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Humor and Negotiating

By JB Shelton

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What do billionaire investor Warren Buffet, country music legend Kenny Rogers, and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dave Barry have in common as negotiators? A sense of humor. You can learn from their penchants to make fools of themselves in public, play the game of life lightly but wisely, and exaggerate to a fare-thee-well.

Warren Buffett’s Playful Side

Business students who score invites to Berkshire Hathaway’s headquarters in Omaha spend a privileged day with the mentoring man himself, corporate chairman Warren Buffett. As they tour local Berkshire-owned businesses and share lunch at Buffett’s favorite fast food hang-out, he provides a wealth of information, answering their investment, education and career questions.

The world’s second richest man’s negotiating success has a strong foundation in humor. He goes on to share such nitty-gritty life lessons as:

  • “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked” (consider Enron’s aftermath)
  • “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
  • “Why not invest your assets in the companies you really like? As actress Mae West said, ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.'”

The insightful day ends with a photo shoot, each student choosing one serious and one funny pose. That’s why a charmingly grinning Buffett and the students garner “Wall Street Journal” slide show coverage as they sport fuzzy red reindeer antlers. He gets down on one knee to propose to a much younger woman. Then he imitates the wide-mouthed silent scream from the movie “Home Alone.”

Kenny Rogers’ Gambler’s Advice for Life

Gambling is, after all, a fascinating form of negotiating. I dare you to read these lyrics from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” without singing aloud and without realizing how much his advice applies to your non-Vegas negotiations.

The Gambler

You’ve got to know when to hold’em
Know when to fold’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done.

Negotiating has an inherent stress component. We take ourselves very seriously. Humor balances by relieving tension, enlivening communication and enhancing creativity. This chorus from “The Gambler” is a focused reminder to do our research and be well prepared. Feel that inner strength of self-confidence in making decisions and taking actions. Trust our intuition. Be patient, but know when time’s up and time to move on is now.

Humor and Negotiating by JB Shelton


Copyright © 2012 JB Shelton
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (March, 2012)