August 10, 2020

Lifecamp Newsletter #5

How to find happiness, negotiate effectively, gather useful feedback, go fast, and change the world

Hi friends,

I hope you’re doing well. Parenting duties have been in full swing for me this month, so I have had much less time to read or write than usual. I managed to publish a short article on a little thing called happiness, though. More info on that below — I hope you enjoy it.

Although my son is only two months old, he is already very engaged in the world, and I am learning to see the world through a different pair of eyes. It’s super-fascinating to see what captures his interest, and I can’t wait to start teaching him things.

Anyway, enough preamble. On with the show…

A PERMA-nent Formula for Happiness

I am a big believer in the power of positive psychology. (Not be confused with toxic positivity, which denies people’s true feelings, is emotionally harmful, and can be found all over social media; “Just shrug it off and grind, bro, “#nobaddays, etc.)

Positive psychology is about acknowledging the good you already have in your life without pretending that bad things don’t happen. It can help you understand your personal values and identify things you are grateful for. And gratitude is gold; it is the currency of happiness. 

One of the shining examples of positive psychology is the PERMA model developed by Martin Seligman in the 1990s. It’s a simple framework that can help you figure out what to focus on to enjoy true, long-lasting happiness and contentment. I have written a short primer on it here. 

If you want to get more out of life, the PERMA model is a great place to start. Look through the five areas it covers and see which one(s) you would like to have more going on in. Work towards adding activities in those areas, and you should naturally become happier in the long-term as a result.  

The Art of Negotiating

Recently a new supplier dropped the ball on a marketing project I had commissioned. They delivered it late due to production issues, which caused it to fall flat. Despite this, they still wanted the five-figure invoice paying in full. No way was that going to happen, so I had to negotiate some compensation. The project had some impact, so my goal wasn’t to get the invoice wholly voided. I was willing to pay a fair price that reflected the value it delivered, but I expected a hefty discount.

Within a couple of days, I reached an amicable agreement, resulting in a final bill that was a fraction of the original fee. That meant the supplier had to eat a loss. Despite this, there was no tension during the negotiation, and we remain on good terms. They even offered me future business at a discount. Here’s how I did it:

First, I asked them to provide me with a report explaining the delay in delivery. This report made it clear that blame lied with the supplier, so I used it as leverage during our negotiation. 

Second, I have historical data from similar projects that gave me a reasonable expectation of how the campaign should perform. These two pieces of information (the incident report and the historical data) meant I could present a clear argument about the amount of value the campaign delivered. 

Once I had determined this figure, I used it as the basis for my negotiations and decided to be resolute. Despite repeated pleas from the supplier to meet them in the middle with no rationale, I calmly and politely stuck to my guns. In the end, they relented, took the hit, and I paid a fair price for the work. This result saved me a good chunk of money. At the same time, the supplier learned valuable lessons about weak points in their operations. 

Here’s the takeaways fro the experience that can be used for effective negotiation:

  • Have a strong case and communicate it clearly with specifics. You need to have a rationale behind your position. 
  • Decide on your line in the sand, and don’t go over it. If your argument is robust, you can be unwavering with it.
  • Don’t give more information than you need to in any exchange. The more information you provide, the more likely it is someone can leverage it against you. Stick to the relevant facts only. Don’t spill your guts. Always have some powder dry in case the opposing party comes back with a counter.
  • Be firm, but cordial. Don’t get personal. The other person is only doing their job. It’s not about them, it’s about what happened and about what’s fair. 
  • Don’t play power games. If your case is strong, you don’t need them. If it isn’t, you probably shouldn’t be making it. Be cooperative, but stand your ground.
  • Beware of “meet in the middle.” It’s lazy negotiating without a rationale. Negotiate based on received value and where fault lies.
  • Whoever cares less, wins. This is the golden rule of negotiation.

Which brings me to my book recommendation for the month. If you want to brush up your negotiation skills, read Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. Voss is an ex-FBI hostage negotiator who spent years honing his craft at the highest stakes before writing the book, a masterclass in negotiation. It’s not just about his experience as a hostage negotiator. It is full of practical advice that applies to everyday situations we all face in our professional and personal lives, many of which aren’t typically acknowledged as being negotiations. 

The Gift of Feedback

I write and talk all the time about self-awareness. It’s such a powerful meta-skill that makes navigating different areas of your life and reaching your potential that much easier. The thing is, it can be difficult to develop. Even those of us who work super-hard on understanding ourselves still have our blind spots. That is why one of the best gifts someone can give you is honest feedback. 

We like our friends to be supportive. But the friends we value most are the ones that will tell us the hard truths we need to hear. Sometimes these truths can be tough to take, because of ego. But if we are prepared to listen, they can unlock blind spots and accelerate our personal growth in a rare and precious way. Sometimes, a few words can have the power to make you see yourself differently and be an important turning point in your life. 

Improved self-awareness was one of my goals for this year, so I undertook a 360 review at work and emailed a short set of questions to gather feedback from people in different areas of my life. What came back was incredibly useful and has helped me to re-calibrate my perception of some aspects of myself. I consider myself an introvert and don’t usually identify as being much of a people person. So it was a pleasant surprise to find out that one of my most commonly perceived strengths is my interpersonal skills. 

This is the beauty of feedback. Many people are scared to hear it out of fear it will be bad. But you need to get over that fear and avoid being defensive, because on the other side of it lies a form of enlightenment. If you take the plunge to ask for personal feedback, you will learn about your blind spots, many of which will be positive. Then you can use what you learn to steer yourself into well-aligned opportunities, persuade people of your strengths, and sell yourself in situations like job interviews or project pitches.

If you want to give this a shot, here’s a set of five questions you can use. Send them to five people in your professional network and five in your personal life. I promise you, what you get back will be super-helpful.

  • What one word or phrase describes me best?
  • What do you think is my greatest achievement?
  • What do you value most about me?
  • What one thing could I change for my own benefit?
  • What do you believe is my greatest strength?

How Fast Can You Go?

A wide-reaching impact of the Coronavirus is an acceleration of trends and changes that were inevitably coming sooner or later. Businesses (especially retail) switching from physical to digital, struggling companies going bust, and make or break tests for relationships as people went into lockdown together are all examples of fated outcomes being accelerated by the virus. Now the immediate reaction to the outbreak has passed, and lockdowns are being relaxed, people are searching for ways to adapt to the new environment until a vaccine is discovered. 

Making critical adjustments on short time-frames can be daunting. The time component adds an extra layer of stress to the decision-making process that can result in missteps. If you are making changes in your life or setting up new initiatives and wondering, “How can I possibly make this happen in the time I have?” here’s a boost of inspiration for you. 

Stripe CEO Patrick Collison’s website has a list of audacious projects that were accomplished on mind-blowingly short time-frames. Here’s a couple of highlights to whet your appetite:

  • Disneyland was brought to life in just 366 days. 
  • The first generation iPod shipped 290 days after the project was greenlit. 
  • The first iteration of the Visa card was launched and had 100,000 customers just 90 days after its inception. 

There are many more amazing examples of getting shit done quickly on his website. Bookmark it and revisit whenever you’re having a “there’s no way this can be done” moment and need a sharp shot of motivation.

Final Thought

Something I have been musing on recently is that without non-conformists, there would be no progress. When we are children, we have no concept of society’s rules, so we are 100% ourselves. Growing up is a process of discovering who we are while also tempering our authentic selves as we learn to function within the acceptable bounds of society. There is a tension there, but our true self never goes away. It exists in full under the surface at all times.

Except for true renegades, even those who consider themselves non-conformists often keep their personal views on the down-low for fear of tall poppy syndrome. And supposedly rebellious subcultures often have a strong streak of conformity to them, commonly expressed in their dress code. For example, one of the most mortifying things a cool, rebellious teenager can experience is being dressed out of step with the latest fashion. And you don’t see many people wearing brightly coloured clothing at heavy metal concerts. Such is the value of conformity in society. 

But perhaps there should be more acceptance and encouragement of non-conformity. For, if conformists can be described as people who follow the status quo, nothing would ever change in a world full of conformists. It stands to reason, then, that change and progress are driven by the non-conformists in society. 

So, if you want society to progress, you should embrace your non-conformist self. That doesn’t mean rejecting everything that exists in a nihilistic fashion, being difficult with people, or rejecting the past and championing every new thing that comes over the horizon. But it does mean embracing your individualism, challenging assumptions, and questioning conventional wisdom and the rules we currently live by. Only then can you truly live life on your own terms. Which brings me to this month’s sign-off quote:

“A genius is one who is most like himself.”  – Thelonious Monk

Until next time, keep discovering yourself and that which brings you joy.