Three negotiation tips we can learn from Michael Scott
Good negotiators can be found in many different places, even in the fictional world! This time in our series Unconventional Negotiators will take us all the way to the U.S.A., to a small city in Pennsylvania by the name of Scranton. There is where the famous sitcom The Office is set, which follows the daily life of employees at a small paper company, Dunder Mifflin, for which Michael Scott is the boss.
Michael Scott is an enigmatic and often controversial personality with many apparent flaws. Not many would want to have the infamous character from the sitcom The Office as a boss, friend, or colleague.
Despite Michael’s eccentric character, there is one thing that is undisputed when it comes to Michael Scott: He is a great negotiator. Let’s take a look at three negotiation tips that we can learn from him!
1. Acknowledge the value of putting people at the center of your negotiation strategy
Watching Michael go on sales calls can often leave viewers as well as his colleagues quite puzzled. But what often appears to be endless small talk and unnecessary outings at first, turns out to be of strategic value. Instead of directly going to business, Michael wants to first establish a bond with his clients. He makes jokes, asks clients about their day, and even looks at pictures of their children. Only once a relationship has been built will he go on to discuss business Michael’s approach of concentrating on his negotiation counterparts over the sale at hand also applies to his interactions outside the negotiation process.
Instead of viewing negotiations through a very calculated lens with the sole aim of gaining the upper hand, it is of great importance for Michael to make people feel valued and understand their underlying interests and needs. Whilst many of Michael’s colleagues do not understand his strategy, it is the key success factor that leads him to make many large sales throughout the series. As he says best himself: “Business is always personal, it’s the most personal thing in the world”.
2. Believe in yourself and the value that you bring to the table
You cannot discuss Michael Scott without mentioning his most famous negotiation of the series: The buyout of the Michael Scott Paper Company. This business that Michael started after quitting his job at Dunder Mifflin was objectively not a success. However, after a rough start, they managed to poach many of Dunder Mifflin’s clients which put his former employer in a tight position.
The problems that the Michael Scott Paper Company had caused Dunder Mifflin drove them to make Michael an offer to buy out his company. The first offer made was $12.000, which would seem like a reasonable offer to make for a small and new company with a low market value. But, Michael knew that the position of power he held in the negotiation went beyond the financials of his business to the challenge that he presents to the paper business. By sticking true to his value proposition, he managed to then receive an offer of $60.000 which he subsequently rejected. Instead, he asked for new and improved employment contracts for all of his employees and himself, to which his negotiation counterpart responded is a “multi-million dollar buy-out”. Despite initial bewilderment, Dunder Mifflin agrees to this offer after Michael makes clear and establishes his value in the industry.
This example shows that it is worth getting creative to establish additional leverage in your discussions. Knowing your own worth can get you much more than you think!
3. Establish your unique angle!
It is safe to say that Michael Scott is very passionate about the product that he sells. Nonetheless, when he negotiates with clients, this is not where he places the main focus of the conversation. Throughout the entire series, Dunder Mifflin experiences different struggles within their markets due to not being able to compete with the competitive prices of the large retailers. Instead of competing in a price war his company cannot afford, he focuses the negotiation on the true service that sets Dunder Mifflin apart: Up close and personal customer service. By realizing that this is indeed his true selling point that gives them an advantage over the competition, Michael is still able to close many sales.
Rarely does a negotiator in this series fit the description of unconventional as perfectly as Michael Scott. However, it is undeniable that under his sometimes incomprehensible behavior, he operates by clear strategic principles to generate win-win situations. Maybe this article can inspire everyone to channel some of their inner Michael Scott in their next negotiations as “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”!
What does all of this mean?
At &FLUENCE, we aim to show how negotiation is part of daily life. Negotiation should be seen as a way to build trust and collaboration rather than a conflict between two sides.
This is what our series of Unconventional Negotiators aims to show, that negotiations are present in many different aspects of our lives such as our interactions with family members, colleagues, and salespeople. It even extends to our leisure time when we go to turn on the TV after a long day at work! The moral of the story here is, negotiation can be fun and fruitful. And if Michael Scott can be a great negotiator, so can you!