Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Negotiations Stories of 2011

2011 was a year of deals made, deals broken, and new theories about human decision-making that provide lessons for all negotiators as they strategize to reach their goals:

-"The Human Swap: How a single Israeli came to be worth 1,027 Palestinians," Reporter Ronen Bergman provided a riveting account of how Israel's historical policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists was overcome by a confluence of unusual factors leading to the negotiated release of Israel IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who had been held by Hamas since 2006: (1) Gilad's parents mounted an unprecedented public relations campaign, galvanizing the nation to keep Gilad in the national consciousness; (2) that all Israeli children must serve in the military carries with it a national commitment, some say based in the Hebrew bible, "to return hostages or their bodies, and this exceeds all the limits or reason;" (3) with various entities serving as mediators, Gershon Baskin, a Jewish peace activist, capitalized on a relationship he made with a professor from an Islamic university whom he met at an academic conference -- both unlikely intermediaries, with no political stake, who were able to introduce alternative negotiators from both sides; (4) eschewing e-mail or other technological modes of communication, messages were passed in hard-copy from one side to the other; (5) the Arab Spring influenced Hamas to change positions and convinced Israel to release an unprecedented number of Palestinian prisoners.

- "Negotiator in the N.B.A. Talks Has the Respect of Many" NYT Labor Reporter Steven Greenhouse described George H. Cohen as "the federal mediator who is seeking to coax, cajole and occasionally strong-arm the National Basketball Association and its players into ending" their showdown with the Players' Association. But despite his credibility and understanding both sides, Cohen was not able to bring the players to a deal until there was a change in negotiations spokespersons and a change of venue for the negotiations. That, and the specter of no basketball season, led to a last-minute bargain. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Hollywood Reporter, "The sides met just twice in the first two months of the lockout before stepping up the pace in September, when it was already too late to open camps on time. The sides tried meeting in small groups, large groups and even mediation, but nothing sparked compromise. Things changed this week with the entrance of Jim Quinn, a former NBPA counsel who had good relationships on both sides. The meeting Friday was held at the office of his law firm, though he did not take part."

- "Alliance Formed Secretly To Win Deal for Campus," NYT Reporter Richard Perez-Pena details the ability of the Presidents of Cornell University, David Skorton and Peretz Lavie of Technion University in Israel to form a personal relationship based on shared hobbies and interests, resulting in a unique alliance in negotiating a deal with the City of New York to build a new joint-graduate school of technology on Roosevelt Island. In addition to the personal relationship, dubbed an "unsuspected marriage," Cornell generated thousands of alumni signatures demonstrating wide support for the project and solicited a huge alumni financial contribution of $350 million that far exceeded any other bid causing the strongest competitor, Stanford University, to drop out of the deal.

- "The Surety of Fools," is a must-read summary by Nobel Prize-Winner Daniel Kahneman, who with his academic partner, Amos Tversky, put behavioral economics in the mainstream of science exploring how humans make decisions. Kahneman's new book, "Thinking Fast and Slow," raises significant questions about human's ability to predict future performance and theorizes that humans are overly confident about their ability to make good decisions. Kahneman calls this "illusion of validity" because most humans make decisions that are unrelated to statistical truth.

- For women negotiators, here are some must-see and must-read options: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's presentation for TedTalks (12/13/11) discusses 3 tips for women juggling career and family: 1. Sit at the table, 2. Make your partner a real partner, and 3. Don't leave before you leave. You'll just have to watch the video to get the full picture! Two women who seem to have learned these negotiating lessons are Gloria Allred who decided to built a legal career representing victims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination after she was raped at gunpoint while vacationing in Mexico ("Lawyer to the Brokenhearted," NYT Talk, 12/11/11) and Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC talk show co-host, whose 2011 book, "Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth," helps women understand how to create and claim value to negotiate better employment contract terms.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Negotiations: impediments faced by the “not-so-special” Congressional deficit-cutting committee precluded a deal

News that the Congressional special deficit cutting committee concluded negotiations without coming to a compromise was not unexpected, but still disappointing. Negotiations experts can spot the symptoms of a failed negotiation.

First, they failed to have the right people at the negotiating table. Apparently, the members of the Committee, including co-chairs Senators Patty Murray and Jeb Hensarling, did not know each other that well. Few had the long-time relationship of negotiators like former Senators Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott, who though ideologically opposed, were able to cut deals due to the high degree of trust they had built up over the years by sharing social occasions as well as conducting Senate business together. Further, leaders from both parties (including President Obama) were either unable or unwilling to exert pressure to move the process to an agreement.

Second, they did not make the best use of allotted time, thereby bumping up against the deadline. The Committee wasted several weeks during which they failed to meet and got off to a slow start. When the job became more complicated than originally thought, the lack of time made the negotiations seem futile. If resolution seems unrealistic, negotiators pull back and are less likely to commit the time necessary to go back and persevere.

Third, the BATNAs were more attractive than committing to positions. The knowledge that automatic spending cuts were already in place may have deterred the negotiators from coming up with a new comprehensive agreement. Failing to agree also gave both political parties the alternative of entering the election cycle uncommitted to a particular deal. As the Wall Street Journal reported, in view of these alternatives to a negotiated agreement: “the fear of failure seemed to dim.”

As a result, no deal.