Developing as a Fine Negotiator while Getting a Taste for the One Planet MBA

by Caspar Wilkinson

Caspar is an MSc International Management student at the University of Exeter Business School. He was invited to take part in the One Planet MBA‘s two-day workshop on Negotiating, Collaborating & Partnering, as part of the MBA’s flagship Personal Transformations module.Caspar Wilkinson

Realising your ambitions

As a student with a strong drive to succeed I was powerfully motivated to learn negotiating.

After attending an introductory MBA Masterclass I was keen to see more of what the One Planet MBA was all about. That’s the great thing about Exeter University, the lecturers empower you to realise your ambition, none more so than Nicolas Forsans, One Planet MBA Director. After some persistent negotiating (!) Nicolas kindly agreed to let me take part in the workshop and collaborate with fellow MBA participants over two full days. I was excited to be able to see world class teaching in action with powerfully practical benefits.

What would it be like learning negotiating for the first time? Would I be able to stand my ground against an impressive MBA cohort in a top UK University? What previous negotiating experiences could I draw on to add value to the class? I felt somewhat nervous and set about studying for the class a week in advance. With corporate experience most of us can only dream of, it was clear from the get-go that Ward Crawford focuses his teaching on practicality, enjoyment and learning-by-doing. Ward jumped into a fast paced enthralling lecture on the mechanisms behind negotiating and psychology with real business examples.

Armed to the teeth

There aren’t many times when every second of a lecture gets you more engaged, where every piece of knowledge Ward taught us had clear and powerful practical applications for the future. Soon enough we were awash with new terminology: escalation principle, prospect theory, ZOPA, BATNA, anchoring, nibbling, ice job, mother hubbard, dominance and shaping ploys, integrative and distributive bargaining, interaction styles, status, power and so much more… We were sailing across an ocean of new found terminology eagerly awaiting our chance to deploy our new armory.

I was hooked.

So you think you’re good huh?

I’ve always considered myself to be something of a natural negotiator and like most of us, see the value in it quickly.  But being a self-coined natural in the business world will not get you very far, not when you’re working with or against well trained highly intelligent negotiators. Have you ever dealt with ethical dilemmas whilst negotiating? I hadn’t until Ward gave us our first assignment: negotiating when lives are at risk. This was the moment.

With a head full of new negotiating theory and a heightened awareness of the tactics and ploys available, we sat down at the table facing our counterparts armed with our cunning team strategy. Nicolas Deuß, an affable German One Planet MBA participant from the telecom sector was to be my wake up call. His team had clearly thought about their strategy too and our conversation rapidly shifted from our predetermined strategy and contingency plans. Negotiating in teams of intelligent experienced professionals is fast paced and highly fluid. If you don’t have well planned contingencies you’re suddenly negotiating with the other party whilst trying to read the minds of your team as to how your strategy is evolving. After a heated negotiating round that left me backed into a corner, Wards prior warning rang in my ears: “People frame objectives incorrectly: it’s not actually about winning and losing. It’s about getting more done than would otherwise be possible.”

Dynamic cross-sectoral negotiations

After a full day we were split into new teams and each given a sealed 10 page document unaware of the information and objectives each group had been given. The following day was to be a full 8 hours of cross-sectoral negotiating. As a milk producer we had to negotiate with the government, a charity and business partner attempting to discern their goals and achieve ours all in the face of an industry crisis. With a stroke of good fortune I was paired with Audrey Leduc, a Canadian MBA participant with years of experience in political lobbying and the oratorical skills to match. There was a flurry of strategic e-mails throughout the night in anticipation for what would turn out to be a challenging day.

We decided to go for an open, positive and collaborative posture to facilitate effective negotiations for long term durable agreements. We planned our strategy to obtain information, positioned ourselves through ploys and manipulations and defended through good cop/bad cop to maintain control even when the other party clearly had more power (Glendon and Nic proved to be tough adversaries!). Prior to every meeting and under tough time constraints every group had to send Ward a detailed report of strategy. At the end of every negotiation we had to send a report on what was achieved. The gaps between meetings purposefully shrinking throughout the day to increasingly apply pressure. With each meeting our negotiations evolved as the wider picture and undercurrents became clear. With each meeting our roles became more clearly defined and our bargaining power better understood.

At the end of the day each group had to present, their strengths and weaknesses along with a professional report of what was achieved. There was a lot of laughter as it was clear that where written contracts had not been created, and where one group had gotten a better deal, reported agreements may have differed somewhat! I really enjoyed how multicultural the MBA cohort is and how that multicultural experience will stand you in good stead for the future.

Better than a bungee jump?

Learning negotiating under Ward Crawford in a room full of intelligent experienced and motivated professionals was by far my most enjoyable and rewarding educational experience to date. With a relentless negotiating schedule we were all running on adrenaline and adapting to the highly dynamic environment. If you want a career that enables you to be excited, engaged and empowered to make real change then negotiating is by far and away the skill set to have.  I would love to drive sustainability within a company but even that will require negotiating internally to have the impact I want.  It’s an exciting prospect.

Enduring lessons, enduring connections

Being able to join a One Planet MBA class was a real privilege, I left with enduring lessons that will stand me in excellent stead for the future. The MBA cohort were as warm and welcoming as they were professional and experienced. It was clear that this was an environment to not only learn through doing but to learn through each other – an environment that clearly fosters enduring connections. I was sorry to go but excited about doing my own MBA in the future.

Pie anyone?

Here are three things I learnt about negotiating…

  • Negotiation isn’t just about buying a car or securing a business deal – negotiation permeates our personal and professional lives. Whether you want to be known as the person that drives the best financial results or the person that drives sustainability within your company, without solid negotiating skills you are unlikely to get the result you desire.
  • Negotiating is not just about external stakeholders it’s also about the internal ones too. As workshop lead Ward Crawford said “Negotiating is not always a solo endeavour, you will often be negotiating as a team”. Are you effective at working as a team negotiating a crucial deal? Are you competent at the complexities of agreeing strategy and contingencies within your team? How do you manage information flows during the meeting? As Ward highlighted, “Each party shapes and influences the decision of all others”.
  • Negotiating is not all about win/lose. “Always try to see how you can add value, think about the potential for partnerships and collaboration. Try to make the pie bigger before you take the biggest slice”.

My main takeaway lessons were to always add value to the negotiation. Have a superior team understanding of strategy, contingencies and what role and ploys each person is going to play. I’d rather be in a team that is smarter and more adaptable than aggressive at the negotiating table! At every instance we attempted to make the pie bigger before trying to take the biggest slice and the results were negotiating outcomes above and beyond what I had ever achieved before. I left so thankful to Nicolas Forsans, Ward Crawford and the MBA cohort for an incredible journey into the world of negotiating. I also left looking forward to a big slice of pie as a personal reward for all that hard work!

Caspar Wilkinson

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