Wiseman: About the art of negotiation
Based upon feedback I received from last week’s column (AVAILABLE HERE), I decided to write about negotiation.
As a lawyer, that is what I do. The problem is that just like the cobbler’s children who do not have shoes, I cannot seem to get it right for myself. I have signed contracts I did not read or care to read, and I have a will that does not even contemplate a child who will soon be grown. So it goes.
It has always been different when I had a client’s welfare at stake. It is my responsibility to see that the client’s interests are adequately represented. This is equally true for volunteer board members who have to negotiate on any number of matters, from an insurance settlement to a roof-replacement contract or a lawn-maintenance agreement.
My first brush with actual negotiation techniques was in law school at the University of Florida. It was the first class the school offered on the subject, and it was based upon strategies developed at Harvard Law School. Everyone was paired with a partner, and mine was a former Chicago Bears defensive lineman with a career-ending injury. Talk about Mutt and Jeff.
He and I steamrolled over every mock negotiation we were given. We were proud of ourselves. Every session was videotaped, and at the end of the semester everyone had to be critiqued by the professor. I was 20, and I thought that critique was going to be a walk in the park. After all, we won, right? The professor started by railing at my partner. He asked him if he thought the practice of law was like playing in the NFL. (I was thinking that it might be, as long as no one tries to break the anyone’s leg.) He asked if my partner thought “legal ethics” was an oxymoron. These questions were uncomfortable, but part of me thought, if the professor blamed my partner, I would skate. Not so.
Then, our professor turned to me, and pointed his right index finger in my face. Where I come from, that meant a throw down, and it was. He told me that even if I was less than half the size of my partner, I was a bigger bully, as well as a flirt. What? Then, he made us watch excerpts of the video taken in class. There I was, flipping my hair every time I spoke.
That video lasted about two minutes, but it seemed like an hour. He made me aware that I would never have credibility if I kept doing that and being more concerned about lip gloss than hitting the books.
When he dismissed us, our professor congratulated us on having the best grades in the class (meaning he was going to change how grades were awarded going forward), but that we had “won ugly.”
Now, you would have thought we would have been embarrassed, chagrined and chastened upon leaving that office. Now, I am. But not then. I remember doing a little victory dance and sharing a high-five. He went his way, and I went mine. I never saw him again. I also never flipped my hair in a business meeting.