The quiet way of racism – Van Jones: “I did not know until I got out of law school that people were invited to professors’ home [ ] Those professors were picking students to become supreme court clerks [ ] this is the quiet way racism works, it is not what they do to you, it is what they do not even tell you about”

It is the opening for this footnote video.  That is the video that made me stop and carefully listen to the other 8 minutes. It also prompted me to write a series of blog post about the footnotes. This is the first post of many!

This quote touched a raw nerve with me.  I have several degrees. Not saying that in a boastful way. More in a way of, why do I have so many degrees? Many positions I have held, my peers were less educated than I am and just as qualified if not more than I was.  What went wrong? I suspect they got mentored either by professors or people they knew.    And these mentors articulated the best reach their objectives and maybe made a few connections to speed up the process.  If you did not grow up in an environment with this type of access, doing the right thing, doing your job or homework will not compensate.

My key learning: Doing what you are being told is not enough. This is the minimum.  You have to exceed expectations at work, at school, in life. Moreover, people will not tell you how to exceed expectations. You must figure it out.

Quote 2 – Slavery teachings are still there – Michael Che: “The thing people do not understand about slavery, yeah it was 150 years ago but those people raised children, they were slaves, they raised children, and then those free children raised children [ ] a lot of these teachings are still there from 150 years ago”

Quote 3 – Vet, dentist for Blacks – Chris Rock: “My Mother, not my great grand mother, in South Carolina [ ] they would not let Black people going to the dentist, so she had to [ ] get her teeth taking out by the vet [ ] and they had to go through the back door [ ]

Quote 4 – 10,000 lbs pressure – Micheal B. Jordan: “Being Black in America is like being in a tiny compressed box anchored at the bottom of the ocean, 10,000 lbs of pressure on you at all time and not feeling like you can speak your truth”

Quotes 2, 3 and 4 are best clarified by this:

Offense vs. Defense – Mahershala Ali: The difference between a Black man and a white man is this: We move through the world playing defense, we don’t have the capacity to play offense. because we are constantly looking for the moment you are going to be disrupted.  You walk through the word being conscious the world sees you a certain way. You have to play defense, and you have to play it real smooth.  When you don’t get disrupted like that you walk through the world like what can I build there [ ] you play offense so your whole flow is different.

Throughout my life I have realized that I was playing defense. And the reasons for that were so deep that I did not even realize I was playing defense. So deep that until I saw people not being derailed by them, I could not understand how they were holding me back.  First, I was, and still am, obedient even too obedient. My wife always tell me that I am a stickler for rules.  This was deeply rooted in the way I was raised. The consequences of not listening to my mom were more serious than a time out :). Second, I got used to be treated differently at an early age:

  • Camping site is full for my friends and I, and when white friends arrive to the same camp a few hours later the camp is suddenly not full.
  • Women clutching onto their handbag in the street.
  • The store security guard following you around the store as if you were about to something.
  • Rejections from nightclubs

At some point you have to put all that behind you to move forward, but it is still there lingering on the back of your mind. Forcing you to tread carefully to avoid these embarrassing moments.  Forcing you to anticipate what others may think of you and try to act accordingly.  That sucks your energy. Especially that after dodging everything that is thrown at you, you still have to work twice as hard to prove yourself.

My key learning: Recognize your own situation. Don’t ignore it, don’t pretend it is better than it is.  Be honest. Why? this is the only way to move forward, learn from past mistakes and come up with a solution that works for your situation.

How bad police officers get away with murder

Read the post to understand why zero policemen have been convicted in 2014 or 2015

You know it. We are talking about white police officers not being convicted of murdering black people.  The recent case of Philando Castile made me realize how much worse the situation can become.  Having Philando doing everything he is supposed to do, the police officer shooting at him 7 times with his daughter behind and still having this police officer let off does not sit right.  In case anyone may still have some doubts, here is another example: Off-Duty Officer ‘Treated As Ordinary Black Guy,’ Shot By Another Cop. NO that off-duty office was not a rookie, NO he was not under the influence of alcohol.  He was a veteran who knew police protocols.  My take away from these dramatic events:

  • Even when you know police protocols, you comply and you are part of the police department you can still get shot
  • Even when people witness you being shot, that the whole thing is being filmed from different angles policemen are not convicted
  • It seems that media coverage, public opinion, money to fight cases have zero impact on bringing justice

This is a terrible reality. An unthinkable reality that many black people must make sense of to survive.  How to rationalize acts that are not sensible?  I will try something new to contribute.  Applying reverse negotiation to the situation.  Think of it as a role play where you apply game theory (read our previous post on a practical example of game theory here).

1. What are bad police officers aiming for?

Their objective is to protect their life. Either during the event when they decided to shoot or in front of a jury who may send them to prison where they would share a cell with the very same people they sent away.  The stakes are super high.  In this type of situation forget about win-win. People will stop at nothing to get their way.

2. Who has the power?

Tricky one.  Common sense would say that the victim has the power but empirical evidence would show the opposite.  In fatal shootings, juries of your peers have the power.  They are the ones who, beyond reasonable doubts have to decide guilty or not guilty.  But, the jury is selected by the judge and the attorneys.  So they are the ones with the power.  Who they select to be on the jury may be the biggest predictor of the outcome.

3. Who are the players?

The attorneys are the game masters. They decide the evidence to show, the witnesses who testify. Important note: the policemen attorneys have high stakes, their client is still alive and their life is still on the line.

4. What are the potential tradeoffs?

Close to 0.  The verdict is guilty or not guilty. So not much room to trade concessions.

5. What else is at stake?

In the situation of Philando Castille, people think that it is about getting justice for that case.  But really, a guilty verdict would have bigger repercussions.  It may change how all future cases will be perceived

6. What does social proofing tell us?

Many black people are criminals – nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. Black people shot by the police is less shocking for the nation than when white people are shot.  And some people must think that some of the people who got shot brought the situation on themselves.

7. The wild card – $$$ money $$$

I had no clue about this until I researched the topic.  There are multi-million settlements associated with the not guilty verdict: $6.4 million in the case of Freddie Gray for example.

Conclusion: The case is lost even before it is started

Combine all this together and it is easy to figure out why the number of convicted policemen was zero in 2014 and 2015. Actually, only 13 were convicted since 2005.

How to overcome?

If you follow the standard approach you will get the standard result. Break away from the conventional approaches.  Using the race card, appealing to public opinion, to the media does not seem to be a differentiating factor.  Don’t hesitate to use hardball tactics – state that you will not settle. Disrupt the status quo – hire non-conventional lawyers, hire some that are out of state, find a way to pay them that does not incentivize them to settle. And probably the most important, talk to the few families that got a favorable outcome in their trial. Understand what works well, how their lawyer approached the situation, get their lawyer on the case.  Just don’t get the lawyer that represented Trayvon Martin and used a knock-knock joke to open the case.