June 2, 2018

WICKED SMAHT: 3 Takeaways from Harvard’s Negotiation and Leadership Program

I have to say I went into this program with low expectations. I suppose I am just used to the continuing education programs in my industry lacking quality, in-depth content. But, the folks at Harvard really lived up to their name. The course was engaging, the instructors were passionate and knew the course material well enough to never look at a slide, the case studies and examples allowed us to practice what we were learning, and the other students were top-notch! I could go on for days about how awesome Boston and Cambridge are but I’ll save that for another day. In this post, I want to share my 3 biggest takeaways from the Harvard Negotiation and Leadership Program.



Positional Bargaining vs. Interest-based Negotiations

From a very young age, we are taught to win. And that there is one winner and the rest have lost. A competitive nature is instilled in us. Bruce Patton, co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, describes positional bargaining as “the dance of concessions” where we make a series of demands and threats while conceding until either no deal is reached, or a split-the-difference compromise leaves both parties forever wondering if they could have gotten more.  He goes on to describe another strategy. One where parties explore each other's interest to promote joint gains with explainable results to their constituents, keeping everyone from having to choose between a good deal and a good relationship. This strategy is called interest-based negotiations. Here the discussions start out by building rapport, discussing interests and options, determining their legitimacy, and then making choices. It requires thinking creatively, lots of preparation on the front end, and can sometimes take longer but should yield smoother implementation of the plan.

A father left his two sons one, single orange when he passed. The boys argued over this orange for a long while until finally deciding to cut the orange in half and go their separate ways. The one son went home and ate all the fruit throwing the rind in the garbage. The other son went home and peeled the rind off his half and chopped it up and made a delicious dessert for himself and threw the fruit away. If only the brothers had practiced active listening to understand each other’s interests, they could have each had double AND saved their relationship.  Think of it this way: with positional bargaining you are just trying to get the biggest piece of the pie but by focusing on interests, you can grow the size of the pie to share.


Emotions Mustn’t Be Ignored

There are hundreds of emotions we as humans experience; anger, guilt, annoyance, envy, happiness, hopelessness, passion, and more. So how do we deal with these emotions in negotiations? Harvard's International Negotiation Program Founder and Director Daniel Shapiro says focus on core concerns instead of emotions. Make sure the other party feels appreciated, build affiliations and respect their autonomy, status, and role. Did you know the part of your brain associated with rejection is the same part of the brain associated with physical pain? Never react. Instead, respond to emotions by addressing these basic human concerns and you’re sure to have a better outcome.


GREAT Negotiators Focus on the OTHER Party Relentlessly

Brian Mandell, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, discussed the idea of creating a NSU or Negotiation Support Unit. This team is comprised of the people you trust most who understand your interests and can help you do the homework on the other side BETTER than they do themselves. Together you should explore questions like “How strong is their walk away alternative?”, “If we were them, would we buy it?”, and maybe most importantly “What is the most awkward and embarrassing thing they could ask us today?”. We must get into an anticipatory mindset before we sit across the table from an adversary. It may even be beneficial to create a prep sheet that helps you detail your interests, goals, alternatives, etc vs. what you believe true for the other party. Remember, more talk at the table does not produce agreements. Preparedness is key.


If you ever get the chance to take this course at Harvard, don’t hesitate. Go pahk yah cah at the yahd and you'll be wicked smaht.


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