The Vault

Negotiating a Livelihood

By William Walsh


Is it possible that the very sensitivity that one develops as an Alexander student blocks one's ability to negotiate a winning relationship with work and money? This is not necessarily true, but the converse is also not true: that the sensitivity to excel at teaching guarantees a good working life.

My congress workshop focused on the skills necessary to negotiate for what you need to be successful as an Alexander Teacher. The abilities of a negotiator don't just come naturally with the acquisition of new technical skills. Like any other ability, some have ‘got it,’ some will never ‘get it,’ and others choose it as a learning objective and it grows and develops as they do.

In this summary of the workshop I will look at what negotiation is: the relationship of your thinking to your negotiating skills, when it is appropriate to negotiate, and how to develop the behavioral skills necessary for success. Finally I offer some tips for practising gathered from my own experience of teaching and negotiating within the American business community.

There are many pieces of the puzzle which, if well placed, would contribute to the making of a successful Alexander teaching practice: choosing the right location/community, having the personality and attitude consistent with the self-employed life, having the ability to bridge cultural differences to create a comfortable environment, utilizing the ability to network, finding the courage to declare yourself an Alexander Teacher, and developing the skills to negotiate for your livelihood.

Negotiation can be defined as an exchange

  • services for money
  • services for goods
  • services for services
  • goods for goods

There are several apsects of our professional and personal lives where we may be called upon to negotiate.

We Negotiate:

  • Our teaching space

• if at home:

- coordinating with roommates, your landlord, other tenants, etc.

• if at a studio:

– coordinating with other therapists, an administrator, etc.

– rights (access, privacy, etc.)

– duties (i.e. phone answering, cleaning, promotion, etc.)

  • Our fee structure

• individual rate

• group or series rate

• institutional rate

• workshops/on-going groups

– fees and expenses

– deposit refund policy (dropouts)

  • Groundrules in our teacher/student relationships

• expectations for students

• breaking the groundrules:

– missing appointments

– violating the role of student

– sexual energy in the lesson

– not paying for the lesson

Negotiation is different from normal social interaction. People need to stand up for what they want in a negotiation and this can be disarming. It is quite OK to push for what you want and make demands. Negotiation is a special social dance that, in its extreme, sometimes resembles professional wrestling; it's an awful tussle and both sides take a pretty good beating. There is an old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” This folk wisdom implies that each of us needs to know where we draw the line. Rather than being ‘reactive’ we need to be ‘proactive’; anticipating with our negotiation some future opportunity that looks promising, whereas often what we are actually doing is ‘reacting’ to a boundary that has been crossed.

The challenge is to balance getting what you want and maintaining a healthy working relationship. Fisher and Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project advise: “be tough on the issues and soft on the people.” Skilled and experienced negotiators are less threatened by the confrontation and are more able to personally manage the discomfort of discussing differences.

In dealing with friends, we diminish the possibility of a successful outcome by taking too much for granted. We say “we'll work it out later.” We mix business and play too casually; so that in the middle of socializing we conduct short snippets of business. Friends unconsciously demand new forms. For example, you might typically organise workshops and take three hundred dollars and expenses off the top to cover your administrative time. When you teach in someone else's workshop they would typically do the same. It may be common practice, but friends might not initially understand that. They might think you'll donate that time so you'll get a chance to team teach. Friends are less apt to state “Let's be clear when we're doing business and when we're socializing.”

The Relationship of Thinking and Performance

Our thinking strongly affects our performance. For example: What is your present belief about your ability to negotiate? Can you stay flexible while facing differences? Do you think you can stand up for yourself and get what you need? Do you think there is a possibility for a win for both of you? If any of your answers are no, then you are not ready to negotiate.

An Anatomy of a Negotiation

In a recent consultation, Jennifer says “It's hard to discuss my fees with my students. I'm uncomfortable with it. There is a student Tommy in my group class who is dropping out because the class members are more advanced than he is. I recommended he take some private sessions with me to complement the group lesson, or possibly rejoin the group at a later date. He hasn't gotten back to me.”

Bill: Why haven't you followed up with him?

Jennifer: (Beliefs being exposed) He can't afford it. I can't call him.

Jennifer's Reasoning Behind the Beliefs

I sell my classes by providing a deal they can't refuse! If a group student wants a private lesson, I only charge $25. I don't think he can afford it, so I'm considering telling him I charge less. I am a nurse and I don't want to call people back on the phone because I don't want to be a business (ambulance) chaser.

Assumptions that Jennifer is Making

  • Tom is not at the level where he can decide for himself.
  • He is a child who can't manage his own finances.
  • Tom can't afford private classes.
  • There’s something unprofessional in initiating this discussion by phone.

Her assumptions and beliefs about this situation are driving her decisions. I asked her to be open to the possibility that he could afford the lessons and was quite capable of making his own decisions. In the face of no evidence (they never had this discussion), why not assume the positive?

Jennifer and I entertained the consequences of a positive belief. How might this situation play itself out differently? We then role played and it was obvious in her use and tone when she didn't believe she could create a positive outcome. We discussed it and tried again. She inhibited starting until she believed a positive outcome was possible and was clear about what she wanted. As she practised and paid attention to herself, her attitude improved considerably. When the actual situation unfolded, she initiated the discussion, expressed her financial needs confidently and Tom said: “Oh, is that all you charge? That's great! Maybe I can come twice a week.” It is hard to act differently if your thinking is fixed on one outcome. Think positive and stay flexible!

The poise and freedom we create through the Alexander Technique provides an opportunity to create something new in the future. Why not try to create the situation we desire? This lesson was personally reinforced this summer in Nebraska. Marjorie Barstow, in a feisty moment, slapped me across the back and said “You're being silly Bill. You don't know what you'll do later !”

Starting Point: Preparation

The single most important decision in preparing for a negotiation is to know what you want. This can't be overemphasized. Sometimes you are not sure. For example, if you are looking at spaces for a workshop, you may lack information about what is available and what the costs are. Don't negotiate until you have the information you need to make a decision. If you find a rental space you love and don't know if it will be available later, ask if they'll hold it for an hour while you make some phone calls to quell your concerns. When you have big decisions to make, I recommend a long walk where you repeat to yourself: “What do I really want?” Say it over and over again. Let it be your mantra. Vary the tempo and intensity. Keep appealing to that part of you that does know what you want. You will get answers and the more you stay with it, the higher the likelihood the answer will crystalize.

It is dangerous to negotiate when you don't know what you want. If you negotiate with fellow teachers for a shared space and scheduled hours and you don't really know what your needs are, chances are you'll discover too late. You may accommodate their needs and be less than ‘fair’ to yourself. It's not impossible to call everyone back to the table later, but it is messy. It would be better to make the outcome tentative, such as a trial schedule. Skillful negotiation can only help you when you know what you want!

Skills Necessary to Negotiate Win-Win Transactions:

Clearly know what you want: Be able to state your needs without defending them. Remember, this is more than a rational process. You have a right to what you need. If the workshop is at my residential space, I need everyone out within an hour of the close and the place restored to normalcy before I can eat and relax. Clarifying my needs doesn't make it the other person's responsibility to fulfill them. If I include this in the negotiation of having a workshop at my space, it doesn't become an unexpected bump at the end of a good workshop. If my needs are understood, I feel more flexible. At a recent workshop, soon after its close, I started organizing and cleaning up. Nobody else did, but I felt free to take care of myself.

Be a Gracious Listener: It will be important to a creative solution that you really understand what the other person's needs are . Good listening keeps the emotional tone manageable. Remember, it is natural to have differences and it is unusual to fully understand another's position when it is diametrically opposed to yours.

Gather Around the Problem: The more information you can expose, the better you'll understand the problem. See if you can come around to the same side of the table and together confront the problem. Define it and agree on it. Try brainstorming solutions that would be appealing to both of you, knowing that any ideas put forth are ideas, and not offers.

Give and Take: Work towards solutions that satisfy both of you. Don't give without taking. Make sure you are getting something for what you are giving. Negotiation is an exchange.

Clarify your Understanding of Agreements: It is painful to make agreements that only you keep. For example, question whether that last idea was a tease or an actual offer?

Stay Flexible: Use the Alexander Technique to keep your poise, and when you lose it, take a break. Make a phone call, take a walk, have a tea ceremony; you'll perform better as you take care of yourself.

Build Support: Before you negotiate, discuss your ideas with someone who understands the situation: get them to counter your requests. If you anticipate a rough negotiation that could get bogged down, propose a third party you can both trust to mediate.

Remember: Practice makes Permanent

Knowledge of the above skills will help, but practice makes permanent. We get better at what we do, just like movement patterns. Choosing simple tasks that can be consciously applied is the best way to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones. For example, choosing to tell your taxi cab driver the routes you want to take is a small opportunity to take charge. Building a good track record in small risk situations creates a skill base that can later support taking bigger risks. There are lots of good books on the subject. Fisher and Ury's Getting to Yes is a good beginning and Herb Cohen's You Can Negotiate Anything and Donald Trump's Trump -The Art of the Deal are fun reading for those who enjoy anecdotes.

There are professional workshops for negotiation skill building. A colleague with the same goal is a valuable resource. Consult each other for your planning, bring your colleague to the negotiation with their role defined (i.e.— “I'd like you to observe, but not speak”). Use each other to debrief and review the negotiation. Concentrate on what you did well and what you could do better next time.

Being a good negotiator pays high dividends! Every social or business problem that is avoided due to discomfort is a missed opportunity. You don't need to go out of your way to find situations to practise. Clearing up the wrinkles and bumps in your social and business environment will make your life more expansive. As your skills develop you will become comfortable working out your difficulties, facilitating others or simply watching them work out their own difficulties. Knowing you can make a difference will change everything!

When Herb Cohen talks about power in negotiating he says that if you think you've got it, you've got it. This is not entirely true, but if you're using your thinking power, you certainly will bring out your best performance and increase your probability of success. 


William Walsh has been an independent management trainer and consultant in New York City since 1974. He works with Fortune 500 companies and specializes in influence skills. He teaches courses in negotiation, selling, and conflict resolution, as well as general courses in positive influence. He is a graduate of the Alexander Foundation in Philadelphia. At the Alexander Conference in Switzerland, he gave two lectures on negotiating skills.


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