One year, for my birthday, I wanted to do something novel. So I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. The bridge was conceived in the mid-1800s. It’s a wonder of architectural and graphic design, with a web of thick steel cables and two Gothic towers.
It took the designer and engineer, John Roebling, nearly thirty years to realize his dream of spanning the East River between New York and Brooklyn. The project didn’t get started until 1867 when money was finally appropriated by the legislature and Roebling was named engineer. Nearly two years into the project, he crushed his leg between some dock pilings and a ferryboat. He died of tetanus three weeks later.
His son Washington took over the project, only to suffer nerve damage during an underwater accident that led him confined to a wheelchair. He sat in his Brooklyn Heights house and watched the construction through a telescope, sending his wife down with instructions and drawings to supervise the remainder of the job. Washington himself never set foot on the structure, which took shape only through the actions of other able-bodied people.
The bridge was opened in 1883, sixteen years after John Roebling first began designing the project and twenty-six years from the time that his first rudimentary drawings of towers holding cables took shape in the mid-1850s. The story of the Brooklyn Bridge is a prime lesson in perseverance.
I stepped onto the promenade, a path elevated slightly above the roadway. It was crowded with runners, camera-toting tourists, and New Yorkers on rollerblades. Close up, the bridge was awesome. Each steel cable was as thick as a human being. As I walked slowly across, I was mesmerized by a structure I had lived with for years, but had never bothered to get to know.
The most startling part of my odyssey was turning around to face an exquisite view of Manhattan at sunrise. In all my years on that congested island, it never dawned on me to look at my birthplace from this vantage point. Seeing Manhattan as an island with many connections gave me something much greater than a simple change in optics, frame, or perspective. Suddenly, I had a fundamentally different orientation. The view transformed me.
More recently, I traveled to East Africa. I spent ten days in wildlife preserves, observing animals without bars between us, and walked across the Serengeti plains with spear-carrying Masai warriors as guides. In Tanzania, the horizon is so expansive you can’t help but be stretched to meet it. And sleeping in a tent among the lions, wildebeest, and hyenas changes your point of reference in terms of personal safety.
The last part of our trip was a long drive to meet with a tribe of nomadic people, the Hadza. Just finding their camp was diffiult and dangerous. By the time we arrived, we were tired and broken open. Communicating with tribal members was challenging, as none of the Hadza spoke anything other than their traditional clicking language.
We joined the men as they hunted for honey. They called out to birds that lived in a certain species of tree. The birds called back, helping them locate the right trees. The honey was harvested from inside the bark and consumed immediately. With the women, we learned to dig for tubers, then cleaned and cooked them over a makeshi fire for a shared lunch. We watched how they made bows out of bushes, pounding the crooked branches into shape. We played a gambling game that involved throwing pieces of bark at the root of a tree; we bet pencils and T-shirts, and the Hadza bet untipped arrows.
This way of life was a study in present-moment living. Living among the Hadza was a life-changing experience. These people had nothing but the clothes on their backs, but they were happy. And it felt good to know that a portion of the money we spent on that leg of the trip went to help the Hadza in a legal battle to retain their ancestral lands.
If you’re not able to transform your thinking by leaving a room, crossing a bridge, or visiting a foreign land, try simply changing your routines or your internal frame of reference. Get used to expanding rather than contracting in the presence of anything new, unfamiliar, or unknown. is will also help you naturally expand rather than contract in negotiations.
The negotiating techniques we have explored together all have transformational aspects. They can change us, our negotiation partners, and the world in profound and positive ways. Every time you actively listen to your partner, or speak with clarity, or adopt a broad perspective, or set aside your ego, you are accepting change.
Remember the value of being authentic in negotiations. Know yourself, and work to know and understand your negotiation partner. is includes exploring not only what each of you needs from the negotiation, but why each of you is negotiating.
Each negotiation is an opportunity to be prepared, present, and assertive; to extend compassion, fairness, and kindness to others and to yourself; and, of course, to achieve your goals and satisfy your wants or needs, without sacrificing those of your negotiation partner.
Practice humility, patience, and perseverance. These are the most important tools of a transformative negotiator. In this we way can transform the world, one negotiation at a time.