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Self-Assessment of Skill and Style

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TO: Professor Piderit MGMT 544, Strategic Business Negotiations, Santa Clara University

FROM: Avneet Sandhu, asandhu@scu.edu 541-905-2875

DATE: October 3, 2017

RE: Self-assessment of Skill and Style

Negotiation is an important aspect of healthy personal and professional relationships. We are constantly trying to negotiate something or the other with parents, children, spouses, employees, colleagues, managers, medical or legal professionals etc. Becoming effective and efficient at handling conflicts should help keep balance in our lives. A good negotiator can probe, listen, offer solutions, and find a creative solution that integrates interests of both parties. Effective negotiation requires practice and feedback. Without following a customized framework or strategy, self-reflection and feedback from the counterparty, it is nearly impossible to be improve your negotiation skills.

In India, negotiation is a part of everyday life. Every transaction is a negotiation, whether it is buying a TV or wedding dowries. People are incredible at exploiting your emotions, good with numbers and know how to up sell. One would think that being born in a country that gives one numerous opportunities to bargain and negotiate, I’d get very good at it. However, I always thought that efficient negotiation skills weren’t in my DNA and hence consciously tried to avoid them whenever possible.

Moreover, I used to believe that there is only one way to close a deal – either by winning it or losing it. A couple first-hand experiences taught me that there is a third way, a win-win for both. For example, I am a full-time employee (Senior Software Engineer) and a part-time MBA student besides being a mother to a 2.5 year old daughter. Before taking additional responsibility of going back to school, my husband and I had to sit and identify our interests, educate each other about our needs and interests, generate possible solutions (or alternatives) and settle on a final bargain that was in the best interest of all three of us. My needs/interests included exercising thrice a week to get back into shape, classes two days a week, school homework, and socializing with my girlfriends. Likewise my husband’s needs/interests included long working hours, tutoring twice a week, initiatives for career development like meetups, online courses etc., yoga twice a week, and reduced commute time. Most importantly, we did not want to leave our child in extended day care and ensured that she was with family member after 5 or 6pm. We realized that we cannot follow a strict regimen. All we needed was a basic plan and alignment on priorities. On some issues we had no flexibility. The days I had evening classes my husband had to leave office by 4pm and he made up for loss of work time by leaving very early in the morning. On alternate mornings, I left early for workouts. We also found other ways to free up some time by employing a part-time cook, requesting my sister to baby sit for a few hours etc. We also prioritized school work over social gatherings and had to defer them to weekends or even miss them. This was clearly a situation where both parties were co-operative. Both of us had to give up something in order to get something else which was more valuable. For example, my husband had to commute during peak morning hours for a couple days to fit my exercising schedule. And I had to trim back on my exercising days and shift around my work and after-school schedule to accommodate his long working hours.

Some people treat a negotiation as a war where the toughest candidate will win. They fail to realize that a negotiation is a conversation between two parties with an objective of reaching an agreement. Our product team recently hired a new customer success person whose responsibility was to get a big customer in Taiwan to buy our product. Her role was to be a mediator between R&D team and the customer, and satisfy both parties in the negotiation of deliverables and timelines. While she took out an aggressive stance and went all out to pitch the customer’s voice, she made no effort to understand R&D concerns. Following were some of her attributes:

  • She lacked preparation which resulted in unfocused discussions
  • She was a poor listener and would be constantly nagging and condescending in front of the customer
  • She showed no appreciation for successful R&D efforts

Even though the project turned out to be successful and she got appreciation from the customer, a lot of R&D folks who co-operated with her during this engagement have lost trust and respect for her and do not wish to work with her on future projects. In my opinion, her short term victory would not translate to long term success in her career without building relationships and trust.

Based on my experiences and confidence in my abilities, I would rank my negotiation skills to be average. I think I need to make a conscious effort to follow a structured framework to devise an appropriate strategy, and follow up with critically reflection on what went / did not go well and why and plan what I would do differently the next time. This would help me to improve on flexibility of style and better predict the outcome. Most importantly, I will ask for feedback where possible and reflect on it.

Successful negotiators thoroughly study the issue and effectively prepare to gain a strategic advantage at the negotiation table. They do self-assessment - determine their objectives and aspirations, BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), reservation point, identify issues in negotiation and alternatives to each; assessment of the other party - counterparty’s interests and position and their BATNA, if possible; and situation assessment – one shot or repetitive, necessity or opportunity, is agreement required etc. (Thompson, page 13)

Following this framework for preparation, the in-class negotiation exercise of selling a used scooter wasn’t as overwhelming as I initially anticipated. Using the information from the case study, the aspiration or objective was to get $2800 from the sale. I determined the best alternative was to not sell the scooter and take it with me to Portland. My reservation price was $2400. To justify my asking price, I looked at the current inventory of 2006 Vespa GTs in a 50 mile radius on ‘craigslist’ and ‘cycletrader’ and determined the price range to be between $2200 and $4450 based on mileage and engine power. I also researched the ‘average retail price’ offered by NADA guides (equivalent for KBB for cars), which was $2425 for base price and $2708 with added accessories. To make the discussions more concrete, I figured out the ‘average inspection cost’ in case the buyer proposed that option. I thought of various clauses and prepared an agreement for the buyer to sign prior to a test drive, in case of an accident. The options I had in mind prior to going into a negotiation were:

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