Recently my wife, an experienced cellist and budding small businesswoman, formed her own string quartet to play at art and music festivals throughout New England. It’s a unique venture because, unlike most string quartets, this new quartet plays Celtic, Appalachian, and other styles of Folk music.
After careful networking and auditioning, she partnered with three excellent musicians, who in some cases have more professional experience than she. After a handful of successful gigs, they realized that the quartet had real potential—and that each player had strong feelings about what to do about it.
She could foresee the kinds of conflicts that could arise from strong personalities and artistic preferences as well as from unclear musical and business roles and vision.
I routinely bore my wife with stories from work and tales of mutual gains. We had recently discussed Getting to Yes (Fisher and Ury, Pengui, 1983) and Beyond Reason (Fisher and Shapiro, Viking, 2005), so, while chatting during a long car ride, we decided to test the principles.
We did our best to identify the interests of each member of the quartet and prepare Liz for a critical negotiation.
My wife’s first concern was maintaining complete ownership of the business entity and name, which would allow the quartet to survive even if some of the initial members didn’t stick with it.
Her second interest was choosing the musical vision for the group: original arrangements of traditional or original tunes, not “covers” of material by other contemporary artists. We talked about framing her vision as the key element that would differentiate the the new quartet from other groups—a vision that the other members could rally around without losing face for having suggested much different ideas.
Next we considered the other players’ interests, which ranged from incorporating traditional French Canadian repertoire to selling non-quartet merchandise to having status as a “founding member” of the ensemble. We brainstormed packages of solutions that would meet my wife’s key interests very well and would also meet other musicians’ interests.
Further, we role-played the meeting she would have with the quartet members and discussed how she could ensure that the process and substance of the discussion be and be perceived as being honest, fair, and consistent.
The quartet met on a Sunday afternoon. After snacks and an energetic jam session, my wife sat with the quartet side-by-side on the couch and put a short outline of her proposal on the table in front of them, so they could feel a sense of teamwork and common purpose. She led them through each item on the proposal, exploring interests and listening actively. As she discovered interests she hadn’t considered, she adjusted the proposal. She facilitated the discussion of tough questions about hiring, firing, payment, rehearsal expectations, and more—and her preparation paid off.
The result? The group reached agreement on all of the key issues. My wife met her interests by establishing her ownership of the business entity and artistic guidelines for the ensemble. To meet the additional interests of the quartet members, she gladly “traded across issues they valued differently,” by including provisions for non-quartet CD sales prior to a group album release.
Time will tell if the the quartet succeeds in the marketplace. For now, my wife is focusing on follow-through: making it easy for the quartet members to live up to their commitments and working on relationships. They have encountered some bumps already, but my wife has been able to lean on a good agreement and thorough preparation.
I was glad to stay out of the quartet’s planning meeting, but as I prepared dessert in the nearby kitchen (eavesdropping at every opportunity) I admit that mutual gains was music to my ears.