Yes, that is right. I called Daniel Shapiro, Ambassador of the United States of America to the State of Israel and faculty professor at Harvard Law School an idiot to his face in front of an executive leadership class at Harvard. Now that quote has to be understood in context. You need to read the story below to understand. But before you read please hear this. I think Daniel Shapiro is a brilliant teacher and negotiator and not in the least bit an idiot! Oh and in case you couldn't figure it out from the title today's post has nothing crafty it in (that will come next week) but instead focuses on my 3 day experience at a fabulous Harvard Negotiation Class.
So this past week, I had the privilege of participating in the Harvard Negotiation and Leadership training in Cambridge MA. This was a 3 day training session that is part of Harvard Law School’s executive education program and was very worthwhile. Let me tell you about my experience there.
First, it was VERY intimidating to walk into the Charles Hotel on Monday morning. I do not consider myself to be an executive and knew the course would have some very smart people in attendance. To help lower my self-confidence a tad bit, I found myself seated next to a woman who was the associate director of regulatory affairs who had a PHD from Harvard. Luckily I have the type of personality that is not easily intimidated and I overcame my fears and started a conversation. Turns out she now lives in the town I grew up in and we chatted about the bike path off Route 118 across from Turkey Hill in my hometown.
Next, I looked over the participant list. Also, not an ego boost for me. Here are some of the titles: Director of security policy analysis African initiatives for peace and human security (from Nigeria), Supervisory attorney advisor government of the district of Columbia, office of labor relations and collective bargaining (Washington DC), Head of IT policy and strategy UN world food program (Roma, Italy) etc, etc. There were some very powerful and smart people in that room. About 150 of them.
Then, I see the credentials of the teachers. Robert Bordone, Gabreialla Blum, Francecesca Gino and Guhan Subramanian; all professors at Harvard Law School plus Lawrence Susskind a professor at MIT. Pretty impressive. I was humbled as the program started and eager to see what I could learn in that environment.
As the day progressed, I did not feel especially confident in my negotiation skills. The whole program was about negotiation and I have very little experience with negotiation and am not especially good at it. I don’t even negotiate when I buy things on Craig’s List and I make my husband negotiate all the real-estate and cars. I really just hate the process and avoid it as much as possible, but here I was in the class and was forced to participate in exercises in negotiation. My morning experience was fine. Turns out my PHD lady from my home town also has little experience in negotiating so our first exercise I was up against her. We worked out a fair deal we were both happy with. Then came the afternoon session. The topic of the afternoon ‘Diagnosing and responding to manipulative, hard bargaining tactics.’ Fun Times (NOT!) In this exercise I had a partner. My partner was a meek Asian man. Our opponents were a large, loud man from Africa and a handsome conniving man from Europe. We were doomed. The exercise was a real-estate transaction where we were the buyers, they were sellers. The market value of the property was between 350-440,000. We agreed to a deal where we paid the sellers $550,000. A lot of things went wrong on our end and they used lots of manipulative, hard bargaining tactics (including lying which wasn’t part of their script.) They seemed quite comfortable with playing the role of ‘manipulative negotiator' and enjoyed the exercise far too much (in my opinion.)
At the end of each exercise the professor asks around the room about the different deals and highlights a few things. Of course Mr. Success (the conniving EU guy who was against me) took the mike and told the whole class ‘we got $550,00 for the property.’ The room was stunned at the deal and the above market price that was agreed to. Mr. Success bragged about his aggressive tactics and the professor had to ask ‘who were you up against.’ Mr. Success proudly pointed to me and I was left to cower in my chair embossed and humiliated beyond compare. My boss and bosses boss were in the room and everyone was staring. All I could think was they were thinking ‘what a bunch of fools!’ But the point of the exercise was to highlight manipulative tactics, and that it did. My opponent extracted every available penny (and then some) from his weak opposing team. The point of the exercise was to recognize these manipulative tactics, and that we did. But a deeper lesson that was in play was that in negotiation you can win a battle but lose a war. I learned quite a lot about my experience in the exercise. I don’t know if Mr. Success did. I don't think he really picked up on the fact that the deal wasn’t as good as he thought. In the real world, so few negotiations are single deals. To leave a customer feeling humiliated and taken advantage of rarely results in long-term business success. If I had been buying a car from him, I would not only never buy again, but I’d tell everyone I know that he was dishonest and a bully. He should have left the exercise with an understanding that just because you can take advantage of someone in a negotiation that is not always in your best interest. I don’t think he learned that based on the boastful way he described his success.
So I left day 1 with my head low. I felt shame. I felt weak. I felt humiliated but I also saw that I had both a lot to learn and had already started learning from the first day. I went home, had a glass of wine, invited to dogs on to my lap, watched dull TV and went to bed early. Sigh. It wasn’t a good day. I wanted to cry.
On day 2, I mustered a lot of courage to walk into the room. I was determined to pay attention and learn as much as I could. I also was determined to not get taken advantage of in any exercises. Day 2 was a much better day for me. The morning was spent on the topic ‘managing the tension between empathy and assertiveness.’ The afternoon topic was ‘Building Successful Relationships.’ I found that I was actually much more skilled that most in the room on these topics. One of the exercises in the morning was on ‘active listening.’ I couldn’t believe how hard it was for the others at my table to actually listen and playback what the others said. This was just basic to me. In my job (for the last 12 years) I spent almost all my time drawing information out of people to get requirements. I am quite skilled at asking inquiring questions, listening and feeding back information to ensure I get it right. The others at my table simply couldn’t do this. I did my best to coach them through the exercise ‘it would be better to not share the opposing view at this point, but to first ensure you really understand what Sue is saying.’
I went to lunch feeling much better and not hanging my head in shame anymore. We returned from our afternoon break and our professor, Daniel Shapiro announced to the class ‘wow, we are really running behind this afternoon. I know the agenda shows we will end at 5:30 today, but based on where we are at, we’ll be going till 6:15, maybe 6:30 and I need all of you to stay the full time’. He then turned his back to the class and started to forward to the next slide. The class murmured. He turned around again and said ‘I’m just kidding’ but who believed me?' Many in the room raised our hands. He made eye contact with me and I was given a mike. So began my discussion with Daniel Shapiro. Our afternoon topic was on emotions. He asked what emotion I was feeling when I heard his announcement. I announced ‘anger’ because I had a parking ticket that would go from $17.00 to $28.00 if I didn’t leave the garage before 6:00. The room laughed. Then he asked what I felt about him. I said ‘I thought you were an idiot! you are a Harvard professor. You should know how to manage your time in a classroom to end on time.’ He and the class roared with laughter. It was actually a pretty ballsy thing to do, but thankfully everyone agreed including the professor. Then he went on to talk about the importance of autonomy. He explained that I had felt a tremendous loss of autonomy. No-one asked me if I wanted to stay late. I felt helpless in the situation and angry, frustrated and sad. He described that in negotiations it’s important to try to enable people to feel they have some voice in the decision. I left day 2 feeling much better and more confident. One lady (a lawyer) asked me in the hallway ‘are you the lady who called out the professor in class?’ I smiled and she gave me an encouraging acknowledgment. I was now a force to be reckoned with. A courageous soul willing the ‘say it like it is.’ It felt good.
Day 3 was awesome as we drilled into organizational obstacles and then put it all together. Day 3 had several case studies that were fascinating. It was fun to share ideas across the table with all those super smart people. We studied the Challenger O-Ring decision and a case study on Fairstar Heavy Transport. Both case studies were complex and intriguing. I left the day with my mind full of thoughts on both studies and what the individuals in the situations could have done differently to get a better outcome.
Overall it was a fabulous learning environment. I was so impressed with the quality of teaching. Each professor was interesting and engaging. There was a lot of great information shared and I learned so much about negotiating. I now know to consider my Batna (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and look for moving from positions to interests. I know to consider the range of possible outcomes. I know to consider emotions (mine and the others) and how they are impacting decision making. I know now that it’s very important to discuss the process of the negotiation before starting and to leave room for a safe way to discuss possible mutual benefits prior to ‘dividing the pie.’ I know these skills will help me in my job and it will also help in my personal life too.
Sadly, I cannot be a Harvard Business student for life, although I would love to be a full-time student at a top business school. I loved spending the day thinking about complex business problems and how to achieve optimal results. Sadly, my days of being a full-time student are over, but I am reflective of how thankful I am that back in my early 20’s I was able to be a full-time student at a great business school and that I work for a company that values continuing education and that I was able to join a 3 day session on a relevant topic for my work.