Talley Henning Brown works as Editor at Daggerwing Health. She attended Improv Your Way to Negotiation Prowess workshop and was kind to share what she learned from the experience in this excellent guest post:


Philosophies abound about how women should approach the many difficult angles of “empowerment in the workplace.” It’s 2014, so at this point, the entire female workforce has grown up in the age of “women’s studies” and every perspective that movement has birthed. What I have found in my adult life is that most of those perspectives are just a little too limited — and thus limiting.

I can’t help it, I want the sky, not just a piece of it. But the thing is, my definition of “sky” may be different than another woman’s. And that’s the first, and possibly most important, thing I have to say about Jamie’s approach to this sticky issue. She understands that there is not one single definition, not one single right answer. Every situation, like every woman, is unique. There is no exact formula.

But there are tools from which we all can benefit, tools to which we all have access, if we simply know where to find them, and how to use them. And here is where Jamie is at her best.

A refrain that Jamie repeats throughout her workshop, in various iterations, is that we all have these tools, these abilities, within us. We use them every single day, often every hour, in both our professional and our personal lives — either to good effect or ill. We just don’t realize that we’re doing it. Jamie’s expertise, and her particular gift, are in helping each woman to come to the realization, and to hone those abilities.

To get into specifics, I’ll say that 30 seconds into her first exercise, I felt like I had learned something absolutely invaluable. It was so huge, in fact, that I felt like laughing out loud. And it was the single most important lesson I came out of the workshop with, because it helped to inform every other exercise we played with that evening. Namely: that a negotiation does not have to be a David-and-Goliath–style confrontation. It doesn’t have to be one person (woman) trying to prove her worth — which should already be evident in her record — in order to wrestle something she wants (deserves) from someone who doesn’t want to give it up. It can be a mutually beneficial exchange. An opportunity for mutual growth.

Granted, there’s no script for achieving a mutually beneficial exchange. It depends on the woman, and on the other party, and on the thousand needs and desires they both may hold. But that’s what makes Jamie’s improv format so appropriate — what else do you do without a script?

But before I lead anyone into thinking that all Jamie does is play-act at negotiation scenes, I will also mention that I was more than a little impressed at the level of scientific method she has interwoven with her improv approach. She has read the studies, determined which ones truly speak to an effective, real-world approach, and then somehow found a way to put those lessons into a playful, non-threatening, even fun exercise of personal empowerment.

And that’s another thing I think is important. I said a second ago that I felt like laughing out loud. I didn’t laugh out loud, because I felt a little shy in a group of five other women I’d just met. (And so were they, it was obvious.) I could say that Jamie is very good at helping people feel at ease, but honestly, it’s more — her presence and her manner of interacting makes it hard to feel otherwise. By an hour into the workshop, the room was full of laughter and easy voices.

So, what did I learn?

  • (The first thing, which I mentioned before) Negotiation does not have to be David and Goliath. It can (and should) be an entirely different conversation. The painful, and ultimately empowering, thing is that it’s in your hands to make it a different conversation.
  • Knowing exactly what you want is essential. Specifics can only help you, not hurt you.
  • A single conversation does not have to be the end of the negotiation process.
  • A failure can set you up for a (possibly bigger and better) success in the near future.

I’ve described what I learned only in generalities. I did that on purpose, because I really think you should check out one of Jamie’s workshops for yourselves. Seriously, bring a friend! I know I’ll be going back.