Last week I taught my MIT class (Multi-Stakeholder Negotiation for Technical Experts) over video-conference from across the country – debriefing a multi-party exercise, while some students were stuck overseas due to travel restrictions. When we resume classes later this month – this will be the new norm for everyone. We are moving all online.
Fortunately, this is not totally new to me, having been part of several online/mobile education technology efforts in recent years. As part of Harvard’s PON Global I teach around the world, facilitating live overseas videoconference sessions with thought-leading professors who were back on campus. At MIT, our Entrepreneurial Negotiation course, led by my co-author Professor Lawrence Susskind, has been open to on-site students as well as to hundreds of students across the globe.
I am a people person. I do believe that negotiation is best taught in person. It is about human connections, communications and interactions. But it’s also true that in today’s world, a great portion of the negotiations do happen over some electronic medium. Regardless of what you may think, during these times of pandemic lock-downs, we don’t have a choice but to teach online – both the theory of negotiation and the practical skills that would be required to negotiate, whether in person or electronically. In today’s world and in whatever the future holds – negotiation skills are even more important.
I believe there are several advantages to on-line teaching that we should embrace today:
Synchronous Convening – Today’s online meeting tools allow us to convene large numbers of participants for a session, and also use virtual breakout rooms to allow them to have smaller groups. This enables the critical elements of learning to negotiate experientially:
Using today’s sophisticated online tools, the instructor can orchestrate and enable these breakout sequences using clear time allocations, thus allowing the full group to reconvene for a final large group debrief. One thing to be stressed over videoconference or electronic means is that communications become even more prone to misunderstanding, as in “message conveyed is not always the same as the message that was received”. Tip: Encourage your students to use active listening even more actively!
Synchronous Communication – In today’s real world, negotiators use parallel modes of communications while negotiating: video, phone, chat, text, email, etc. The on-line platforms have many of these features built in, and student negotiators find other “out-of-class” channels. These impact the negotiation dynamics, and replaces the old “at-the-table note-passing” with text messaging sent to a participant or group who may be sitting next to you, or half way around the globe. Tip: Encourage students to incorporate those channels into their awareness, and also into their debrief, for some new and interesting insights.
Recording Analysis – One advantage of online negotiation tools is that the recording features are usually built-in. At our MIT class, my colleague Takeo Kuwabara and I recorded using Zoom each of the 6-person (3 on 3) negotiations, and assigned each group a videographer whose task was to edit the video to a four-minute clip showing some key learning moments (both from the side-on-side negotiation, or the same-side caucus session). During the next session, the whole class viewed the four clips, and we had a Zoom videoconference discussion about those learning moments and their own reflections. Tip: find ways of encouraging your students to review recordings to learn more about themselves.
Asynchronous Learning – Trying to reach larger numbers and during times that many not match, some of the teaching needs to be moved to asynchronous. We implement this by requiring students to reflect on their negotiations, and then share these with other peers for feedback. But we are also creating some new tools, such as learning with online avatars using Negotiation Scenarios. In these simulations, the student may try several answers or approaches and will get a different response from the avatar negotiator based on their choice. This reinforces the concepts and allows each student to repeat certain modules at their own pace. Tip: Find ways to safely allow students explore and learn between sessions at their own pace.
We are moving to a new world, where all forms of negotiation: business, government, diplomacy, engineering, academia and others, are happening on-line. So is our teaching. Let’s embrace these opportunities and move forward in showing the way to create more value, even in times of crisis.
(originally published as a Program On Negotiation at Harvard Law School Pedagogy Blog article)
I met Elad six years ago, and we immediately found an affiliation and shared values. We realized that we both grew up playing basketball, graduated from the same university, were sons of educators, competed at the international sports level, and had industry-successes as engineers in industry before attending a top-tier business school. After he made his pitch, we passionately explored how his idea could be made into an education company that would help aspiring students improve their chances of college-success by using their mobile phones to prepare for the acceptance tests. On the user experience side, we imagined how we could create an engaging user-interface for a mobile application with an affordable price. On the technical side, we were both passionate about the potential of using cutting-edge deep-learning technologies that would be automated and personalized to each individual’s learning-style, no matter where they were in the world. We were excited. This could really “democratize” the whole test-prep market.
I was hooked. It didn’t matter to me that when I played around with the prototype, later that same night, I found bugs, faulty answers and had the software crash twice. I had enough experience, and dealt with enough prototyping efforts, to be able to see beyond the current failures. I felt confident that Elad has the qualities of both a passionate founder and a charismatic leader, and skills to understand both the market and required technologies. Together, I could envision how we would be able to build a team and develop a strategy to address the expected challenges that lie ahead, as well as the unexpected ones.
For five years under Elad’s founder-CEO leadership, we travelled through the start-up stages: from idea to seed to an early start up stage, and then to revenue-generation, growth and expansion. We grew from developing one app to over a dozen. We expanded our revenue from one stream to several. We adjusted our business focus and pivoted. We hired people, fired people, raised money, made some good deals, made some mistakes and did a lot of learning on the job. Early on, I took on the role of founding board member, initially working in the office several days per month. Over time I assumed a more formal board member position alongside the other talented and experienced venture capitalists who invested in the A-round and B-round financings. We saw the company win awards and fulfill the original vision, exceeding 2 million students in over 150 countries!
Eighty to ninety percent of all start-ups will fail. While there are many reasons for this, one of the biggest problems new ventures face is poor negotiation skills. According to experts Samuel Dinnar, a Harvard instructor and business mediator, and Lawrence Susskind, a professor at MIT who also co-founded the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, “the single biggest threat to entrepreneurial success is an inability to handle the negotiations that arise in the evolution of a start-up.” Founders must be able to prevent, detect, and respond to potential negotiation mistakes in each of their interactions.
In their book, Entrepreneurial Negotiation: Understanding and Managing The Relationships That Determine Your Entrepreneurial Success (Palgrave Macmillan), Dinnar and Susskind point to the mix of emotion, uncertainty, complexity, and relationships that makes Entrepreneurial Negotiation so difficult. They explain that the very qualities that help entrepreneurs launch businesses – willingness to take risks, high levels of self-confidence, a desire for rapid results – can themselves become stumbling blocks. Based on their many years of hands-on experience, plus their in-depth research – including videotaped interviews with business founders – Dinnar and Susskind pinpoint eight common mistakes that entrepreneurs are prone to make.
To illustrate to entrepreneurs and those who negotiate with them how these mistakes play out, Dinnar and Susskind have included key portions of their interviews with eight founders from various backgrounds and industries in Entrepreneurial Negotiation. The authors provide commentary about the reported missteps and show how each founder’s performance improved moving forward. The interviews, which also reveal issues of gender bias and the pros and cons of using agents, can be seen at www.entrepreneurialnegotiation.com, and are just one of the unique features of Entrepreneurial Negotiation.
The book also includes extensive advice and worksheets to help readers recognize and prevent their own missteps. The authors explain how to prepare for, engage in, and reflect on each negotiation; how to deal with negative personal triggers; analyze the motivations that drive almost all participants; and step back to view heated situations “from the balcony” as an unbiased observer. These are the skills that entrepreneurs need to successfully negotiate the future of their enterprises. Entrepreneurial Negotiation shows them how.
Negotiation Journal is committed to the development of better strategies for resolving differences through the give-and-take process of negotiation. Guided by Kurt Lewin’s principle that there is nothing so practical as good theory, the content published in the Journal includes reports on cutting-edge research, a wide range of case studies, teacher’s reports about what does and doesn’t work in the negotiations classroom, essays on best practices, and integrative book reviews. The Journal‘s eclectic, multidisciplinary approach reinforces its reputation as an invaluable international resource for anyone interested in the practice and analysis of negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution including educators, researchers, diplomats, lawyers, business leaders, labor negotiators, government officials, and mediators.
To download a PDF of the article, go to
Diffuse Tension Before It Escalates
At the beginning of every negotiation, there is a natural tension in the air. The higher the stakes, the higher the tension level. To diffuse it, open by conveying your sincerity and warmth with a handshake, eye contact, and a smile, as appropriate.
Other ways of reducing tension in the first few minutes are sharing airtime while projecting genuine interest, showing respect and asking for agreement on some small initial ground-rule (e.g., use of first or last names, seating arrangements, etc.).
A 2004 experiment using sociometric badges in a mock negotiation (between a corporate vice president and a middle manager) demonstrated that “tone of voice” used by participants in the first five minutes predicted more than a third of the variation in the objective and subjective outcome of a negotiation. They also found that turn-taking dynamics (who speaks when) had a strong correlation with the subjective value levels reported after the negotiation.
Still, other studies showed that similarity, also called affiliation, is a primary factor that influences personal human connection – the building of rapport between individuals. Rapport reduces stress and is the best predictor of success in relationships. As a negotiation proceeds to more difficult topics, good negotiators maintain a relaxed tone (with the appropriate level of seriousness) while respecting their counterpart’s autonomy and status.
The Power of Humor, Stories, and Metaphors
Several additional tools that are often used to reduce stress are storytelling, metaphors, and humor. The appropriate use of humor, especially, can serve as a release valve for negative emotions such as anxiety, suspicion, and anger, and can create room for people to put things in perspective. Humor can also serve as a way of acknowledging the absurdity of the moment, where parties have inadvertently locked themselves into extreme positions. Humor does need to be used carefully. If a party doesn’t understand an attempt at humor, they may be left wondering if the joke is on them. If they feel as if they are the target (or that they are being taken lightly), it will most likely make the situation worse. Finding the right balance between humor and serious intent can make it easier to deal with escalating competitive behavior.
Stories have the power to convey an important idea, stimulate a strong emotional response, and allow a release of political or interpersonal tension. They help to shift everyone’s focus from the tension in the room to the tension in the story. At the conclusion, when the story’s tension is finally released – both the listeners and the storyteller experience a stress-reducing feeling. Our brains react to stories the same way they react to true events.
Using metaphors is also effective. For example, in negotiating the break-up of a business, framing the situation as a pile of cash to be divided creates a “divide the pie” metaphor. This is likely to induce a win-lose mindset. Using a story about a “cash cow” might shift the focus to a living creature that cannot be divided, but if taken care of will produce dividends over time. This second framing metaphor would more likely induce a collaborative discussion of how to share responsibilities and allocate future profits.
Apologize Quickly and Sincerely
f you realize you have done something that has hurt the other side, you should issue an apology immediately. It is rarely to your advantage to provoke feelings of fear, anger or resentment. A sincere apology can often restore a better working context. Apology is a social ritual that shows respect and empathy to the offended person. While you cannot undo a mistake, an apology can help the other side move on. This is the opposite of what happens when a person is emotionally triggered. Experiments show that receiving an apology reduces heart rate, breathing rate, sweat levels, facial tension, and blood pressure.
Apologizing quickly and sincerely shows that you take responsibility for your actions. On your side, it can also prevent a buildup of remorse or shame caused by the fact that you hurt someone or simply as a result of having made an error. It is not easy, and quite humbling to apologize, but when done correctly it projects the inner strength of someone who is confident and aware of the feelings of others.
Even when you apologize immediately, don’t rush things. It takes time for impacted emotions to wash over the other side. The body needs time to recover and to switch from fear, anger, and anxiety to empathy and compassion. Be present and attentive. Accept the silence as OK, and don’t move on prematurely. You may need to repeat your apology, since it may not have been fully heard or absorbed the first time. Focus on your counterpart’s reactions. Wait for them to indicate that it is OK to continue.
Some mistakes are minor, and it will be easier for the other side to recover from these, even without an apology. Some will require both sides to cool off before continuing. After you have apologized and demonstrated your sincere intent to remedy the situation, you may want to revisit the item that was on the agenda when you made the mistake initially. Ask for a “do-over.” This is the ultimate “detect and respond” response: an “on-the-spot” apology that is accepted, coupled with permission to return to the negotiation.
Negotiations are fraught with tensions. Learning to reduce tension and negative emotions creates a better outcome for everyone.
Originally published on leadershipnow.com/leadingblog
The Pre-Negotiation Moves of an Effective CEO Negotiator
Anticipate Likely Mistakes
Good preparation means making a list of the mistakes you might make. Do you have competitive tendencies that can get out of control? Do you have an aversion to conflict? Maybe your potential investor has a need for control despite his or her lack of technical knowledge. Asterisk the mistakes your usual tendencies are most likely to cause. Try to make an informed guess about the same for the other side.
Consider Setup Moves
The next phase of preparation has to do with moves you can make away from the table before the actual negotiations begin. Successful negotiators understand that there are set-up moves that can lead to better outcomes. For example, send some written information prepared by non-involved parties that set the stage for the arguments you intend to make. Encourage the other side to talk ahead of time with people who have worked with you in the past and who will vouch for your credibility. Generate a better alternative to your potentially negotiated agreement. Having a stronger walk-away alternative will give you more power during the negotiation, and will allow you the confidence to push harder for a better agreement.
Imagine who else might need to be involved if a creative package may include parties that have no idea that they might have a stake in what you are planning to negotiate. Be ready to name possible coalition partners and do your homework about them. Invest in building a relationship with potential negotiating partners even before you have something specific to negotiate with them. Your interest will seem more genuine if you have nothing specific to ask of them when you are getting to know them.
Moves away from the table will deal with external people who may block the deal, both on their side and on your side. This will also involve getting things straight with your own back-table. Be sure you have authority to make the kind of commitments you are intending to make. You don’t want to have to halt a negotiation that is progressing nicely while you deal with internal opposition on your own team. Think about other parties who might create obstacles to the deal you are hoping to make, and take preliminary steps to blunt possible opposition. For instance, if public perceptions could present obstacles, begin as soon as possible to reshape those views through a carefully orchestrated campaign. Consult possible opponents as soon as possible, and ask for their general advice. Let them feel that they have had some influence on your negotiations.
Anticipate the Best Means Of Creating Value
Based on your pre-negotiation analysis and after sorting through possible set-up moves, focus on ways of creating value. Be ready to offer process leadership at the table, to drive the negotiation process that will lead to the most favorable outcome.
With this in mind, don’t be afraid to negotiate about how you are going to negotiate. Invest some time at the outset of a negotiation in talking with the other side about your commitment to create as much value, for both sides, as possible. Discuss possible steps that can be added to the negotiation process (e.g. joint fact finding) that might benefit both sides. Argue for a short period of brainstorming, probably at the outset of the negotiation, during which nothing said can be construed as a commitment. This almost always helps generate new options and packages. Changes to the process of negotiation cannot be done unilaterally – you will need buy-in from the other side, so be prepared to explain the purpose of each element of process design you are proposing. Be ready to illustrate the benefits to both sides.
Once all your preparations have been completed, and you have a course of action in mind, be ready to rehearse. This will enable you to visualize what is likely to happen when the negotiation begins for real. Usually, you can find one or more colleagues willing to play assigned roles. In role-plays like this, you can hear yourself saying specific words and feel your body’s reactions to harsh messages from your (simulated) counterparts. The will reduce the errors that usually result from surprises.
Good preparation can help you increase leverage, gain advantage, and prevent likely mistakes. Pre-negotiation moves may make the difference between success and failure in entrepreneurial negotiation, where the issues are complex, the stakes are high, the relationship is critical, the uncertainty is abundant, egos are big, and emotions can get in the way.
First Published in CEOWorld Magazine