I recently had the extraordinary privilege of participating in a course at Oxford – the Oxford Programme on Negotiation. The programme (which I would normally spell as ‘program’ but out of respect for the programme will spell the English way in this blog) was a 5-day intensive course conducted by the Säid Business School.
Not only was the content of the programme fascinating and incredibly practical (which I will get to soon), but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with some of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
Our expert programme leaders and guest lecturers included:
- Tim Cullen, Director of the Oxford Programme on Negotiation – an expert with extraordinary global experience gained through organisations including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations and the UK’s Department for International Development. Tim was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and has been a prolific speaker and author on the topic of negotiation including related to Brexit and negotiating with North Korea.
- Owen Darbishire, Academic Director of the Oxford Programme on Negotiation, Rhodes Trust Associate Professor and Fellow of Pembroke College – an expert in negotiation, collective bargaining and decision making with experience working with BMW, ThyssenKrupp, ABN AMRO, Rolls Royce, BT, IKEA and International Red Cross. He is a published author (“Converging Divergences: Worldwide changes in employment systems”) drawing on his extensive research in how different national systems impact negotiated outcomes in relation to employment systems and the impact of changes in labour law and technology on collective bargaining.
- Michael Gates, Guest Lecturer – an internationally recognised teacher and writer on cross-cultural management with experience with the World Bank, Rolls Royce, Microsoft, Nokia, the European Union and the Finnish and Swedish governments. Michael developed the world’s first online cross-cultural assessment and cultural data resource CultureActive (which looks phenomenal) and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines on cross-cultural matters. He also does fantastic accent impressions.
- Michele Pekar, Guest Lecturer – trained at Harvard and author of the best-selling book “The first move: a negotiator’s companion”, Michele lectures and coaches on negotiation throughout Asia, Europe and North America, including having trained diplomats of the United Nations. Her early career was in politics as a legislative aide, drafting legislative bills and serving as liaison between the senator, the public and the press. Her current research focusses on recognising and managing emotions in negotiation and mediation.
- Sue Williams, Guest Lecturer – an experienced police officer with the London Metropolitan Police Service, including 5 years as head of the Hostage Crisis Unit at New Scotland Yard. Sue qualified in hostage negotiation with Scotland Yard and the FBI, and has subsequently trained hundreds of students in the field. She was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in recognition of her commitment to the fields of kidnap, negotiation and saving of life. She now works independently delivering specialist response services to governments, companies and individuals who operate in kidnap hotspots around the world. She is also involved with the International Maritime Bureau as a crisis manager responding to sea hijacking. Despite her undoubted ability to stay calm under extraordinary circumstances, she told me a story about recently panicking in the Black Friday sales and buying a handbag she didn’t even like. We’ve all been there.
- Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Guest Lecturer – Professor of International Relations and director of the Centre of International Studies at the University of Oxford, former Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Chair of Southeastern European Studies at Oxford and Council member of the European Council of Foreign Relations. Kalypso joined us to specifically speak about the Brexit Negotiations.
In addition to these brilliant lecturers, we also had the constant support and coaching of 3 experienced tutors who observed all of our simulations and provided feedback on our strategy, tactics and performance.
Our programme cohort comprised 28 impressive executives and leaders from the private sector, government and NGOs, from countries as diverse as the UK, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Romania, Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Canada, Brazil, Vanuatu and 3 participants from Australia.
The programme involved extensive role plays so that we could practice developing a negotiation strategy, choosing negotiation tactics and trialling them in action with our counterparts. Each negotiation had a detailed brief which was personalised to our role in the negotiation and a specific mandate for us to achieve during the negotiation in order to consider it successful. Some simulations were reasonably quick (~45 minutes) while others were extensive (3-4 hours), and we explored several types of negotiation formats including 1-to-1, 1-to-2, team and multi-lateral. We received feedback from each other after each simulation as well as from the lecturers and tutors who were observing the negotiations.
My 5 key takeaways from the programme are:
- There are two elements to every negotiation: the people and the substance of the issues. Most negotiators focus on the issues and neglect the people, but to understand the issues you need to understand the people. In this way, relationships between counterparts are crucial. Even the terminology is important – note the term ‘counterpart’, not ‘opposition’ or ‘opponent’. Unless you are negotiating a termination, every negotiation is about relationship. Your likability and fairness as a negotiator is very, very important. In the end, hard and aggressive behaviours will work against you.
- Aim to create value, rather than claim Think of a negotiation as an opportunity to increase the size of the pie for both parties, rather than carve up the pie between you. Counter-intuitively, it is the differences between the parties that creates the most value, not the similarities – you can create more gains when you have different interests, valuations, forecasts, opinions, and preferences for risks and timing.
- People often state their positions (goals and outcomes) in a negotiation, but it is better to understand the interests behind the positions. To negotiate effectively, you need to understand their underlying concerns and remember that people may have different reasons for the same position. When your counterpart states their position, ask questions in order to learn more about their interests.
- The best negotiators are creative so ensure your mandate allows you to be creative in structuring deals. Bring as many issues as possible to the table to give you lots of scope for discussion and the opportunity to make package deals. And resist the temptation to resolve issues one-by-one – if you can keep issues in play for as long as possible, you may be able to use a combination of issues to make larger trades.
- And finally, the best negotiators tell the best stories. This makes perfect sense if you consider that a negotiation is a process of persuasion, and that stories are extremely persuasive. But many negotiators believe that decision making is rational and therefore neglect the power of emotion. Indeed, even when it comes to facts, figures and data, our lecturers were adamant that stories were crucial: “Never represent data without a story.” Data that is presented without a story relies on your counterpart being able to make the same interpretations as you, but given that every person has a slightly different perspective, you run the risk of your counterpart seeing things differently and miscalculating, misinterpreting or misunderstanding your data. Save yourself the risk of a failed negotiation and tell the story of your data.
After my week in Oxford, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of negotiation, far stronger negotiation skills, friendships with some remarkable people and memories of an extraordinary experience.
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