Master Your Inner Game

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Are the most important negotiations the ones you have with yourself?

There will always be days where we don’t feel centered. Maybe it’s a tough deadline, raised expectations, or a personal conflict, but it can trigger a fight-or-flight response. In those moments, we are forced to make decisions that don’t always sit well with us in the long term. Is there a way to negotiate from within, and come out a winner?

Erica Ariel Fox is on the faculty at Harvard Law School, she's a New York Times best-selling author, and the founding partner of Mobius Executive Leadership. Her latest book is Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. I recently interviewed Erica for the LEADx podcast to learn more about how to win in your inner struggle. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: You say that most people are familiar with win-win negotiating, but we often overlook the inner game of negotiation, what do you mean?

Erica Ariel Fox: Well, I agree with you, people are familiar with the idea of having a conflict, or a dispute, or an opportunity with someone else and they want to reach an agreement, a so-called ‘get to yes.’ My research and extensive experience working with professionals is people don't know how to ‘get to yes’ with themselves, so people have conflicts. “I want to finish this project before I got to sleep, but I promised my family I'd be home for dinner. I want to take a big risk and pursue my dream, but it's not practical. I'm doing the numbers, can I afford it?” We have conflicts inside ourselves all the time and that's in essence negotiating with different parts of yourself to get aligned, to get agreement on your next courses of action, and if you don't do that, you're still making decisions and moving forward, but this background noise of internal conflict can really get in your way.

Kruse: What are the four archetypes of our personalities?

Fox: Yeah, I do talk about the big four. There's a lot of different research and models about these archetypes. Joseph Campbell wrote about a hero with a thousand faces. Those are probably more thorough than my four, but helping professional people wrap their head around a thousand parts of themselves is a little overwhelming. I really focused on these four, because my experience and research tells me, if you can get your head around these four dimensions of yourself and get skillful and effective at using them, these are the fundamental dimensions you need for success at work and at home. The other 900 plus parts of yourself–that's the advanced course, but if you get the big four, you're going to be well on your way to success.

Kruse: Does everybody have the same four, or are some more dominant?

Fox: Yeah, this was something that's been incredible. I've taught in virtually every continent on earth and I've taught people who are doing startups, in their first job, entrepreneurs, people in family business, all the way to Fortune 100 companies. There’s some fundamental part of the human condition, so we all come in with a heart, with lungs, if we're healthy. We don't have to learn how to have our heart beat, or how to breathe; we know that when we're born. These are patterns that are really inborn to human beings, regardless of culture. It's true of men and women. These essentially draw on logic, emotion, willpower, and intuition. These are actually dimensions we all have. Most people draw on one or two of them much more than the other two, so we don't think of ourselves as having all four of those dimensions, but actually we do have an innate capacity for them. We just have to learn how to use them.

Kruse: Can you give an example?

Fox: Yeah. Well, let me just name the big four. I talk about them as ‘The Dreamer,’ ‘The Thinker,’ ‘The Lover,’ and ‘The Warrior.’ The part of you that dreams and has possibility, that's the dreamer. The thinker is about looking at facts and analyzing opinions. The lover is about people and relationships. The warrior is about how to get things done.

Sometimes, I ask people if you just literally step back from a decision, and you take a piece of paper, and you write these big four in front of you, and you ask yourself, Dreamer, what's your vision for how I should answer this? Thinker, what are the risks or consequences, implications, you want me to look at? Lover, how will this affect my relationships and how I feel in the end? Warrior, what are the three things you think I should do immediately? You step back and look at those four responses, you can do this in three minutes. Then, take in all that information and just follow your gut at that point about where you feel pulled. It's very important though to ask each of the four, and most times we follow one or two of them without realizing it, and we miss out on some fundamental insight that we have by not asking.

Kruse: This vaguely reminds me of a ‘Six Thinking Hats.’ In a meeting people say, “Put on your red hats and think about problems”, or “Put on the green hat and think of solutions.” 

Fox: I think to some extent those things are helpful, but typing systems also have a big risk. Not only do they put you in a box as seen through your colleagues, they put you in a box as seen by yourself. “Should I raise my hand for that opportunity? Well, someone “Yellow” should do that, I'm ‘Red.’ I'm not good at ‘Yellow.’” The big four is very different than a type. You might have a way of operating today in how you use each of the four, but because you have an absolute innate, meaning even in the physiology of your brain, you have different aspects of your brain designed for each one of these big four styles. You're not sort of doomed to this profile.

I mean, it's not a type that you can never transcend, like “I have my Myers-Briggs, and that's it.” Over the course of your leadership development and your life development you can get more and more skillful at every one of the big four, and it's just not true that you're a ‘Thinker’ and not a ‘Feeler.’ That's not true in the human experience. You have the capacity for both and you can learn to use both over the course of your career.

Kruse: So it’s not that you are one type or the other, it’s about thinking of issues from different places. 

Fox: That's right, and I think also that the notion of negotiating with yourself would be to say, “I have this sense of internal angst. Maybe I have sematic systems, I'm getting migraines, or I'm just over eating because I'm stressed.” If you can find a way to just, again, write on a piece of paper, tell it to a friend, write it in your journal, “I'm feeling this conflict between my Dreamer, who is visionary, and my Warrior, who is practical and just wants to do things today.”

Rather than trying to choose between them, you can ask them, so-called ‘negotiate’ with each other. Which means, “Can I find a solution here that both sides of me will be comfortable with? Is there a way to be both visionary for the long term, practical for the short term, around this opportunity and how could I do that so I'm not choosing between satisfying them?” That's sort of an internal win-win, so both sides of myself have reached an agreement that both of them feel content with.

Whereas, most of the times in life we feel that tension, and then we just choose one over the other, that's not actually negotiating with yourself. That's just leaving part of yourself behind.

We know that in negotiations with other people if you leave out something that was really important to one of the people, that negotiation might break down, over time the person would feel resentful and not do their part of the agreement. That's the same with these internal parties inside us. If you ignore the priorities of a part of yourself and you don't have real alignment in your big four, Dreamer, Lover, Warrior, and Thinker, one of them will start to rebel, and they will take you down.

Kruse: When you talk about getting centered. Is that the same thing as the alignment of the four types, or is it something else?

Fox: It's a little bit different. It's actually whether you can notice that you're sort of relaxed, or calm, you're open, or you're freaking out. If I'm going to go on a trip and I know that my Uber is outside and I grab my stuff and I think, “Oh no, I don't know where my passport is.” Now I'm freaking out, because my ride is here and the flight is coming. I think everyone knows that experience. You're not thinking clearly, you're running around, you're getting frantic. That's un-centered state.

You're not going to make good decisions in that state. Whereas, we know the experience of being relaxed and talking to a friend and at the extreme, getting a massage where we're totally blissed out and not frantic. One of the things people can learn to do many times over the course of a day is just check in with yourself, “Am I being sort of centered and productive? Am I freaking out right now? Am I distracted because my manager just said something in a meeting and now I think they hate me and I'm going to end up fired?” If you pay attention to that, you can learn how to notice and bring yourself back to a state where you're able to learn and not be defensive, you're able to see your own role in problems, not blame other people. Just all that good mental focus and emotional clarity comes from being centered, if that makes sense.

Kruse: I like to challenge our listeners to get 1% better every day. Is there something you can challenge our listeners to do in this area, to experiment with, or to try today?

Fox: I think just to build on what we were just talking about. Try to pay attention to moments in your day, and you can do it at night when you look back over your day. “When I started to really lose it, I was reactive, I was in survival, fight, flight, freeze. I wasn't being intentional with my behavior.” When you start paying attention to that, the next time it happens in that moment, take a deep breath.

People say count to ten, think of something that makes you happy, picture yourself in a lovely place, and practice calming yourself down in the moment. If you start doing that tomorrow, you'll be surprised. On any given day, you will fall off center at some point and then start practicing these techniques. Even just saying to yourself, “I'm okay, I'm okay,” and it calms you pretty quickly actually.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.


CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at