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  • Attia Qureshi

When most people think about negotiation, they compare the interaction to playing poker. Maybe you’ve heard some of these phrases: “You want to hold your cards close to your chest so as not to show your hand.” So, understandably so, showing enthusiasm is often seen as a weakness -- but that’s where many get it wrong.


This week in my Power & Negotiation class at MIT Sloan, I led a discussion with my students on the delicate balance between showing excessive enthusiasm versus playing hard to get in a negotiation. One question brought up by students was: “Do I show too much of my hand if I am enthusiastic in a negotiation?” The short answer is, no, showing enthusiasm during a negotiation is a great thing. Just make sure to be strategic about it and use it to your advantage.


Sure, you don’t want to go into a job negotiation saying: “OH MY GOSH, I love your company SO much and will do and accept anything to work here. Please PLEASE just take me.” This is a bad move because you’re giving the employer permission to give you a crappy deal - and we don’t want any crappy deals around here.


Similarly, it’s not a great look to go into the same negotiation playing hard to get by sending this kind of message: “Yeah, this opportunity could be cool, but I’ve got other options so you’ll need to offer me a pretty good deal.” This move will make your counterpart question why you’re even there.


I do want you to go into a negotiation and showcase enthusiasm. In doing so, you’re saying: “I think the people, culture and company are awesome and I’m excited by the opportunity to work with you.” This will make them feel great about having you join the team, and they will want to work harder on your behalf.


The right tone to strike in a negotiation can be pretty well summed up in the age-old dating advice “just be yourself,” or to quote Polonius from Hamlet “to thine own self be true.” If you have dated in the 21st century, you have probably found that it is important not to be the obsessive lover or the haughty beloved, but to build a partnership in which you and your significant other each authentically express your needs and devotion.


This spectrum can also be observed by looking at a few characters from Parks and Recreation, which I have illustrated below. Let’s take a look at a few of these memorable characters, each of whom shows a different level of enthusiasm, to see how things work out for them.

Although Tom Haverford is generally disengaged from his work in the Pawnee Parks and Recreation office, he is always desperate to be liked by his coworkers and regularly takes part in new entrepreneurial schemes. His character consistently jumps into foolish enterprises and makes pretty bad deals, all so he can be included. I don’t want you to do that. In a negotiation, you can still be liked while getting a good deal.


On the flip side, Ann Perkins generally plays hard to get, thus missing out on several opportunities. Her character lacks self confidence but can often be misinterpreted as too self-involved or distant to be a part of the team. This leads to a lower level of enthusiasm, which makes people believe she doesn’t want to take part. You want to be a team player, so don’t do that either.


And then we have our beloved Leslie Knope. She gets a lot accomplished by showing tons of enthusiasm, which helps get others on board with her plans. While her enthusiasm can be a bit much, she knows exactly what she wants and has the unshakeable confidence to pursue her goals. It would be hard to have her level of enthusiasm — certainly don’t — but Leslie is a great example of the power of authentically expressed enthusiasm.


I like Leslie Knope as an example of how showing enthusiasm can do a lot to help you to get what you want. By showcasing enthusiasm, you are offering an olive branch in a negotiation. Enthusiasm really helps build goodwill and makes others want to mimic your behavior as they are excited by your attitude. Because of this, authentic enthusiasm is an excellent tool to use in negotiations, as it can have your counterpart revealing more of their incentives, putting you in a better position to meet their needs.


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  • Attia Qureshi

As part of Women’s History Month, I was one of five women spotlighted at MIT Sloan. I am honored by the nod, and I want to take a moment to shine the light on some of the women who have helped me get where I am and who continue to inspire me to be better every day.


Jordan Sale. Through her work with 81cents, Jordan is making strides to reduce the pay equity gap and offering women free negotiation advice from experts in the field. She's such a model for advancement in the field.


Sheila Heen. Since meeting Sheila in 2016, she has remained an inspiration for what I hope to achieve in the field of negotiation. She has built a successful consulting company and is a respected author and lecturer at Harvard. She paved the way, showing me how to be a strong, badass boss lady.


Collette Champagne. After working with Coco, I have gained a new understanding of what it means for a company to take care of its people. She is a model for empathetic and effective leadership.


Stacey Abrams. I don’t know her personally, but I deeply admire Stacey's knowledge, capabilities and grit. She has made real change through force of will, epitomizing how to get shit done. I’d love to make as big of an impact as she has one day.


#womenempoweringwomen#womenshistorymonth



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Earlier this week, a shooting in Atlanta, Georgia killed eight people, a majority of whom were Asian women. Just two months ago, rioters broke into the US Capitol building, railing against the democratic process our country was founded upon. In another two months, we’ll mark one year since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whose death sparked renewed fervor for a nation-wide reckoning with racial justice.


These devastating events, the kind that shake us to our core, don’t seem to stop. In recent months, I have heard from friends, clients, and colleagues suffering from high anxiety, sleepless nights, and an inability to concentrate.


When digging deeper with my clients, I learned that many of their organization’s leaders haven’t brought up these events with their teams. That is a mistake. These events are impacting at least one if not all of the members of your team. They are sensitive and stressful topics, so I see how someone may be afraid to broach the subject. However, to ignore these traumatic events does a disservice to your team. A good company culture recognizes that before their role as employees, they are first humans. Here are my recommendations for how to welcome a dialogue about these moments of national trauma:



  1. Dedicate time. Schedule time dedicated to letting your team talk about the event. A simple 30-minute Zoom meeting is a good start. Let your team know what the topic for discussion is, and make attendance optional.

  2. Establish psychological safety. Start off the conversation by setting expectations that you want to provide an open, safe space for them to bring up the topic and anything difficult around it. Ask them all to agree to keep everything confidential in the space, and be respectful of all opinions shared even if they diverge. Have your team give you a verbal “yes” or thumbs up as agreement —- the act of agreeing matters, because it holds us more strongly to our word.

  3. Encourage vulnerability. The easiest way to invite vulnerability is to start the conversation by sharing your feelings. Open up about your struggles with what has happened and the impact it has had on you. Seeing you display vulnerability in this way will invite others to do the same and help the group feel comfortable sharing.

  4. Ask open-ended questions. Ask your team about the impact the event had on them, and if there are specific aspects of the events they’re struggling with and how they are coping with the feelings they are having. Make sure that you’re asking open-ended questions that give people space and freedom to respond. For example, “How has it impacted you?” or “Is there something in particular that is sticking out to you or repeatedly running through your head repeatedly?”

  5. Guide the discussion. Allow the conversation to flow naturally, but guide it back to the main topic if the conversation becomes too entrenched in one area. Questions like “How are you managing the stress of that?” or “What else has been on your mind?” are both examples of ways to help move away from getting bogged down on one aspect.

  6. Don’t forget to wrap-up. If you find that you are running out of time, don’t make the mistake of ending the meeting abruptly. Take a minute to thank your team for sharing and give thoughtful, positive affirmations for the way they handled the dialogue. Examples of this are to say, “Thank you for taking the time to discuss this, I found what you shared to be very positive, productive, open, vulnerable, etc.” Make sure to let your team know that if they would like to have another group discussion, you can arrange it. Lastly, let them know that you’re available to discuss anything further individually as well.

  7. Provide Resources. If your organization has them, remind your team of any resources that they can access. For example, does HR have an internal document with stress management techniques or mental health resources that you can share? Some companies have started offering “mental health days” that require no justification for employees to take the day off. You could look into advocating for this or perhaps you can offer a few hours off during the week.


Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll see how just one 30-minute conversation can help your team both individually and as a group. Providing them a safe space to discuss what’s on their mind allows them to shed some of the burden they’ve been carrying from this event and refocus on work. These structured conversations also come with the added benefit of making your team feel more connected to each other and ultimately drive a more inclusive, transparent, and tight-knit culture.




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