For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed the work of the Bradford-born artist, David Hockney. Now 86 years old, his work has shown a level of innovation and creativity which I consider to be unmatched. His perception, use of colour and approach to new media have kept his work fresh and captivating over the years. He has used various paint types, photography and now the iPad to produce his unique images. In 1989, he designed the cover of the Bradford telephone directory and these are still in plentiful supply but change hands for upwards of £40 on eBay – for a telephone directory over 30 years old! His most expensive painting to date sold at auction for more than £80 million.
I met Hockney very briefly at Los Angeles Airport some years ago when I was able to say to him how much I enjoyed his work, he was gracious in acknowledging my approach. One of my treasured possessions is a book of his work signed for me by the artist. I have been to several of his exhibitions and am planning a return to the permanent exhibition of his work in Salt’s Mill near Bradford where his 90-metre-long painting “A Year in Normandy” is currently on display.
Much of the artist’s work represents the area in which he lived at the time: California and East Yorkshire feature significantly as he has spent time in both. He now lives in Normandy where he has purchased an old farm building and constructed a studio from which he works. He still paints for 7 or 8 hours a day and his prolific output is testimony to this dedication. Melvyn Bragg recently did a series of interviews with Hockney in Normandy to discuss his work and the extensive iPad paintings he is now doing featuring his local environment. Hockney, even at his age, remains rebellious and challenging – the round spectacles are still a feature along with his loudly checked suits and the Crocs he wears on his feet. He still smokes cigarettes and in response to criticism of this and many other things, wears a badge which says: “End bossiness soon” as to say, “End bossiness now” would be ‘too bossy’.
In his interview, he recalls sitting in Normandy painting some trees (he paints lots of trees) and tells of a man who came past him while he was working over several days. Eventually, the man asked him why he spent so much time painting trees. Hockney replied that he loved painting trees as part of the landscape. The man apparently said that he could not understand why, as trees are ‘all the same’. Hockney was incredulous and explained that he could sit for days painting trees because he loves to pick out the nuances and uniqueness in each one – colour, shape, species and variations due to the season. This approach and dedication are evident in his latest major work painted in Normandy – you can see it on YouTube and decide for yourself.
What has this to do with negotiating? As I watched the Bragg interviews, I was reminded that one of the skills of a negotiator is to listen and to watch. We should be constantly on the alert for nuances, for differences in tone, in emphasis and in apparent priorities. We should be conscious of gestures and posture which may give clues about the significance which our counterparties attach to aspects of their negotiating position and their responses to what we say. Giving these things our acute attention will allow us to understand better our counterparty and to check, question and follow up and formulate our response. Different negotiators on different days addressing different issues are as distinct as a French oak tree is in cold December or sunny July. Our Capability Survey tells us many negotiators are generally not good at listening, paying attention and reflecting back to check their understanding. So, give as much of your attention when you negotiate as David Hockney gives to the trees he paints – it’s the differences you spot which provide you with the best opportunities and the fullest picture.