Cindy Watson, An Advocate For Negotiation On Behalf Of A Better Life

Cindy Watson, An Advocate For Negotiation On Behalf Of A Better Life
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Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author, coach, and attorney Cindy Watson is redefining the art of negotiation. By approaching conflict with empathy rather than rigid posturing, Watson imagines a collaborative and healthier world.

Despite the myriad of conflicts we experience in the world today, one thing we all seem to be able to agree on is that the world is out of balance. Wars rage on, inequality of all kinds is at an all-time high, and governments seem fraught with volatility at every inflection point. For many of us, this chaos leads to a maddening sense of nihilistic apathy. 

Not Cindy Watson. As a managing partner at her law firm, author, and personal coach, Watson employs intuitive strategies to help her clients and the world around them reach satisfying and equitable consensus. Through witnessing the triumphs of her legal clients and the transformations in the lives of the individuals she coaches, Watson is confident that her unique approach to conflict can tip the global scales toward harmony. 

Watson was led to create these methods when she felt a profound imbalance in her own life. Beginning her professional career as a lawyer in a male-dominated field, Watson had to be twice as ruthless and tenacious as her counterparts in order to succeed. 

Nicknamed “The Barracuda” by her colleagues, Watson was applauded for her take-no-prisoners approach to litigation. While she was winning cases and succeeding in her goal of being a standout lawyer, Watson was returning home to a face in the mirror she didn’t recognize. The zero-sum game she played as an attorney was seeping into her approach to her personal relationships, and chipping away at her humanity. 

The epiphany was two-fold, both stemming from conflicts within her family. The first came in an argument with her son when, after witnessing his frustration build, he exploded on Watson: “Why do you have to win every conversation?” 

Cindy Watson, An Advocate For Negotiation On Behalf Of A Better Life
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This simple but jarring accusation was the first step in Cindy’s re-evaluation of her approach to conflict. The second came after the birth of her daughter, who had to remain in intensive care for months as an infant due to a heart defect. Facing the mortality of her daughter and developing her baby’s treatment plan with leading cardiologists, Watson instantly recognized she could not strong-arm her way into saving her daughter’s life. Out of necessity, she developed a different approach. 

Watson began from the premise that every interaction is a negotiation. Whether with our friends, partners, colleagues, or bosses – we are all constantly jostling to achieve our desired outcomes, whether it’s multi-million dollar mergers or what to have for dinner. However, the way we negotiate is fundamentally flawed. 

The zero-sum game Watson played as an attorney is familiar to most of us, we are taught that in order to compete and succeed in life, you need to exercise aggression and temper any discussion of compromise. We see it in our media, in our educational institutions, in our jobs, and in international diplomacy. 

Instead of developing an entirely new framework for negotiation, Watson contends that the answer is as simple as returning to qualities that we all have instinctively. Using the acronym ARE FIT, Watson suggests that everyone should approach negotiations with assertiveness, rapport-building, empathy, flexibility, intuition, and trust. Instead of standing immovable in our positions, earnestly attempting to understand the motivations of the other party and willingly extending trust leads to “longer-term buy-ins, better relationships, and more creative outcomes.”

Watson calls this approach, also the title of her book, The Art of Feminine Negotiation, because most of these qualities are associated with stereotypical femininity. However, that does not mean this strategy is limited to women. “I really agonized over whether to name the book The Art of Feminine Negotiation, but I decided to because I do believe women are more adversely impacted by the patriarchal system … but men are similarly affected by unconscious gender bias.”

Gender stereotypes are a malicious culprit in our contentious negotiations and conflict resolutions. Because of the historical marginalization of women, traits typically associated with femininity like the ones in ARE FIT were deemed frivolous and naive, while the aggression and hyper-independence of masculinity are celebrated. 

Although bringing empathy and trust to a boardroom filled with salivating, data-driven colleagues may sound counterintuitive and intimidating, Watson encourages thinking back to examples when intuition has steered towards satisfying outcomes. “The world teaches us very early not to trust our intuition…yet the models we use now aren’t working. The world is polarized in ways that we haven’t seen [before]. That [polarization] appears to be increasing as the reliance on information and technology is increasing, so many of these models are driving further chaos.” 

Watson acknowledges that many of us may be reticent to accept the idea that negotiations should be approached with empathy, intuition, and trust, because of how systematically ingrained the dog-eat-dog approach is. 

Luckily, she has a model proposed for those who may be hesitant about the efficacy of this notion. “Start with being brutally honest with yourself when you encounter fear or anger in your negotiations,” says Watson. Where are these feelings coming from? Why may the opposing party in a negotiation be feeling them as well? Have No FEAR, meaning letting go of fear, ego, attachment, and reactivity when anticipating a conflict. 

Watson recommends entering a negotiation with these intentions firmly in place. “What am I afraid of, what are their fears? How can I surrender my ego and get curious about the other party? What are the things I’m too attached to, what are they too attached to? What are my triggers, and how can I ground myself in advance? What would cause reactivity for the other party, and how could I avoid it?” In addition, Watson allows for stepping back from a negotiation when it’s clear that these factors prevent a copacetic result.

Watson also contends that due to the societal conditioning to care for others, women, in particular, have a difficult time advocating on behalf of themselves, but are ferocious when fighting for a person or cause they believe in. Thus, Watson encourages those who falter when negotiating for themselves to enact the “mama bear approach.” Think of yourself as a child who had boundless dreams for themselves, encountered “little girl/boy hurts” we carry throughout life, and “advocate for that inner wounded child of yourself.”

The proof of the success of Watson’s model is apparent when you take a quick glance at her coaching website, book reviews, and comments on her TEDX Talk. By creating a microcosm of positive and equitable conflict resolution within our own lives, it becomes clear to see how these principles can transform our increasingly volatile world.

To negotiate your way to a better life, check out Watson’s ‘Women on Purpose’ website, book, podcast, and coaching program

To book Cindy Watson for corporate, conference, or coaching events, please contact

Written by Emily Hellam



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