Erica Ariel Fox is a long-time lecturer at Harvard Law School where she teaches negotiation, and a founding partner at Mobius Executive Leadership. After nearly two decades of experience training and advising senior executives, she developed the Winning from Within method—and subsequently wrote a book by the same name—that teaches people to negotiate effectively with themselves to derive more from their personal and professional endeavors.
How did Mobius Executive Leadership come into being and what's its niche?
Mobius stands at the bridge of business professional development and personal growth. I founded Mobius with my sister, who is the CEO, Amy Elizabeth Fox. We have different but complementary backgrounds because my sister is trained as a psychotherapist and I'm trained as a lawyer.
We both got interested in leadership development—she was coming at it from a psychology background and focused on emotional intelligence and relationships; I was trained in negotiation at Harvard Law School, which focused more on practical behavior skills, and improving action in terms of training and development. We felt there was a need for T&D at the intersection that would look at the personal and psychological level, and also the practical and business application.
We look at mindsets and behavior in our training programs as parts of action and reflection, being and doing. We try to balance the inner life of the leader with his outward performance.
There is a trend of moving away from the war for talent, meaning hiring the best people, to the war for talent in developing the best people. My sense is that T&D professionals know that skills training can help their people to a certain point, but now the next mountain to take in terms of professional development is combining learning new behavior along with evolving the internal drives that motivate behavior.
Why is it so hard for people to negotiate?
When people hear the word negotiation, they often imagine two people on different sides, whether you're buying a car or negotiating for a salary raise. But the most important negotiations, I believe, are actually the negotiations that you have with yourself.
The reason why those negotiations are so hard is because most of us have a relatively low level of self-understanding. Even though a lot of training talks about raising self-awareness, most of us don't really know what self means, and we don't know that much about what awareness means. So when you put them together and talk about raising self-awareness, it's pretty vague.
I wrote Winning From Within to take out the mystery and give businesspeople a map to their inner self and inner life, and a toolkit for raising awareness of what's happening in your inner life so that self-awareness can become accessible and something people can develop.
My belief is that, as people learn about self-understanding and self-discovery, negotiating with yourself becomes easier. And in turn, all the negotiations you have with other people will also be more successful.
What tips can you offer about giving and receiving feedback?
We have four key inner negotiators: dreamer, thinker, lover, and warrior. People tend to use only one or two of their inner team, their inner negotiators, when they give feedback. And that's a mistake.
My advice is to use all four. You use your lover to make connection, to establish contact with the other person. You use your dreamer to encourage them or inspire them with a vision of what will be better in their job or career if they make these changes. Use the warrior to give advice about making changes, but then use the thinker at the end to test, "Did you understand what I'm saying?"
If you use those inner negotiators—what I call the big four—the feedback will be much more likely to have the impact you want.
Why is it that people tend to use only one or perhaps two of their inner negotiators?
There are two things going on. One is that throughout our lives, we have success doing a certain set of things more than other things—and we get positive feedback, so we often overdevelop those strengths.
For example, you're an HR professional trying to be a partner to a business unit leader. But you've underdeveloped your analytical tools for thinking like a businessperson, and your soft skills aren't valued by your business partner—so you're kind of stuck. When in fact, you do have that capability; you probably just left it behind a while ago.
The second reason is that a lot of corporate education tools use typing systems that tend to put people in a box—you are red or blue or green or yellow or you're an INTJ [an introverted intuitive thinking judging individual, according to Myers-Briggs]. Colleagues know who the green people are and who the blue people are. If someone has to give an inspirational talk to the team, employees say, "Well, don't ask Mary because she's not blue or yellow." The opportunities you get at work after that can be influenced by the box they put you in. It's hard to break.
Of course you have natural strengths, and yes, your life has led you to develop those strengths. However, you have the full range of human capability in you. It's just living in you right now as potential.
What are the differences between negotiating with yourself and with others?
I think it's remarkably similar, the process of negotiating internally and externally, once you recognize that your inner negotiators operate quite like different people sitting around a conference table. The main difference is when you negotiate with other people and there's a conflict, it's very obvious. If I give you a proposal and you give me a counterproposal, I can see on a piece of paper where the disagreements are. When you have conflict between inner negotiators, you have to dig beneath the surface to understand it and recognize it.
What I found oftentimes when I was writing my book was that I would just have this vague sense of feeling anxious and I'd notice that I was procrastinating, and then I would feel more anxious.
If I reflected on it, I could tell that it was because my warrior wanted me to keep working on a chapter so I would meet a deadline. My inner lover was saying, I want to connect with my husband since I haven't seen him for three days. My inner warrior and lover were in a conflict, which—once I realized it—I could then decide.
Should I keep working, or take a break and go out to dinner and come back and work? I can cut a deal between the lover and warrior, but I still have to do the work to recognize that beneath the anxiety and procrastination, there's a conflict going on between inner negotiators.
What do you believe is the intersection of leadership and negotiation?
There are many intersections, but the one I find most interesting is that leaders tend to focus on measurable results. They look at outcomes. When they want to improve results, they often look outward. Is there a system or a process we can change? Are there other people who are not performing or hitting their targets?
The real way to leverage and get a competitive advantage is to look inward at the way a leader negotiates with herself: How do I contribute to the results I'm creating? How are my mindsets or worldviews in some ways putting in motion the cycles that produce the results I want to change? What aspects of myself do I ignore, though they hold the key to the very improvements I need to make? I wrote Winning From Within to show people how to ask these kinds of questions and get helpful answers.
The negotiation aspect of leadership is to understand that changing the way you negotiate with yourself will actually be a very effective way to get better results as a leader.
How do you encourage people to look inside?
Mindfulness has gone from the margins of our culture into the heart of a lot of corporate training and development programs. That trend suggests more comfort with looking internally.
It's become normal to care about your own internal life, knowing how to manage your reactivity and defensiveness. People care greatly about the culture of their work environment and they hold leaders accountable. If leaders don't know how to manage themselves properly, employees will quit and go work somewhere else.
Also, if people are seeking a sense of meaning and purpose out of their work, which most professionals are, you're not going to find it by looking at an org chart. You're going to have to look inside to what gives your life meaning, what makes you want to get up in the morning. That has to do with one's inner life.
You write about voyagers and voyaging—what do those terms mean in the context of training and development?
For me, this is the heart of what the whole training and development universe stands for. It's the idea that we are lifelong learners. Even if you've been stuck in a pattern for 20 years, you're still on a developmental journey. We know now from neuroscience that adults have the capacity to develop, to form new neural pathways to support new mindsets and behavior. This is the most inspiring part of being in this field.
I work with very senior executives. They're tackling patterns of heart and mind that have been with them for decades. Still, in the right learning environment, people can learn to recognize patterns, the negative impact, and start doing something differently.
I got a thank you email from a participant a couple of years ago, which I kept. It said, "I wanted to thank you on behalf of my wife because, after 20 years of marriage, she says I am finally listening to her and not trying to solve her problems." I love that. For 20 years, he had—in a well-intentioned way—been listening by offering solutions. And all of a sudden he had this insight, there's a different way to listen, and he changed.
And that's part of what voyaging is about. It's the humility to know that whatever expertise you think you have today, you know that if you look back 10 years from now, you'll say, "Look at how much more I know now than I knew then."
You live in both Boston and The Netherlands—what are the challenges and benefits of being a global citizen?
The most beneficial part, which is also an impact of the challenge, is that I am experiencing change and adaptation and loss and adjustment much more as my clients do than I did before.
For many years I would teach courses on change management and expected people to embrace it warmly. Yes, it's painful. Even if you have to let go of certain things, you're going to gain other things. To some extent, those were theoretical concepts for me. My life has been so completely turned upside down by moving abroad and by becoming a stepmother and building a life with someone, getting married in my 40s. When I teach about change or learning now, I'm speaking more from firsthand experience.
There is one example of this in the book. It is a good example of the voyager phenomenon, but also just basic human resistance to change. In The Netherlands, Santa Claus is from Spain, not the North Pole. Now, I must say I find this very hard to understand even though it's fictional.
I think of this a lot when I'm with clients and tell them that change is good. The new system is going to have a lot of upsides. And people feel like, "No, let's just do it the way we always did it." I think of this and yeah, I understand.