From the category archives:

Conflict Management & Negotiations

This class – Conflict Management and Negotiations, probably got the most of coverage of all my MBA classes in this blog. There were two reasons for this: first, it was a highly engaging and even entertaining class, which was of great interest to me personally; second, I kept a self-reflection journal which I had been able to adopt for posting on the blog.

In this (probably) final post on the class I would like just to cap it all with some more relevant information on the course, if someone is interested in further exploring the topic on their own.

First, here is the link to the sample syllabus for the course. It is not identical to my actual syllabus in the class, but is nevertheless quite representative and overlaps more than 80%, so it gives pretty accurate overall idea about the course structure and content. Also, here is the link to the professional blog of the professor who taught the course. Admittedly, it is not very regularly updated, but still you will find a few interesting posts on the topics of leadership, organizational change, management, etc.

Finally, here is the list of required and recommended reading for the course:

So with this set of resources you are all set to master the MBA level course in Conflict Management and Negotiations all on your own :-), except that it does require to have at least one partner for negotiation simulations, and the live class experience was a lot of fun, which cannot be completely substituted with academic reading. To get a glimpse of that class experience, read the rest of my posts under category Conflict Management and Negotiations, if you have not done so yet.

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I have already reflected on the Ridgecrest School Dispute Negotiation Simulation in my blog earlier. There were also couple of posts on the importance of preparation for negotiation: Negotiation Preparation – Do the Numbers and  Cover Your Butt – Prepare Your BATNA. This is the last post with my thoughts on the importance of preparation for negotiation. May be I am paying so much attention to it because before I took the class on Conflict Management and Negotiations I was, like probably most people, confident that I can figure it out at the spur of the moment during the actual negotiation just based on my natural abilities. The course has taught me that there is no substitution for a thorough prep work. And the more complex is the issue at the negotiation table the more time and effort should be put before you even get to that table.

The Ridgecrest School Dispute Negotiation simulation was in a way a pinnacle of our practical exercises: involving two groups of negotiators, each with multiple participants, extremely opposite objectives for each group, some tedious budgetary calculations and re-calculations.

One of the interesting observations about this negotiation was actually from a “glitch”. In the beginning of our preparation for this negotiation our group did not know about the hard data, including the budget, as the background information for the simulation. Therefore when we had our first discussion based only on the description of our group’s objectives it was very easy for us to set our preliminary initial offer. In the essence, we were going to demand from the Board of Education the maximum and we were not going to make any substantial concessions. Of course, we expected that in the process of negotiation we might split the difference with the Board, based on what their initial requirements were.

In the absence of real data it was very easy to speculate and be tough in our expectations. However, shortly after our first discussion we learned about the data available for the case in the textbook. It was amazing for me how quickly our perspective, at least my personal, changed. In general, it is easy to speculate about abstract objectives without real constraints. But once the reality sets in, you start realizing that it is not as easy as it seemed to be.

In our case, after learning about the budgetary constraints, we took on a labor-intensive task of crafting the new budget given those constraints. We still had intention of modifying those constraints if we could, but mostly we were trying hard to reconcile the needs and wants under the existing budget framework. (By the way, the Ridgecrest School Dispute case was, just like most of other cases we worked on in the Negotiations class from Negotiation: Readings, Exercises, and Cases by Lewicki, et al – probably the best textbook on Negotiations out there.)

This reminded about the real life situations. Specifically, the elections. The candidates, especially the newcomers to the office, have high inspiration and promise the sky and the moon during the elections. Most of those promises, of course, are calculated populism in order to manipulate and win the voters – Swing Vote immediately comes to mind. But some of them might as well be the naïve perception that they can do everything and change the world once they get into the office.

But once they get the office, they learn about all very real constraints and limitations and then they find themselves re-arranging the same old budget items, instead of changing the world altogether, as they had been inspired. Lesson: it is good to have the facts at your disposal in advance, which will allow you to work with reality instead of building castles in the air.

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At the beginning of the Conflict Management and Negotiations classes last Fall MBA term at GWSB professor often had a short musical intermission with some comments, or a humorous YouTube video to set the positive tone for the lecture. At one point there was a brief comment about the humor and its effect on increasing workplace productivity. This lead me to think more about the role of humor in the workplace and its effect on improving the overall work atmosphere and increasing productivity.

I did some quick search on the topic and it appears that there is a body of scholarly research on the subject. There is empirical evidence on correlation between humor and creativity, work performance, and even employee retention. It is a well-established notion that humor creates positive emotions, but most of the time humor is relegated to personal entertainment domain.

I have long intuitively suspected that there is value in humor not only for personal entertainment, but also for educational purposes, see my posts: Macroeconomics Fun – Notes from the Classroom, My Favorite MBA Jokes, Macroeconomics – Funny Joke of the Day, as well as for work environment: MBA Joke – FedEx Commercial. These studies that I found during the search have mostly confirmed my intuitive guesses.

I think the organizational leaders need to systematically incorporate humor into their organizational culture, not just let happen it haphazardly. Some of the most envied companies in the USA have this culture engrained into their organizations. Immediate examples that come to mind would be Google and Facebook. They are some of the most creative companies and they are also known for their loose and somewhat goofy atmosphere. They drive their employees hard, but they also let them play hard. To me it appears that there is no coincidence there, and humor (positive emotions in general) goes hand in hand with work creativity and productivity.

There are also other examples of companies that drive their workers hard, but do not create the environment where the stress can be naturally diffused trough positive emotions, including the ones induced by humor. One such company that comes to mind is Zynga – online games developer. There has been a series of publications lately on the work environment where many employees are extremely unhappy with the company and are ready to leave it as soon as they get their stock options at the IPO. Not a very good recipe for continuous growth and work force retention in the world where creative technical talent is quite scarce and the competition is waiting to snatch them at any opportunity.

In my company in the future I will establish a 10-minute humor recess before the boring business meetings. Or maybe, I will replace those meetings with stand-up comedian competitions altogether. Just kidding ;-)

By the way, here is one of the videos we watched in the Conflict Management and Negotiations class. You can find more of them on youtube by searching for Terry Tate Office Linebacker. Get a good cheer, cancel the meeting :-)

 

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One of the assignments in my Conflict Management and Negotiations class was to prepare for discussion of the documentary Final Offer.  You can watch it online, if interested.

A very suspenseful documentary about the labor negotiations between the Canadian section of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and GM in 1984. Even though the immediate objectives of negotiations were achieved by the Union, still with significant concessions, the overall outcome was a dubious victory. Suffice it to say, the nature of the conflict was so complex and multi-faceted that it eventually resulted into the break off of the Canadian section from the UAW.

The film vividly illustrates the division lines between the workers and the administration, the level of opposition, which sometimes outbursts into downright hostility and even violence. It was interesting to watch actual frictions between the workers and foremen, who represent the administration. The level of distrust and lack of mutual respect were truly remarkable. But these rifts on the assembly line were just a colorful background for the big fight that took place between the Union and GM.

For me it was quite important to realize that the dynamics of the negotiations that include multiple parties and represented by groups of individuals are often affected not only by the conflicting interests between the two negotiating parties, but also by the conflict of interests within the presumably monolithic groups. In this case the head of the Canadian section of UAW, Bob White, had to deal not only with the GM negotiators, but also with different factions in his own union, as well as with Owen Bieber, the head of the UAW.

These conflicting interests within the group have a potential of weakening the group’s ability to effectively negotiate with the actual opponents at the negotiation table. In this particular case White was able to mostly keep his ground, but as mentioned earlier, it lead to the break up with the UAW. Here comes in play the importance of a strong leader who can define, articulate and convey the vision and the values. White generally lived up to the challenges of the situation and was able to defend his position in face of the contradictory forces, each with their own agenda and perception of the situation.

This also brought me to think about broader context of intra-organizational politics. Any organization presumably has the same mission and objectives outlined for the whole organization. But there are always various groups or individuals within an organization that can have quite different vision for approaches, techniques and paths to the organizational objectives. It is very crucial to be able to bring everyone on the same page. And if it is impossible, which is probably going to be the case in most situations, then the leader needs to be able to forge an acceptable compromise and then enforce it within the organization, even before going out to negotiate with the external party.

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Cover Your Butt – Prepare Your BATNA

December 30, 2011

In my past post I was reflecting on the importance of knowing your BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement) based on the car sale negotiation. The emphasis there was on remembering your BATNA in the process of negotiation. However, there was another negotiation case in my Conflict Management and Negotiations class at GWU School of […]

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Negotiation Conflict and Interdependency – After Us, the Flood?

December 28, 2011

This saying was in the lecture slide for my Conflict Management and Negotiations class at GWSB MBA on the topic of inter-dependencies in the negotiations:  Leave a good name in case you return (Kenyan Folk Saying). When I read it I recalled a couple of other sayings which are similar, but have a bit different […]

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Negotiation Preparation – Do the Numbers

December 26, 2011

Here is another extract from the self-reflection journal in the Conflict Management and Negotiations class at GWSB MBA program. Capital Mortgage Insurance A great case with multiple take home lessons. For me, the most important one was about the necessity of thorough preparation for negotiation. Specifically – analyzing the data with numbers. The Capital Mortgage […]

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Used Car Sales Negotiation Exercise

December 24, 2011

This post is another extract from the self-reflection journal that I kept in my Conflict Management and Negotiations class at GWSB MBA program this past fall term. Used Car Sales Negotiation Exercise The Used Car Sales exercise was a very refreshing one and the most important lesson I took from it was: “Know Your BATNA […]

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Conflict Management and Negotiations Styles

December 21, 2011

In my Conflict Management and Negotiation class in MBA program at GWSB this past Fall term one of the assignments (graded, too) was to keep a Self-reflection journal throughout the course. To quote the syllabus:  ” Participants should focus on how course lectures, discussions, self-assessments, exercises and assignments inform their personal and professional lives.  That […]

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Conflict Management and Negotiations Course Overview

December 11, 2011

The elective course on Conflict Management and Negotiations in my MBA program at GWU was a very interesting, and great educational experience. I greatly appreciated the case analyses from the textbook that we had in class, such as Capital Mortgage Insurance, or the Pacific Oil Co. cases among others. I had a few posts on […]

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Negotiation Simulation Role Playing – More Play, Less Role

November 20, 2011

This week in my part-time MBA class on Conflict Management and Negotiations we had an in-class presentations for the group negotiation simulation based on Ridgecrest School Dispute case. Essentially, the case is based on the dispute between the Board of Education and the Teachers Association (the teachers union) about the ways of closing the budget […]

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