Part mysticism, part custom and part common sense, Feng Shui is the Chinese practice of designing living environments for optimum harmony. The aim is to harness the unseen universal energy called qi (pronounced chee) and create a balance among the five elements (earth, fire, metal, water and wood) in order to obtain health, happiness and prosperity. Serious practitioners claim Feng Shui can dramatically influence all aspects of our lives, including our business deals.
Certainly, negotiators can't afford to ignore their surroundings. So whether we bargain at our place or theirs, the chosen location affects each side's comfort, mobility and power. DecÃ³r and ambience influence mood-and deal-making in the boardroom is different from dealmaking at the beach.
However, Feng Shui incorporates other factors into our analysis-some are easy to accept; some are not. When applied to negotiation, Feng Shui emphasizes location (ti tian), compatibility of the parties (hsiang rong) and timing (chun si). For instance, a spacious, well-lighted foyer is considered auspicious. But long, rectangular tables are not. And when you can, negotiate near a fountain or aquarium. Regardless of your familiarity with Feng Shui, all these statements probably feel about right.
It's easy to see that a pleasant, open foyer might make a positive first impression and set an agreeable tone for the discussions to follow. Yet a long, rectangular table may polarize the parties and encourage confrontation. And water usually has a soothing effect.
In addition, you might want to consider these other Feng Shui-inspired suggestions: Principal negotiators should have their backs against a wall instead of a door or window. They should face the compass direction of their astrological signs. The bargaining room should have only one door. Slanted doors are unlucky. Stylish ceilings with angled fixtures and indirect lighting may focus "killing qi" on the negotiators. Avoid travel within 24 hours of a lunar or solar eclipse. Consult an astrologer about the best time for your negotiation.
So what are open-minded dealmakers to make of all this? I don't know. Admittedly, I'm no Feng Shui master-and there's so much in this universe that we don't understand. It's probably best to remain curious and skeptical. Who knows? Maybe Nancy Reagan's astrologer was right on the money when she predicted the outcome of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in 1985. Maybe the circulation of qi is a silent player at every bargaining table. And maybe if you think you're lucky, for whatever reason, you probably will be.
But while Feng Shui may not hurt as an adjunct to normal negotiation tactics, you certainly shouldn't bet the farm on it. Your energies might be better focused on the concrete and visible realities of your negotiations: preparation, due diligence, professional business help, negotiating skills and written contracts. I could be wrong, but I think these are more likely than the shape of your table to bring you happiness and prosperity.
A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Dieneris the author of Deal Power: 6 Foolproof Steps to Making Deals of Any Size.