May 2015 | 

Take Negotiating to the Next Level: Creativity, Claiming, and Coalitions

Take Negotiating to the Next Level

For almost two decades, Wharton’s Executive Negotiation Workshop: Bargaining for Advantage® has been popular with oil and pharma industry executives, bankers, and Navy SEALs (to name a few well-represented groups). Its unique multi-pronged approach, in which win-win is just one of many possible aims, and its expert faculty have made the program a career enhancer for many of its participants.

Faculty director Richard Shell, author of Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, is a sought-after authority on the subject, working with executives and students at Wharton and over a hundred organizations including the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit. Cade Massey co-authors a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal with a professional gambler, ranking NFL teams using a mathematical model to predict future performance. (His 2015 Superbowl pick, New England Patriots by 26-24, was near perfect; the Patriots won 28-24).

Massey also has plenty of real-world experience to add to his academic expertise. “My work in organizations and at union bargaining tables provides a better-rounded, real-world perspective,” says Massey. “This isn’t just theoretical. Negotiating is a practical skill.”

The Wharton professors’ approaches complement one another, explains Massey. “Negotiation is both an art and a science, and while Richard and I appreciate both, our emphases are a little different. I start with economics, building a foundation for the structure of negotiations that you need to understand before you go into tactical issues.”

An important piece of the process that even seasoned negotiators can improve on is claiming. “It’s about creating and claiming value,” Massey explains. “On one hand you want to grow the pie as large as possible, and on the other you want to get fair shake. Every negotiation has a claiming aspect, so you need to develop and feel comfortable using this skill. It’s also important to be able to defend yourself against aggressive claimers. In the program, we do repeated simulations to help participants get better at facing them.”

What if you have to negotiate from a position of little or no power? Massey says coalitions present great opportunities. He cites an example from a South Pacific island where a lot of the world’s tuna fishing takes place. Tuna fleets got the islands to bid against each other, driving down their fees. Finally, the islands realized they had to work together and formed a coalition to negotiate as a block. They pitted the fleets against each other, flipping the bargaining power in their favor.

Massey says even with these kinds of successes, the power of coalitions isn’t something many executives are familiar with. “They are underrepresented in literature about negotiations relative to their use in the real world, so for many in the program it is a real eye-opener. One participant was struggling with a situation before the session. At the end, he had an ‘a-ha’ moment that is not uncommon, realizing that he could solve his problem by creating a coalition.”

In addition to claiming and coalitions, another major theme in the Executive Negotiation Workshop is how to bring creativity to the negotiating table. Massey says the greatest value is often created by the most creative negotiators, who understand that each situation is unique. “They are willing to challenge assumptions and issues. They don’t always use the same approach. You want to hold out for a good deal, but you need to be creative in how you get to it.”

Massey isn’t the only one who knows the value of creativity in the process. He was once on a panel with Brian Burke, who was at the time general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team. “I talked about the need for creative thinking in the bargaining process. Burke agreed, and gave his own example. Then he told us, ‘Negotiating comes down to caving or getting creative. We’re not into caving around here.’”