See What Sticks: Negotiation, Amy Poehler Style


DISCLAIMER: This month's post, on Amy Poehler's Yes Please is geared more toward women than my other, generally more equal-opportunity posts. However, just as Amy warns in the book, that does not reduce its value for any males reading! Stay with me, you may enjoy this too. There are moments in our lives, personally and professionally, where you may be asked to do something you don't want to do, don't believe in, or may not get to perform to your full potential because you haven't been set up for success. How do you respond in those moments? If you're anything like me, you might brush it off quietly, smiling on the outside but silently seething on the inside. However, Amy Poehler unexpectedly inspired me to push back against that feeling in one of my favorite chapters of her new book, Yes Please.

In the chapter "I'm So Proud of You," she recounts a performance where a missed cue compromised the quality of her performance. She tried to stand up for the integrity of what she had written and rehearsed, but was brushed off and haggled with by a producer on the show. What inspired me about the story she went on to recount was not the powerful and brave way that she stood up to the pushy person who compromised her work, but the turmoil she obviously felt while in the encounter...and how she pushed past it to stand up for her needs anyway. So while I fully endorse reading Yes Please in full, I'll attempt to encapsulate my new methodology for negotiation, as informed by Amy Meredith Poehler of Burlington, MA.

  1. Name your concern or problem.
  2. Allow yourself to feel the accompanying feelings.
  3. Acknowledge it's not your problem.
  4. Sit quietly.
  5. Trust your "no."

Name your concern or problem.

When someone is being rude, abusing their power, or not respecting you, just call them out in a really obvious way.

And don't just do this in the "fully articulated to myself, now read my mind and feel my anger!" way that is so easy for us to all do. Do this in a manner that an opposing party can understand- and operationalize. It's extremely hard to respond to the complaint, "________ sucks!" But naming your concern, and naming it to the person who is responsible, is one of the only ways that a feasible solution can be reached.

Allow yourself to feel the accompanying feelings.

Emotions are like passing storms, and you have to remind yourself that it won't rain forever. You just have to sit down and watch it pour outside and then peek your head out when it looks dry.

This can be hard to do in a society that equates feelings with weakness. But to extend, and perhaps counter, the passing rainstorm metaphor, consider instead a sneeze. Sneezes move at roughly 25 miles per hour. Holding in a sneeze is what suppressing emotions can feel like. If you try to silence it or keep it in, you could hurt your chest or ears, or ultimately have it explode with more fanfare than originally intended. Either way, you end up creating more of a disruption than if you had let nature take its own course. For Amy, this meant leaving the scene of the argument and taking refuge in her dressing room; for you, this could be taking a few deep breaths before responding to an email in all-caps, closing the door to your office, or (in extreme cases) retreating to the bathroom or your car. Wherever you go, whatever you do, give the sky a chance to clear before you continue.

Acknowledge that it's not your problem.

I immediately decided that this was not my problem, and the relief of that decision spread across my chest like hot cocoa. Too often we women try to tackle chaos that is not ours to fix.

Remember back at the beginning where I said this piece could be seen as geared toward women but had value for men as well? This is about to be the reason why. The feeling of needing to fix something that we couldn't have anticipated, or aren't responsible for, is a common feeling for anyone in a position where there is a power differential. Women can feel this way when working with men (the reverse can be true too, by the way!), younger staff can feel this way when working with older coworkers or supervisors, new employees can feel this way in the face of more experienced counterparts. Anyone and everyone can have that panicked moment of feeling as though there's something to be fixed. But if there really, truly isn't...if you didn't do anything wrong and the outcome could not have been altered by anything you did...then own that. Sit comfortably in it or stand tall in it, your choice. But own it.

Sit quietly.

Not talking can be hard for me. But I tried it.

This can be the hardest part. Making the decision from step 3 to acknowledge our lack of guilt is one thing; keeping yourself from qualifying it, backpedaling, or apologizing for it is entirely another. In fact, Amy acknowledges that she failed at this stage of the game, but only for a moment before resuming her silence. But there's a lot of power in sitting quietly and letting the other party consider their actions. Allow, as Amy and one of her favorite books, The Gift of Fear, say, the word "no" to me "the end of the discussion, and not the beginning of a negotiation."

Trust your "no".

This is going to sound a lot like step 3, and in a way the two are similar. But they can also be different. Trusting your "no" at the end of a negotiation or altercation like this means mot ruminating later about what you "could have, should have, would have" done differently. There are going to be moments in your career where someone tries to make you feel as though something is your fault, or as though it is your job to clean up their proverbial (or even literal!) mess. Again, if it truly is not, you're within your rights to respectfully but resolutely say so.

A note of caution, however: this strategy is not meant to keep you from exploring new things or to prevent you from stretching outside your comfort zone. Saying no to responsibility for something that isn't your fault, and saying no to opportunity because you're unsure of the outcome, are different. After all, people that do the latter are not Amy Poehler's type of people:

So let's peek behind the curtain and hail the others like us. The open-faced sandwiches who take risks and live big and smile with all their teeth. These are the people I want to be around.

So remember, when it comes to standing your ground in the face of the unjust: trust your no. But when it comes to stepping up in the face of the unknown? Say "yes please."