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Lincoln’s Hat: Negotiating With Presidential Self-Confidence

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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Tall fellow, sporting a Mad Hatter chapeau and a gentler-than-Mona Lisa smile, stands on the White House steps. Requesting a favor is both a popular sport and a serious business for the citizens seeking Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom, kindness and power. He tips his hat, turns and walks inside, where he meets with a fortunate few in his office. (For you budding history buffs, there was no Oval Office; the 16th President’s office is now designated the Lincoln Bedroom.)

Think of yourself as among the chosen, trying to convince Lincoln that your cause is worth his time and attention. What favor do you seek? How will you prepare to convince him to grant your request? Are you at the ready to negotiate confidently with him? What will you learn from the encounter to broaden your 21st century negotiating success?

Lincoln’s Hat

Shortly after Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, he and his cabinet members were given leather portfolios embossed with their names in gold leaf lettering. A man who perfected his own image, his black stovepipe hat was taller than those commonly worn, with the brim flattened to enhance his 6’4″ height. Unlike the fancy briefcase, Lincoln explained it was the perfect place to carry about important papers while leaving his hands free to gesture.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”
Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln lived long before the term branding would be applied to creating personal and business identities. He was a 19th century example of success in applying and publicizing his expertise, abilities and competencies to differentiate himself from other politicians. He epitomized self-confidence in appearance and manner, written and spoken word, and professional relationships.

Resolve to create your brand in three steps. Know what you stand for. Focus on what makes you stand out. Market yourself to advance your career.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
Abraham Lincoln

The quiet part of negotiating successfully is often underrated. Do your research. Organize your thoughts. Clarify your goals. Role-play your conversations with colleagues. Practice your presentations. By so doing, you will be in the enviable position of knowing what to say and how to say it. Of equal importance is knowing when to remain silent. Your silence will often give you control of your own behavior, helping to avoid missteps and misunderstandings. Silence forces your opponent to wait on your terms, increasing your command and lessening his self-confidence.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Abraham Lincoln

Steven B. Wiley, president and founder of the The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, is a renowned authority on Lincoln. He shared these essential points about Lincoln as a negotiator who knew how to treat people without foolishness.

  • Be authentic and concise.
  • Keep your principles.
  • Know your audience. Don’t talk over their heads.
  • Rejuvenate a conversation with anecdotes, true or created for the occasion.
  • Use humor and storytelling to heal.

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.”
Abraham Lincoln

We negotiators have our own opportunities to be motivators, peacemakers and good people. Lincoln’s legacy will always have historic importance we ordinary mortals never imagine achieving. We do, however, hold the power of acting on our own attitudes and ambitions in our negotiations.

“When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say,”
Abraham Lincoln

Negotiate, thoughtfully!

JB Shelton Photo
JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton) is a journalist based in Raleigh and Oxford, NC. She writes about children growing up and grownups reinventing themselves. JB teaches Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of JB Shelton-Spurr is available on Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].

Copyright © 2013 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2013  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (February, 2013)