“We have all been negotiating since we were three years old”

Attending James Smurthwaite's lesson at MScIB

James Smurthwaite negotiating with his students over a vineyard in a final exercise / Photo: ESCI-UPF Archive

Aside from his acting career, James Smurthwaite is an expert coach and communicator who has been working for companies such as L’Oréal, AXA or Disney. It is the fourth consecutive time he has offered a class at ESCI-UPF and every year changes a little bit. However, his classes are far from ordinary.

The students of the Master of Science in International Business (MScIB) had the chance to attend to James Smurthwaite’s lesson on effective communication skills for negotiation.

Smurthwaite likes to keep his students participative by involving them in the very own negotiations he brings to the class as a practice. In order to do that, a full hour is required for a proper warm-up and getting rid of the shyness. He is aware of the dangers of stage frights when it comes to negotiations, for which he blames four main factors:

  • The-unexpected of not knowing when your time to speak will come, the inevitable fact that you will have to talk, the possibility that it is not your usual activity and all the constrictive aspects that are involved as could be speaking in a foreign language.
  • In order to stay calm before a negotiation begins, he suggests a relaxing exercise which requires to breath out for a few seconds and stretch your muscles. But most importantly, he recommends to keep in mind that we have all been negotiating since we were three years old, because every interaction with someone else in life involves a negotiation.
  • Once in the middle of a dialogue, Smurthwaite says that the negotiator should aim for the creation of a climate of confidence as the main process to reach an agreement that is beneficial for both parts. Non-verbal communication is key in order to achieve that, in fact, he believes it constitutes up to 93% of it.
  • By remembering the acronym S.E.X, one should know to pay attention to his own Smile, which is crucial for a climate of confidence, but also to his Eye contact, which helps the other person get recognition and feel listened to. The X stands for the position of your arms and legs. They should never be crossed, as it gives the impression of being on guard, reluctant to cede in any way, in opposition to appearing open and welcoming, which contributes to a better climate of confidence.

Smurthwaite is currently working on a script for a TV series that will be set in Mallorca right after the Spanish Civil War, a conflict he finds quite interesting. When asked about the current issue between the Spanish government and Catalan independentists, he suggested dialogue as the most effective way for the resolution of any conflict. But no matter how complicated a discussion may seem, he believes that a good negotiator should always take the initiative and start the positive spiral.

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