Last week I attended the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation (PON) 3 day course – Negotiation and Leadership – Dealing with Difficult People and Problems. PON is a consortium formed by faculty from Harvard, Tufts and MIT, but this program was exclusively taught by Harvard faculty. I have done an extensive amount of continuing & executive education. This program is the best I’ve ever attended in terms of overall organization, quality of material, quality of presentations, and applicability of content.
Each day we had two 4 hour sessions, and a lunch for all attendees. There were about 180 of us attending, and we were literally from all over the globe. I am not going to summarize the entire program, but will try to give a taste of some of the key concepts and ideas that resonated for me. Almost all sessions had one or more case studies, and one or more role playing negotiation exercises. For each negotiation(generally done in pairs) we’d talk about what percentage of the group was able to come to an agreement, what the specific terms were (any trends?), and what the most “fair” outcome would have been. It was stunning to see the disparity among negotiation outcomes.
Day 1: Managing the Tension between Creating and Distributing Value
Presenter: James Sebenius (bio)
He laid the foundation for the foundation for the rest of the program outlining a negotiation into three key components: the setup, design, and tactics. The key here is preparation before you get to the table. He also introduced core vocabulary such as BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and ZOPA (zone of possible agreement). The key to a successful negotiation is understanding the BATNA and interests for each party. Importantly, this might have nothing to do with deal structure or deal terms. It might be more about respect, reputation, affiliations, power, or influence. This guidance set the tone for everything else that followed. We played with non-verbal cues such as mirroring, and setting up a negotiation side-by-side (to solve a problem together) vs. across the table (as adversaries). We had many case studies and role playing exercises to probe positions and interests to dig into what was really important for a given negotiation.
Day 1: Difficult Tactics and How to Deal with Them
Presenter: Gabriella Blum (bio)
Gabriella presented the various toxic ways people may negotiate with you – haggling, take it or leave it, personal insults, bluffing, threats, deadlines, and “no authority.”
She stress the importance of knowing your own triggers – what sets you off so that you can be prepared, stay calm and take a break if needed. The strategies to employ here included active listening to change the game. Active listening can be used to gain information, to resolve issues, and to change the dynamic. It’s critical to resist the urge to judge, defend (argue!), or give advice.
We broke into groups of three (coach, speaker, listener) to practice the three major components of active listening on “hot topics”:
- Paraphrase to help void misunderstanding. This helps keep the focus on core issues and creates anchors
- Inquiry to improve understanding, resolves confirmation bias, minimizes projection (attribution errors)
- Acknowledgement to be respectful of the other person’s feelings (even if you think they are dumb and wrong)
We each played all of the roles. As the “listener”, it’s really hard to use all three strategies and to not be dismissive of the other person’s point of view.
This instructor and several others stressed that the most difficult negotiations may be with one’s own team. You need to be able to negotiate along table (with your team), across table (with others), and behind table (with your CEO or board, etc).
Day 2: Managing the Tension between Empathy and Assertiveness
Presenter: Robert Mnookin (bio)
Robert’s lecture had many helpful lists and ideas.
In any negotiation there are three tensions that need to be balanced:
- Create value & expand the pie vs. distributing value (dividing the pie)
- Empathy & Assertiveness (the main focus of this session)
- Principals & Agents (each have their own interests)
Successful negotiations focus on three things:
- Substance (deal points)
- Process (how will negotiation be conducted)
Side note: I’ve been in countless contract negotiations in my job. I’ve focused 99% of my time on only the substance (deal points). The latter two items may actually be more important that the substance of the negotiation.
Let’s not forget difficult negotiations which might have:
- Difficult people
- Difficult tactics
- Difficult structure of situation
We did a self-assessment of our tendencies in the face of conflict. There are 5 major conflict styles:
- problem solving (high assertion, high empathy)
- compromise (moderate empathy, moderate assertion)
- winning (high assertion) – competitor
- avoiding conflict (hide all emotions) – avoider
- good relationships (high empathy) – accommodator
While problem solving is perhaps the “best” style, we all also have a primary underlying motivation tied to winning, avoiding conflict or maintaining the relationship. I was stunned to learn that my primary motivation was tied to maintaining the relationship (high empathy). Who knew?! We split into our various groups and spent some time outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each style. Humorously, the instructor made the “winners” go last!
Perhaps one of the best parts of the case study exercise (negotiation over distribution rights in a turbulent middle eastern nation) was a Negotiation Preparation Form (2 sided, 11 x 17) to help us identify our interests, their interests, our resources, their resources, value-creating options, my BATNA, their BATNA, what’s important to me, what’s important to them, people issues on each side, the proposed negotiation process, important norms and criteria, conflict styles, etc.
This was a very content and emotion heavy session. Key takeaways included:
- Focus on interests not positions
- Be creative & generate options
- Use objective criteria and marshal the power of fairness
- Listen well and assert effectively
Day 2: Building Successful Relationships
Presenter: Sheila Heen (bio)
Books: Difficult Conversations – How to discuss what matters most; Thanks for the Feedback – the science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it’s off base, unfair, poorly delivered and frankly you’re not in the mood).
Let me start by saying that Sheila was hilarious.
We spent a lot of time discussing emotional interests – i.e. what’s underneath that might make a negotiation blow up. These were largely taken from her colleagues’ book Beyond Reason – Using Emotions as You Negotiate.
These core emotional interests include:
- (fairness) – not in the book but Sheila thinks it’s just as important.
If a negative emotional response is triggered – adrenalin and cortisol surge – hearing and listening ability decrease, but the visual cortex takes a snapshot of the episode. So you might remember the exact moment (the image is literally burned in your brain), the tone, feeling, and body language but not the actual words. And it can take a good 10 to 20 minutes for this fight or flight hormonal surge to calm down.
Her recommendation was to practice moving to active listening as soon as possible. The best plan is to simply “do no harm” during the refractory period. And if you can take a break, do so.
She also presented some interesting research on mirror neuron activation and its role in empathy. See e.g. Mirror neuron system involvement in empathy: a critical look at the evidence. And of course we discussed how to trigger oxytocin to promote bonding and trust. And yes, it’s been aerosolized as a (
weapon) negotiation tool.
The exercises and case studies for this session were highly emotional. What triggers us? What triggers people who are important to us? How did that last big blow up go? What did you learn from it in terms of the triggers and a better approach? How should you divide sentimental items bequeathed in a will with complex terms and conditions?
Of course this session ended with them giving us a massive document with background information that we’d be discussing on Day 3.