Become a better negotiator by thinking like a dancer

3 Surprising Ways Negotiation Is Like Dancing by @DevonMSmiley

Become a better negotiator by thinking like a dancer


by Devon Smiley | Featured Contributor

At first glance, cutting a rug across the dance floor, and negotiating the best rates and agreements for your business couldn’t be more different from one another. After all, what on earth could doing the cha-cha have to do with bringing in the cha-ching in business?


Turns out – a lot.

Let’s get you dancing towards a business result that’s worthy of applause.


1. Pick Your Partner Carefully

Dancing with someone of similar size can help you remain in step, and same goes for negotiation. It’s a lot easier to keep your discussion moving in a healthy direction when neither one of you has to be too uncomfortable in accommodating the other. Experience matters as well. Just as you wouldn’t partner up with a newbie for the ballroom championships, selecting to negotiate with someone who’s too green should be avoided. You may find yourself backing down from what you need to achieve in order to be kind – or – you may persist, but feel uneasy about taking advantage of their inexperience. Neither is a great path forward to your best results.

By choosing to negotiate with someone who is in approximately the same place in terms of size and experience, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to take turns leading the discussions, working together to waltz your way towards an agreement that works for both of you.


2. Dance To The Same Song

How embarrassing would it be to show up for the big show in a tutu…and have your partner in tap shoes? Oops.

In a negotiation, setting clear expectations for what the two of you are working towards is important. It will impact what each of your targets are, your timelines and even the style you use to engage. If you’re in pursuit of a one-time deal and your negotiation partner is working towards a long-term agreement…you’re bound to hit some bumps along the way. Get on the same page from the beginning to help ensure a smooth process and optimal result.

Even when you’re dancing to the same song with a negotiation partner, you can still lose the beat and fall out of sync. When that happens and discussions stall, or become heated – talk about it. Take a step back, figure out where the blip occurred and then re-start the song and give it another try. It may take a few restarts to take you from beginning to end in your discussions, but you’ll get there. Practice makes perfect in the studio and in the boardroom.


3. Watch Your Step

Just like an ideal dance partner, a great negotiation partner will be supportive, flexible, and collaborative. They won’t mind the occasional head bump, or toe-squish…it happens to everyone, especially as we’re just getting to know each other and our unique styles. But if either one of you makes a habit of ignoring cues from the other, getting hot under the collar, or showing disrespect, your discussions and your deal will fall apart rather quickly.

Avoid ending up a wallflower by focusing on listening to what your partner is saying, and then adjusting your approach accordingly. If you make a misstep, admit it, apologize and then learn from your mistakes. The sooner you realize you’ve stumbled and take action to correct it, the sooner you can get back into the swing of things.


An important factor in your success as an entrepreneur is having a dance card full of people who want to do business with you, and being able to select negotiation partners that are a good fit, setting clear expectations of the discussions, and being aware and respectful of their needs is the best way to achieve that. Put these three elements into play, and you’ll be getting a standing ovation in no time.


What’s been your best negotiation match-up? How did you find your rhythm? If you could pick your ideal partner, who would it be? What would you be negotiating? 


Devon Smiley – Negotiation Coach & Consultant

Devon Smiley - Negotiation CoachWith over a decade of corporate experience, Devon has negotiated $1000 product returns, multi-million dollar procurement deals -and everything in between. Her experience is distilled into spot-on analysis and actionable advice for companies of all sizes, bringing them the benefit of her laser focus on results and strong strategy development skills.

Devon is a firm believer that no business is ever too small to negotiate, and she gets a kick out of helping entrepreneurs uncover ways to bump their results up a notch (or two!), and build the skills and confidence they need to ask for – and get – what they need to achieve their best yet results. Knowing that many entrepreneurs struggle with figuring out how negotiation can help them move their business forward, Devon created the ‘3 Must Do Business Boosters’ guide to jumpstart the process.

A proud graduate of McGill University’s undergraduate business school and Northeastern University’s MBA program, Devon is an avid student and life-long learner, with professional certificates in both operations management and French language.

Devon lives in Montreal with her dog Jack, but is a Parisienne at heart, with a great love for all of the history, culture and croissants the city has to offer. A keen admirer of fashion and art, Devon is happiest when soaking up inspiration at the Louvre, sipping espresso at her local café, or strolling down the boulevards catching glimpses of the Eiffel tower.

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