Event Recap: Negotiations Workshop

We loved seeing so many of you at Anomaly last week for our second event of 2018. Back by popular demand, Columbia Business School professor Daniel Ames and collaborator Kim Karetsky led an action-filled 2-hour workshop that focused on building negotiation skills.  

We’re lucky — Daniel and Kim are the top experts in their fields, and generously shared their strategies for excelling in negotiation, a part of life that can be intimidating and challenging for many of us. Daniel's two decades of research — revolving around negotiation, conflict, and how people get along (or fail to) — has won numerous scholarly awards and been cited in publications such as the New York Times,  the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Psychology Today. Kim has over 15 years of experience running leadership and professional development programs for firms like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, and now runs her own consulting firm KHK Leadership and Learning.

The session centered around a role-playing activity, with the objective of learning by doing. We’ve recapped the top 5 tips that came out of the event.

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Tip #1: Commit to an open mind

Whether we realize it or not, we’re constantly negotiating in our personal and professional lives (even on activities as simple as who will do the dishes!). While we practice this skill on a daily basis and have potentially formed strong habits, Daniel’s research shows that most of us have much to learn. When asked about their most recent meaningful negotiation, over 75% of U.S. adults surveyed in Daniel’s research thought they could have done better in some way. Artful negotiation is a learned skill, so no matter where you lie on the spectrum, there is always room for improvement. This requires open-minded observation, practice, familiarization with effective negotiation tactics, and thoughtful self-critique.

Moreover, an open mind will help you avoid common pitfalls. For example, many rigid or inexperienced negotiators enter a conversation with a default adversarial mindset, expecting a zero-sum game that ends with a winner and a loser. While this is understandable, as negotiation often puts participants in a vulnerable position — perhaps your livelihood, career, and quality of life depend on a favorable outcome — turning the conversation into an ego contest often hurts your case.

Reframing negotiation as a collaboration rather than a contest can open both sides to creative problem solving. Daniel pointed out that “our success usually doesn’t require the other side’s failure.” Both parties most often have at least some common ground, with different priorities that could be traded-off, making it possible to strike a deal that yields value for both sides.

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Tip #2: Define success in advance — and abide by it

Daniel recommends that you craft a mission statement that reflects what you truly want to achieve in the conversation. Ask yourself: what are my top 2-3 priorities going into this negotiation? Spell them out. For example, “my goal is to have more flexibility for time with my family.” This will help prevent you from being “goaljacked” when your counterpart throws a curveball, causing you to lose sight of what you are striving for.

In his research, Daniel found that when people did not prepare in this way, only 56% of them said, when looking back later, that they acted in way that was consistent with their true goals in the negotiation. But when people took the time in advance to outline their goals, and even write them down, this number jumped to 84%.

A clear and concise mission statement will help keep your goals in sight, and stay strong on what is important to you when an inevitable tough moment during the conversation occurs.

Tip #3: Craft an information strategy around your definition of success

In addition to articulating a sound mission statement, you should spend time learning about the person you’re negotiating with, and plan how to present your case.

Daniel and Kim recommend gathering as much information as possible in order to understand how the person you’re negotiating with will view your proposition. Ask yourself: what concerns will they have? What types of questions will they likely ask? What is their ideal scenario?

Then, determine what personal information you are willing to share (and data you believe is wise to hold back). At Tuesday’s event, several WIN members had a lively discussion on how transparency can be mistakenly thought of as a sign of weakness, while we learned in our workshop activities, it was important — if not the key — to success. In order to create a mutually valuable solution, your counterpart often needs to understand what you really want, and the only way they’ll know is if you articulate it.

Finally, develop a frame for your proposal that is both appealing to you and your counterpart. How can you getting what you want also be a “win” for them? How is your ask acting in the best interests of their needs?

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Tip #4: While keeping your goals and strategy in mind, develop rapport and be human

Daniel and Kim recommend “warming up” at the beginning of a negotiation by connecting with your counterpart and seeking insight into their interests. This small tactic not only helps dissolve potential tension at the beginning of a conversation, but also allows you both better understand each other. Avoiding stress on both sides of the table is key — anxiety can cause you to lose sight of what is important to you, and vice versa.

One of the biggest roadblocks to a successful negotiation can be getting stuck on a surface level debating incompatible positions. Your “warm up” conversation on your counterpart’s interests will help you make inferences and dig deeper to understand where the other person is coming from. In the moment, you can supplement your own analysis by asking your counterpart “why?” or “why not?” if you encounter resistance.

Overall, a focus on the negotiation as an opportunity for relationship building will help you manage a constructive conversation. No matter how well you know your peer, developing trust and respect will go a long way towards getting what you want. A successful negotiation on your part usually does not require the failure of the person you are speaking to — you can often both leave the table feeling you won.

Tip #5: Know and develop yourself. Even the most effective negotiators are always learning

While big negotiations might only happen every once in a while, you can do a lot in the meantime to prepare. First, take stock of yourself — what are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to negotiating? What small adjustments can you make for a big return (for example: writing goals down)? Where do you find yourself feeling most uncomfortable? Define key focus areas for improvement, and lean into your strengths.

With your strengths and weaknesses in mind, start engaging with the body of knowledge on negotiation. Daniel mentioned Mary Parker Follet as one of his negotiation heroes. Mary, also known as the “mother of management”, wrote extensively in the 1930s on negotiation, and inspired much of our modern thinking on this topic (which, ironically, she is often not given credit for!) She coined a term we love that you might have heard of before: “win-win”  — this is what we should all strive for. For further education on negotiation, Daniel recommends a book Mary’s work influenced, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

In addition, online tools like Daniel’s own site, Negotiable (request access here), provide interactive opportunities to practice skills and strengthen this muscle.

Finally, don’t take this journey on alone — connect with others! Working with a partner or group is both more fun and effective. This is a perfect opportunity to reach out and connect with other WIN women.


If you have negotiation tips of your own you’d like to share, email us at team@womenininnovation.co or share them via our private Facebook group. For access to Daniel’s digital tool, Negotiable, please apply here.

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Written by Katie Burwick, Christina Clark, Emma Anderson, and Ilse Paanakker

Photos by Katie Burwick

WIN Women