Negotiating with Emotional Intelligence - from Silicon Valley to Board Member at FC Barcelona
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
This week I spent a few days with one of Spain’s top Entrepreneurs & Investors, Didac Lee. Didac is a maverick in every sense of the word. He does not see barriers, he dreams big, and he has built his whole life around “adding value and connecting the dots”. Didac is just as comfortable in a Silicon Valley boardroom with his team of billion dollar investors as he is exchanging ideas with his colleagues and directors at FC Barcelona, or quad biking for 8 hours across the Atlas mountains in Morocco. For Didac, he has just one rule.. “Be Authentic”. This is easy to say but very hard to do when you are in charge of the digital strategy for a club like FC Barcelona (2010 - 2020). In a typical day, Didac may be negotiating with venture capitalists over a stake in the next unicorn of silicon valley or navigating his way through a conversation with the international press interested in getting his perspective on current issues with regards to the digital landscape.
When I asked Didac what “Being Authentic” meant to him, he was keen to discount the textbook definition “being true to yourself” as a nice catch phrase that does not have a deep meaning. Being authentic is the result of many years of hard work, failed meetings, and disappointments which lead to the point of understanding that people are generally smart and they can intuitively tell whether you are being real or not. People only want to deal with people who are real, so you might as well just be you!
I was delighted to be able to spend time together with Didac in Figueres “just kicking it”. I have known Didac for many years and he is one of the most influential and kind-hearted people I have met since living in Spain for 20 years. Time spent with Didac is a Materclass in entrepreneurship and Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation. For this reason, I am happy to share some key learnings from our time together.
1. Create a shared vision
One of the fundamental reasons for Didac’s success is his uncanny ability to manifest his vision in an inspirational way. A key principle in Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation is to build the agreement in the world of your counterpart. Didac has a natural ability to share his visions in ways that allow his collaborators to build value for themselves into the picture.
To demonstrate this, he shared with me his next super project which is to build a foundation incubator for tech entrepreneurs in his beloved town of Figueres. On sharing his vision with investors and partners including the Mayoress, each person was able to see how they could add value to the project in a unique way, hence giving them a sense of ownership and responsibility. The best negotiators know how to build a shared vision, invoking a joint sense of pride in the outcome.
2. Play to the right audience
Have you ever seen the youtube clip of the top concert pianist playing to an unwitting audience of passersby in a busy New York plaza? Members of the public walk by not even taking time to appreciate the sheer brilliance and talent being displayed by the world renowned pianist. Didac shared lesson number 2 with me: Don't invest your time negotiating with the wrong people. Didac’s secret sauce is his ability to assess the parties involved in the negotiation and decide whether to engage. For him, due diligence is an integral part of the process “If you share your vision with the wrong people it is bound to fail so feel free to walk away from those that don't either have the mindset or the desire to work with you” This ties in with the second principal of Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation; You cannot seek to convince your counterpart, only understand them. Focussing on this principal gives you the tools to enter a negotiation from a balanced position characterised by a sense of “non-neediness”. It will also help you determine your Brink Point in a negotiation and simply walk away from the deal.
3. Your cannot bring an emotional case into a logical debate
As a serial investor, Didac is always making big decisions on where and when to invest, he explained that some of his top decisions are made with his “gut” and cannot always be explained with logic. Trying to explain this to someone who is focussed on logic would lead to continued misunderstandings. But what many people may not know is that that “gut” has been trained over 1000’s of hours of deal making and negotiation.
He explained that when investing in start-ups there's room for a balanced, logical approach which requires focussing on the fundamentals of the company and performing due diligence studies. But even the best looking deal could fall through based on a gut feeling he may get after meeting the company founders. Emotion plays a further part in the investment world once the company floats on the stock market, it is free to sail on the whims and caprices of the market sentiment.
In a negotiation it is important to make sure that you are using the same criteria to evaluate the elements of the deal otherwise you can never see things objectively. If the your counterpart is using an emotional metric system to measure the value of a deal, seek to understand that system and try to move the discussion to a more objective framework
4. Don't take the first NO as a final NO
This was one of my favourite insights from Didac. Whether he is buying a warehouse for his next project or negotiating an exit from an investment, he is never uncomfortable to hear the word “No” . In deeper discussion at the dinner table we went into the tenuous relationship many people have with the word “No”. Didac explained, “ A No to me means “not this way”.. So that translates in my head as let's find another way?” Some of Didac’s most successful endeavours have come from his ability to recognise “No” as an invitation share and discover more about the deal and the stakeholders involved. In his brilliant and perhaps counterintuitive book ‘Start with No’, Jim Camp talks about No being the beginning of the negotiation process, not the end. I remember when Didac first told me that he wanted to become a director of FC Barcelona, at that time he had nothing but a dream and burning desire. 5 years later he was a respected board member of the club, I wonder if that would have happened had he listened to all of the people that said “No”
5. Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation
As we drew to the end of our evening chat Didac dropped the big one on me! “ The secret of a good deal is lack of focus” Yes you heard it right, a lack of focus. To illustrate this point, let me paint a picture of what happened the next day.
On the back of a conversation about spotting deals and joining the dots, he and I went out for a morning quad bike trek. The route took us through the forest and onto the open road where we were able to burn some adrenaline in our endeavours. On the way back from the trek, Didac stopped, circled back and parked in front of a well kept plot of land with a farmhouse nestled into the back. There was a for sale sign neatly attached to the front gate. Only 2 days before I had expressed an interest in knowing the average price of country houses in this area but on this trek I had been so focussed on getting home that I completely missed this gaping invitation to discover the answer to my enquiry. Didac explained that when he de-focusses from the fine detail and takes more of an unstructured look at the deal his ability to connect the dots is enhanced tenfold. Another tenet of Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation, is not to be so prepared and expectant on one outcome that you may actually miss out on a key part of the interaction that could lead you to something better.
As a tech investor, entrepreneur, mentor, board member, director and adventure seeker, Didac has a reputation for helping others and using emotional intelligence to build collaborative bridges of empathy with all who deal with him. I asked him what lasting piece of advice he would give to people who are seeking to improve their abilities to connect with others and create profitable negotiation outcomes. Says Didac, “It is not enough to just show up, present the terms of a deal and hope that both parties will agree; a successful partnership needs to be cooked. This requires understanding the interests and drivers of the counterparts and actively working to build the deal together.”