Picture of Nicole Martín Medina

Nicole Martín Medina

Gestora Cultural – Abogada/MBA

(Dis)Harmony in the Symphony (part 3)

Musicians and their cultural managers

How to negotiate using plenty of naturals[1]

(dis)Harmony in the Symphony (part 3) Musicians and their cultural managers How to negotiate using plenty of naturals


Do you remember my articles entitled (dis)Harmony in the Symphony[2]? There, I talked about why sometimes we don’t understand each other as well as we could and how to improve our conversation if we are working in a symphony orchestra.

Now I would like to take one last step, not only for musicians and cultural managers, but for anyone.

A symphony orchestra’s day-to-day activities involve millions of tiny discussions not only between musicians and their cultural supervisors, but also within each group. Examples include shifts and time off, collective agreements with the company, claims for certain rights, or simply a minor conflict because we woke up with our left leg.

If we think about it for a moment, we could say that any communication, in the end, is a negotiation. Negotiation is, eventually, the heart of any collaboration[3], right?

Perfect. The subject was left with the idea of asking open questions before giving opinions, judging or attacking to achieve what we set out to do.[4]

Once we have asked questions and have nothing left to clarify, when we finally enter into a debate or a negotiation, we should have some tools to come out of it unscathed and, logically, as winners. From now on, it doesn’t matter which side we are on, if we are artists or if we are cultural managers. It is assumed that we are already aware of the other’s point of view, and we will take it into consideration.

Consequently, I would like to offer some suggestions for improving our conversations and, above all, our negotiations and conflicts. These suggestions come from the practice of law, which includes the disciplines of interrogation psychology, negotiation, and criminology.

There is an enormous amount of literature on the subject, but I particularly like the publication by Chriss Voss, which I have already cited in the previous post. The author is a former professional negotiator for the American FBI and has specialized in negotiating in cases of kidnapping. In his book, Never Split the Difference, he explains in a simple and practical way what kinds of tools you can use to pave the way to a positive agreement for both parties. [5]

However, what is a positive agreement for both parties?

The idea behind Never Split the Difference is that we should never meet each other halfway. It’s funny, doesn’t it? It’s what we instinctively try to do, since we’re all influenced by our human need to get along with others.[6]What he means by this title is that, if we fall somewhere in the middle, there may be no positive solution for either side. Readers who are interested in the theory are advised to purchase the book. It is a valuable resource.

A mutually beneficial agreement is one that is honored, executed, and does not necessitate any further discussions.[7]

To that end, it is absolutely necessary to understand the submerged reasons – sometimes unconscious, but usually unknown – that lead our opponent to defend his point of view in the way he does. Individuals are not entirely rational, emotionally driven, or completely selfless; rather, they are subject to their fundamental instincts, which obligate them to their emotions and needs, regardless of their rationality. Therefore, it is recommended that we prioritize the animal-emotional aspect of our adversary during a negotiation over the cognitive-rational aspect.

Moreover, even in the field of law, the subjective elements, or, in other words, the intentions and motives of the actors, are known and considered. Criss Voss’ book likewise affirms that, ultimately, in any negotiation, the issue is not the conflict itself, but the knowledge of what lies beneath it, namely, the motives and intentions of the adversaries. To obtain information regarding the subjective motives of each party, one proceeds in the same manner as in the case of facts: by inquiring.Once again, I apologize for being repetitive, but I believe that asking questions is the most effective means of communication and negotiation.

Yes, yes, my readers, I will stop now.

Let’s proceed and get into  negotiations.

Once we know both the facts and the emotional reasons of both parties, we need to keep in mind that the problem is not the person in front of us, but the issue we are dealing with and the motives, needs and emotions behind it. Keep an eye out for the next chance. What scares us isn’t our opponent, but the conflict itself. Humans are often reluctant to engage in conflict due to their need to be approved and loved by others.


Which strategies will help us reach a satisfactory agreement?

(We now concentrate on our own needs and allow others to take care of theirs.)


  1. Storytelling[8] 

The courtrooms have taught us that the most solid structure for a convincing argument, especially when it comes to a conclusion, is the form of a narrative (story telling).Every good argument can be reduced to a story that our opponent can hear and understand much more easily than an abstract speech. We can therefore say that in order to present our arguments efficiently, we should focus on facts and actions, not on abstraction.[9] However, in practice, it is not always possible to use a storytelling approach.

We don’t always have the option of delivering a lengthy speech, but we usually end up having lengthy conversations that span months. Other tools are needed, and the ones that I find the most useful – especially the ones that are easiest to apply in life outside the courtroom – are those explained by Chris Voss.[10] I will contextualize them in the context that I provided in Part 2 of this topic. Let us commence with inquiries.


  1. Profiling[11] 

Another technique used by legal professionals, law enforcement, and intelligence institutions is profiling.It uses the identification of behavior, emotional responses, speech, appearances, facial micro-expressions, and any other characteristics of individuals to determine with high probability how they react generally and more specifically to negotiations. The utilization of profiling enables us to make informed decisions and effectively navigate intricate situations with lucid guidance.

Of course, it is the tool mentioned here that may require the most training to be applied in each case. Still, it is in our interest to pay attention to the details offered by our opponent’s facial and body expressions, to be attentive and to analyze any emotional information he or she may inadvertently give us. In order to outline our negotiation strategy, we must notice when he lies to us and recognize abrupt changes in his behavior and what they mean. Come on, it’s all about knowing how to read between the lines.

Be careful: Don’t judge musicians or cultural managers based on stereotypes or prejudices. Instead, figure out who each person is and how they behave. This will help us understand them better and negotiate with them in a way that works for us.


  1. Mirroring

The term could be referred to as imitation. Through imitation, which is a natural element of human bodily expression, we create bonds with the people in front of us. Mirroring ties not only to physical body reflexes, but also to language. Mirroring refers to the practice of rephrasing the primary words of another individual (approximately between 3 and 5), in order to ensure that we have comprehended them accurately. While we make sure of this, we also create a link that facilitates the negotiation itself.


Person 1 (musician): You didn’t follow the labor agreement and told us about the rehearsal schedule for this week too late.

Person 2 (manager using the mirror technique): Ok. I understand, that this week, we missed the deadlines in our labor agreement, which caused problems with our rehearsal plan.

We know from procedural practice that at the beginning one may feel a little strange when asking these questions (or statements); however, with proper practice, it becomes a powerful weapon, given that the most important thing in every negotiation is not the end goal, but to obtain the information that will facilitate the path. Fighting is usually lost, not because of a lack of rhetoric, but because of a lack of information.


  1. Labeling

One party not paying attention is the worst thing in negotiation, although it is also true that playing the fool can be a negotiation technique if used consciously. But that’s not what I’m trying to say here.

In any argument, it is essential to be able to recognize the needs and concerns of the other party, be empathetic, listen, and be listened to. And that is done by the technique of labeling. Understanding the other person goes beyond just knowing the facts. This is accomplished by composing statements of the type:

– You seem to be disappointed….

– It looks like you mean…

– If I’m getting you right…


Person 2 (manager using etiquette technique): It appears that the management has let you down once again. You seem to be annoyed about that.

When employing this technique, it is imperative to bear in mind that the objective is to reinforce the positive, rather than the negative.


  1. Start with a no[12]

Another great way to finally win a negotiation is to let our opponent say no, to reject us, and to let off steam. Negotiations often fail because they are conducted in too much haste and under deadlines that, in most cases, are not even imperative. With sufficient time and the necessary patience, we can give ourselves time to start with the no before focusing on the path towards achieving our ultimate goals. We shouldn’t be scared of saying no, rejecting or disagreeing.

This idea is directly related to the next point.


  1. Giving control (or the illusion of control) to the opposing party

To really control a negotiation, you need to give control to the other party or make them believe it. Understanding a negotiation like a wrestling match is way out of date. When I say control, I am not referring to who wins or who loses, but rather to who controls the content of what is being discussed at any given moment.

Professional negotiators manage to give the appearance of control to the opposing party, while in reality, they control the conversation themselves. As I said, starting with no, and (yes, again), asking and using open-ended questions that begin with the words:

– How…?

– What…?

– Why…?[13]

These are questions that, on the one hand, cede control to the opposing party, since they answer and have the feeling of being in control (the speaker usually believes that he/she controls the scenario much more than the one who is silent). These queries, on the other hand, offer valuable insights to enhance the argumentation.

They are also questions that openly serve to ask the opponent for help with a problem, and thus cede authentic control over the situation and the solution sought.


Person 1 (musician): How are we supposed to prepare for this concert, if we don’t even know what we are playing and when?


Person 2 (manager): How am I supposed to meet the deadlines if the management didn’t tell me until last night?

These examples are neither rhetorical nor trivial. Both of them are completely open and committed to finding real solutions. They guide the conversation in the necessary direction. Likewise, they are certainly not looking to be right or to win a fight. They are looking for the agreement that will then be fulfilled.


  1. That’s right/You’re right

Knowing the difference between the answers “That’s right” and “You’re right” is a significant detail. Both seem to be advancing us towards victory, but I’m here to tell you that this isn’t the case. The answer is only promising in the first case. Some studies show that ‘You’re right’ is often used only to calm the other person down, to obtain a small truce, and without a real commitment. On the contrary, “That’s right” is a neutral and objective expression that does not provide a rationale for the other, but rather confirms certain facts, events, actions, or even evaluations or interpretations. It is free from any association with the individual “you,” but rather with something neutral like “that.”

If we manage to direct our opponent in such a way that, at least once, he answers, “That is correct,” statistically, it is much more likely that we will win this fight.

This concept is directly connected to the next point.


  1. Ensure compliance with the agreement reached

As I mentioned above, the best agreement reached is useless if, over time, the parties dissociate themselves from it and do not comply with it. Practice shows that even contracts and agreements are, in extremis, papers that do not guarantee anything. However, a person who is committed to “what is right” will comply with what has been agreed upon. At least, the odds of this happening are much higher.


  1. Let the other person start

  When the stakes are high, it is important to remember that it is almost always in our best interest to let the other person make the first move. I especially notice musicians coming in with their ideas and firing off an attack with their valuable insights. Many of those times, they are right with what they claim, but they don’t know how to transmit it, so the conversation stagnates and gets blocked. Sometimes it would be advisable to start with a question and let the management explain.


  1. Especially for symphony orchestras: How does this agreement affect the team?

In the corporate world, we are aware that many agreements are not fulfilled because, during negotiation, we forget about the secondary players. Leaders or managers attempted to negotiate a deal with a patron or sponsor. However, the agreement ultimately failed due to their disregard for the potential impact it could have on the team’s daily routine. Breaking the agreement is not, in these cases, bad faith, but a basic failure to negotiate. I consider this a crucial point in an organization as large and complex as a symphony orchestra.


  1. As my eleventh tip, from my own trial practice: Always work with the best case/worst case.

For several years, I was employed by a law firm and was responsible for the creation of numerous agreements, settlements, and civil and commercial contracts. If there are contracts that frequently fail, these are divorce agreements. This is since the emotions of the parties change over time, and what was initially agreed upon and positive is no longer maintained and is interpreted as negative.

In such instances, I have consistently employed a primary contract as the optimal agreement for both parties. Subsidiarity, an added regime, was agreed upon for the worst-case scenario: the absolute minimum necessary for both parties to live with the situation. This directly provides for a mediation, intervention, or legal mechanism in the event that an agreement is impossible. The staggered structure for different scenarios is crucial for larger agreements.

So, I return to the beginning of this article: You have to take the necessary time to reach a good agreement. Even if the path is rough, you must take it on. And I am convinced that once you have overcome a rocky road, the next one will be much easier and faster to walk.[14] [15]


And how do we put these strategies into practice?


That could be the fourth installment of this topic, but I’ll do better than that: I’ll give you a tip.

Nobody explains it in a simpler and more practical way than Jefferson Fisher, a trial lawyer and argument expert from Texas (USA). In the second part of this article, I had already included one of his videos. I encourage you to watch the videos of about 30 seconds to answer this last question.

In his unique and very own way, he explains in short videos and reels how to resolve certain conflicts or how to respond in certain situations to fight less and talk more. He gives us ideas about what exactly to say in each situation and clarifies what it really means to apply the tools of mirroring, labeling, storytelling, starting with no, etc.

Each circumstance is usually explained in three steps and with genuine inquiries and responses.






I would appreciate it if you could write to me after seeing one of his videos to identify the negotiation tools he has used in each case and reflect on how useful they are for our personal and professional lives as musicians and cultural managers.


Nicole Martín Medina

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

April 2024

(Original Spanish/Translation Deepl/Revision NMM)



[1] A natural sign in music means neither sharp nor flat, the pure note as it is.

[2] Chriss Voss: Never Split the Difference, Penguin Books (2016), p. 21.

[3] See also part 2 of March 2024: Open-ended questions are those that are not answered with yes or no. They are those that begin with an interrogative pronoun: Who, Where, How much, etc.

[4] See also part 2 of March 2024: Open-ended questions are those that are not answered with yes or no. They are those that begin with an interrogative pronoun: Who, Where, How much, etc.

[5] The book is outstanding and absolutely recommended. Above all, because it provides truly innovative ideas and recommendations

[6] Chriss Voss: – p. 242

[7] Chriss Voss: – p. 162 ff. and p. 213 ff.

[8] Gerry Spence: How to Argue and Win Every Time, St. Martin’s Griffin (1995).

[9]  Gerry Spence, p. 113 ff., explains it in great detail and through stories.

[10] I have chosen the ones I find most useful for classical music workers. My list is incomplete.

[11] Erik Oldmann: Dark Psychology – Read and analyze people like an open book, p. 10ff. For more information, see Erik Oldmann: Dark Psychology Parts 2 and 3 (Secrets of Persuasion, etc.) and Master Your Emotions and Social Skills).

[12] Other opinion: Tim Castle (2018) – The Art of Negotiation – How to get what you want (every time) – p. 83 ff.

[13] Chriss Voss: (p. 141 ff.).

[14] Chris Voss: – p. 157 – Script for negotiating a salary increase using these tools.

[15] Chris Voss: – p. 251 ff – Script for a worksheet on negotiation



Gerry Spence (1995): How to argue and win every time, St. Martin’s Griffin

Jordi Estalella del Pino (2008): El abogado eficaz – Cómo convencer, persuadir e influir en los juicios (trans.: The efficient Lawywe -How to convince, persuade and influence at court)  Editorial La Ley/Wolter Kluwer

Roger Fisher & William Ury (2012): Getting to yes – Penguin Books

Chriss Voss (2016): Never Split the difference, Penguin Books 

Mónica Pérez de las Heras (2016): Oratoria con PNL para Profesionales del Derecho (trans.: Retorics with NLP for law professionals).

Tim Castle (2018) – The Art of Negotioation – How to get what you want (every time)

Erik Oldmann (2023): Dark Psychology – Read and analize people like an open book, Secrets of Persuasion etc. and Master your emotions and Social Skills.


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