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Negotiations with Kathy O’Brien

Please notice this was first posted in the period 2012-2014 and can be outdated

During the course Leadership in Organizations, which we had in the first hexamester, we had several guest speakers coming in who not only told about their current business but sometimes also gave advice on what would be important for us to learn to become a good leader after graduating from Sasin. One of the advices given was to focus on how to perform negotiations since this would come in handy in many business situations. And as you can already guess, this hexamester we were treated on the course “Negotiations” given by Kathy O’Brian which we already met before during the course persuasive presentation skills.

Handouts from the course “MGMT D70 Negotiations” with Kathy O’Brian.

The best point of her earlier course was the practical angle of it; we did not just get theory but we had to put it in practice also, right there and then. This way we internalized the theory given and while it might have been frightening for some people to stand up and talk, I do believe everybody learned some valuable lessons during that course. Unfortunately this course was structured a bit differently. Naturally there was a focus again on the theory, given to us in the form of powerpoint slides, but I missed the “putting in practice” part. Especially given that the course was spread over only 4 days it meant we had to sit and listen for hours in a row without much physical activity needed. Part of the theory went therefore in one ear, and immediately out the other.

The first assignment was a piece of cake, since we first did the assignment in groups. Right after we were seated and had to redo it on paper for a grade. And still I did not reach full score of 25 points 🙁

The course was structured well though, and as someone pointed out it was probably used before to train smaller groups of people with opportunities to include some role-playing exercises in there. What I do not understand is why we did not do this the same way we did the course persuasive presentation skills. Instead of having everyone seated in long rows leaving no opportunity for communication we could have better been seated in smaller groups, around tables. Two people could do a small negotiation assignment while the other people around the table would need to recognize techniques or give feedback. After that roles could be switched giving everybody the opportunity to put things in practice.

Beyond dealmaking is required reading for this course, even though the content will not be tested it is recommend to, at least, read the chapter summaries if you feel like it.

The reading material for this course consisted of the book “Beyond Dealmaking” by Melanie Billings-Yun. While I heard several people speaking positively about this book I must say I was not very impressed by it. First of all the book is over 250 pages thick and tries to bring home only a very limited number of points. The fact that you think it is of crucial importance to see a negotiation as the start of a long-term relationship is very valid, but I doubt if it is necessary to spend 150 pages explaining this. Secondly, the author did not come across very modest. Instead of giving some hypothetical situations to drive down her point, she made an effort to explicitly mention how big and important the parties were in the negotiation and how they hired her, and not someone else, to help them out; and of course they always reached a good outcome in the end. I normally enjoy reading someone’s resume, but in this case the resume was a 250-page book, and the person we are speaking of was not directly applying for a job.

While I give an example of a substitute, I can just as well tell you in 10 pages that I once earned USD 3 mln for a client in a day… (impressed already?)

The structure of the course did change near the end though, where we had one exercise where a small negotiation was performed in front of the class by a few people. While I noticed Kathy did not appreciate our creative minds where we were able to come up with absurd stories and dialogues, I think we did a fine job not going overboard with the role playing like we did before (at least nobody played a ladyboy or flamboyant gay in the negotiation). The final assignment gave a perfect learning opportunity when people were paired up and given a day to prepare a negotiation which could last up to an hour. As a team we had to hand in the results of the negotiation, which will be graded, where Kathy will probably look mostly for ways we found to reach a win-win situation thinking out-of-the-box to expand the pie.

In the final assignment we were teamed up in groups of 2 and had to conduct a complete negotiation between a producer and a distributor. Finally the perfect situation to put some of the things we heard during class into practice.