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At 19 I Came Within Seconds of Death. How This Near-Death Experience Helped Me Master Negotiations

A man walking in the snow

20 years ago, when I was 19 I was lucky enough to join my mum on a physiotherapy course slash skiing trip to Verbier, Switzerland.

For me, this was a big deal. Growing up we didn't go abroad much, the only trip we ever took was the USA when I was ten years old, other than that everything was U.K. based. Therefore, you can imagine, this was a big deal for me. The excitement was palpable.

I tagged along for the snowboarding, après ski and copious amounts of hot fondue.

Verbier is one of those incredibly impressive ski resorts packed with exclusive restaurants and bars, an array of skiing terrain for all abilities. It is known as haven for famous celebrities, a mecca for the elite and the super wealthy. Richard Branson even owns a chalet there!

It's luxurious for all the right reasons, it's how you imagine ski resorts to be, perfect chalets in the snow, nightclubs a plenty and tons of fun to be had.

Verbier Switzerland chalets in the snow

It was a trip I will always remember for a number of reasons but mainly because it was the last one I ever took with together with my mum before she sadly passed away due to an aggressive form of cancer two years later.

Life moves quick, but as I was about to find out, death was waiting around the corner for me too.

It happened a couple of days into the trip. I was enjoying the bright sunshine and blue skies, the alpine air filling my lungs. After a couple of runs to brush off the cob webs from the night before I decided to take off on my own and go "explore".

I ventured off-piste. BIG MISTAKE. What was I thinking. Three days earlier I was stocking shelves at Tesco, now I was some kinds of snowboarding pro ready to rock and roll with Switzerlands finest mountain range.

verbier mountain range in the winter switzerland

It was also the closest I have ever come to death myself, after one wrong turn I found myself slip and fall flat on my back. It all happened so fast. The impact of falling on to compact ice was more shocking than painful.

How was this happening. Gone were the images of being a snowboarding pro and reality hit home. At first it was comically, there I was sliding on my arse down the mountain side.

Very quickly that comedy sketch turned into a nightmare.

In an instant I began hurtling at an ever-increasing pace down the steep mountain slope. I was spinning around, this was not good.

Fear filled my head. How could I stop. I put my hands out to steady the spin. It hardly worked, my gloves fell apart due to the friction.

I began to panic, what an idiot. A 19 year old idiot. There were rocks flying past me, if my head hit one of those it would pop like a watermelon. WAS THIS IT?

Was this going to be the end of me? I looked forwards directly ahead, and what I saw I will remember forever. it was the scariest image I have seen. A blanket of blue sky and the end of the slope.

I instantly recognised what this was, like something in a cartoon, wile e coyote springs to mind where he runs off the edge of a cliff.

I was hurtling towards the edge of an icy cliff with only blue skies in front of me and a 200-foot vertical drop below.

As I reached out and tried frantically to stop myself the friction from the rough compacted ice and the speed I was traveling burnt holes in my gloves.

I knew I was in real trouble. But instead of panic some more it was like a radar went off in my head and I got super focused, time slowed down and instantly I had the answer.

In a single moment I made a decision that would save my life. I leaned forwards, stretching out both arms and unclipped my snowboard releasing my legs.

No sooner than I had unclipped my board did I launch myself at the nearest rock.

It all happened in a split second, my board sailed off into the blue skies and abyss below and I span around as my legs were flung off the side of the cliff.

I clung on with the full weight of my chest on this big rock and looked down below.

What I saw changed my whole life. I had come within inches of death.

Below I watched my snowboard still falling through the air, one second, two second, as time stood still as I watched in awe as my board smashed into the rocks below and then kept on going through the powder.

There was no way I could have survived a fall like that, it was at least 200 feet.

As held on to the rock for dear life and contemplated what to do, I a sensation of calm came over me. It was spiritual. I knew that this was it, any decision I made going forwards would either lead to my very quick death or my survival.

When you get this close to the edge of life, you get pure clarity in mind. I have never experienced anything like it since. It was a connection to God and oneness that is like nothing else I have experienced. It’s the clearest and most focused I have ever been. There was no margin for error, it was just black and white, life or death.

mountains in Verbier

I said out loud to myself, ‘Tim, do not mess this up’. I was giving myself the pep talk of my life.

After a few moments I shifted my weight and centralised my body on the rock, I pulled myself up slowly. Adrenaline was coursing through my body, I felt strong but like any wrong decision would mean life could be taken away from me at any second. I was acutely aware of the possibility of this becoming a reality.

The only options I had as I could see it was to either wait on the rock, hoping that I didn’t get tiered, cold or slip off the edge whilst I waited in hope that someone somewhere would find me. This was before the days of smart phones and GPS.

No one knew where I was for the day, the rest of the crew were in lectures at this stage so I anticipated that it would be at least a few hours, if not nightfall before my disappearance was apparent.

The other option I had was to try and make it over to the side of the cliff where there was a huge pile of boulders cascading down the slide of the mountain like a land slide.

I made the decision that this was the way forward, sitting on the rock left me in too much danger, at least if I could make it across the mouth of the cliff and over the pile of rocks I could decrease the risk of immense danger.

As I stood up and began to tread carefully I knew the next few minutes were critical. Strangely enough, coming this close to death and not going over the edge I was elated in my decision to take off the snowboard and at the same time my mind was crystal clear in what I needed to do with the mission at hand.

All my energy was consumed in establishing each step with safety before I put my full weight down. Each step took me closer to my next goal, get to the other side. With every step I made sure to balance myself correctly, measuring the pressure and weight distribution so that I could be sure I wasn’t going to topple over.

After a number of minutes, maybe ten, I made the final few steps off the mouth of the cliff. Inside I don’t remember celebrating but I do remember a deep sense of calmness and understanding at how dyer the situation was. The stakes were at the highest that I had ever encountered. I had not experienced life in this form before. Every decision needed to be cross referenced, checked and acted upon.

Due to the nature of the mountain I was well aware how quickly conditions could change in an instant. Now I was out of immediate danger I still had to deal with the thought of spending the night on the mountain in below zero temperatures, with no food, shelter or warmth. This is where mindset was key to keeping me focused on the goal at hand.

I made the decision again that unless there looked to be no alternative option I should try to get off the mountain whilst I still had energy and it was still light with good sunny conditions.

As I explored the cliff side I noticed that the rocks and boulders descended into a big black cave, large enough for me to jump down into.

My biggest concern was now making sure that whatever I did I could still get back to this point. Entering this dark cave like rock formation I wasn’t sure how stable it was not to mention what was lying ahead of me or if the whole structure would collapse at any moment trapping me inside or worse.

I determined that I should explore anyway and that it was worth the risk if it took me down the cliff. The only way off the mountain was the scale the cliff myself and it looked to be as good a way as any. This was where I stepped into the unknown and trusted my gut instinct.

With each stage of the decent I made sure that I could get back up. Literally testing out the route as I went, going one or two steps down then four steps back up, rehearsing the route.

At some more challenging sections it required me to get on my hands and knees and crawl under and through gaps to progress forward to where I could see.

Through all of this I felt clear headed and positive about the possibilities of where the cliff side might lead.

This growth mindset kept me scanning the landscape for opportunities. Mentally I was weighing up every eventuality in my head, options seemed to appear out of nowhere and suddenly as if by magic I would find a way up and over an obstacle, or around that didn’t seem possible previously. To make progress I needed to get creative.

After three hours of decent inside the cave, I finally saw it. A bright white shining hole in the darkness. It was snow. It was the outside world. I had reached the base of the cliff.

As I prayed that I could fit through the gap in the wall and I crawled out into almost blinding sunlight I realised I had done it. I made my way round, trudging through deep untouched power. I was up to my thighs in snow.

a snowy mountain and a man walking

I walked around the base of the landslide of rocks and around to look back upon the scale of the cliff I had just climbed down and had nearly taken my life. I realised it was much bigger than I had originally thought.

There was absolutely no way I would have made the fall, it led directly on to rocks and then snow. It must have been a 400-foot drop with no second chances. It was me and God up there on that mountain. I was saved by clear thinking and never giving up!

I didn’t pause for long to contemplate I was keen to keep going and reach civilisation again, but that image and experience has stayed with me forever.

As I followed the tracks my snowboard had made in the untouched snow and found it further down the mountain with a few large cracks to show for the tale.

A woman hugging a man

This experience showed me that in the most intense and hostile situations it is possible to get increased clarity combined with calmness that leads to outstanding results.

I have learned to apply the lessons from this experience to the business and in particular negotiations because there are many parallels that can be drawn.

For instance, each negotiation is like stepping into the unknown at first, but as you work out who you are dealing with, their wants, needs, and desires you can start to recognise patterns, and ways to become creative to overcome the challenges together. This is similar to my experience on the mountain, I had never encountered such an experience, yet it was happening and in order to survive I needed to understand the dynamics at play.

Lesson 1 in relation to negotiations: Seize the opportunity

This near death experience, was time bound, even though I didn't die by falling off the edge of the cliff, I was still in a race against time to get off the cliff edge before nightfall when I would have almost certainly frozen to death. In comparison, many negotiations are time bound and delaying them means that the opportunity itself disappears or becomes unfavourable. Seize the opportunity whilst it is in front of you and move forward.

Lesson 2 in relation to negotiations: Prioritise and then reprioritise

I had to make decisions based on new information that I discovered as I went, it was always appearing, it is the same in negotiations, new or important information can appear at any stage.

In order to make the best use of it I was required to have a framework to understand how this new information would be prioritised against my goals.

This is similar in negotiations, when new options present themselves they must be weighed against the original goal.

By descending further into the dark cave, I was taking myself further off the grid, I was going into the unknown and limiting the chance of someone spotting me who could help. I decided that based on spending the night on the cliff this was a risk worth taking.

Lesson 3 in relation to negotiations: Manage your emotions

For me to have success it was imperative I remained calm. In negotiations when emotions get flared or stress and anxiety or even anger present themselves it can derail the whole negotiation process and mean that opportunities for value creation get missed.

Lesson 4 in relation to negotiations: Be Observant

A big part of getting down the mountain safely was because I was on the lookout for areas of advantage. I was focused on finding a route forward despite the unknown terrain and obvious obstacles and setbacks.

Negotiations can often seem like the are littered with hurdles and blockages. To overcome these it’s important to know what is most important to us at a given time and recalibrate as challenges are solved.

At first my goal was to get to safety and securely away from the edge of the cliff. Following this I decided that getting down the cliff was of increased importance and set about making this happen.

In negotiations, tackle each issue, break it down into its components and move forward. Don’t focus on the negative.

Lesson 5 in relation to negotiations: Believe it is possible

if I had given in to the thought that getting off the mountain was an impossibility then I may well not have had the courage or strength to search out new options or made it across the face of the cliff. Being mentally strong in the face of negotiation challenges and believing that there is a way forward, you just need to find it helps you navigate.

It also helps you create value. Believing in the possibility means you will work harder than anyone else to find the areas of connection and the points of mutual understanding. Based on this a platform of exchange and trust is built, confidence is increased and through this is means that obstacles that would have once been a blockage are worked on and overcome.

Lesson 6 in relation to negotiations: Know who you are

In negotiations its important that you trust yourself to make decisions that reflect the life you want to live, or to put it another way, that you can live with. Not putting something on the table or taking it off the table too early because of emotional distress or discomfort is a rooky mistake. You need to back yourself to make the right decision at the right time whilst knowing that if you learn that it was mistake that you can make your way back to the starting point and try another route. Negotiations aren’t always a straight line, we may need to try multiple routes to succeed and trusting that you have the ability to distinguish when something is making progress that is constitutive or damaging and being able to tell the difference and act on it.

If you want to find out more about my method of successful negotiation and my take on improving a number of negotiation situations like buying a house, getting a job offer, then pick up a copy of my book, The Art of Negotiation.

My mission is to help raise awareness about negotiation skills, to improve confidence in everyday negotiations and increase the number of successful opportunities for negotiation that led to amazing outcomes.

My mantra is ‘there’s a negotiator in everyone’ so go out there and see what you can achieve.

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Welcome to The School of Success. The reality is, we all face high value moments that have the potential to change our trajectory forever, if we know how to capitalise on them. These courses are carefully designed to help you thrive in negotiations, sell more confidently and build a life you are excited to live.

A man with a snowboard

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