Negotiating for Nice Guys
Nate Adler C’11 has an appetite for entrepreneurship
|Stuart Diamond WG’92 had just had two heart attacks in 2001 and was being stabilized in the hospital, in preparation for open-heart surgery. As he spent several days waiting, he looked up the name of the top-ranked surgeon for cases like his—his problem stemmed from having small arteries—and discovered it was Wayne Isom, who had done bypasses for David Letterman, Larry King, and Walter Cronkite.
“Of course, I couldn’t get near Dr. Isom. His schedule was full for months,” writes Diamond in his new book, Getting More, published by Crown Business press. Nevertheless, Diamond—practice professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton and an adjunct professor of law, who teaches about negotiation at both schools— decided to give it a shot.
Diamond wrote Isom an email complimenting his research and, while acknowledging that he might be too busy, asking if there was any way for the doctor to find a place on his schedule for his case. Or, if not, could Isom consult in some way? He then found someone who knew Isom and asked that person to intercede on his behalf.
The story had a happy ending. Isom cut a vacation short to operate on Diamond, with fantastic results. But why did Isom even consider doing so?
“I was one of the few patients who had ever asked him about his research. I had made a personal connection with him,” says Diamond.
“You have to tap into people’s heads,” he adds. “Negotiation is about making a human connection.”
Getting More, which spent several weeks on The New York Times business best-seller list, bills itself as an alternative approach to two dominant schools of negotiation: the “win-win” approach, which stresses compromise; and what might be called the steamroller approach, which is all about the assertion of power.
For Diamond, negotiating is the art of seeing what the opposite side really wants and figuring out how to use that to your advantage.
“Effective negotiations are about perceptions and emotions, not about win-win and threats,” he says. “It is about valuing others, even people who might hate you. And that is more effective than power, which may make the opposing side resentful and retaliatory.”
Getting More is essentially 400 pages of case studies, covering everything from educated Indian women trying to thwart arranged marriages to former students trying to seal multi-billion-dollar business deals. Diamond asked more than 1,000 of his students to give him examples, and he culled several hundred of the most cogent.
He noticed that his former law students often seemed to pursue different goals in their negotiations than did the business students.
“The law students will protect against risk, even if the company makes no more money,” Diamond says. “The business students focus on the opportunity to make more. The thing is, both are needed to make a good deal.”
Diamond also likes to draw from his own life. One of his chapters is about negotiating with children, as he has often had to do with his eight-year-old son.
“I let him pick the restaurants, and I sometimes let him go to bed later, because that is what he is emotional about,” Diamond explains. “But then he always owes me stuff. When I ask him to do something, he then has to listen to me. Is that manipulation? I don’t know, but my goal is to get him to do certain things, and I have to look into his mind to see what he will do in order that I get what I want.”
While diffusing emotions and divining the opposite party’s desires are important, Diamond does offer other tactics for once a negotiation gets under way.
“After you find out the perceptions of each party, you then trade items that you value unequally: overtime work at one point for vacation at a better time, or cleaning the house for my preferred TV shows,” he says. Diamond is also a big believer in laying it all on the table and telling the truth. Once you deceive an opponent, he or she will likely find out eventually and it will undermine your goals.
“People detest fakes, liars, deceivers,” says Diamond. “You don’t have to answer every question, but once you lie, you are on the road to losing big.”
Diamond started his career as a journalist and made it to The New York Times, where he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for investigating the Challenger space-shuttle disaster. Soon after that, though, he thought he needed a new challenge and went to Harvard Law School.
“They had a program in negotiation, and I took courses in it for three years—and was good at it,” he recalls. “I had been naturally doing it since I was a teenager, and it really fascinated me.”
After serving as a consultant on negotiation for the UN and various businesses, and wanting to enhance his business background, he got an MBA from Wharton. These days, he says he loves consulting and teaching. He estimates that he has taught his negotiating tactics to upwards of 30,000 people in regular classrooms and seminars.
Sarah Russell WG’11 is a doctor of internal medicine who took Diamond’s class as an MBA student at Wharton. She says it has helped her in her medical practice, especially with recalcitrant patients.
“He teaches you to have a relentless focus on your goals,” says Russell. “No negotiation is successful unless you truly know what you want. For instance, if I want a patient to stop smoking or make sure to take the right medicine, I have to keep that as the primary goal, not just veer off. Personal health is an intense thing for most people and not an easy thing to negotiate around.”
Diamond says that while the overpowering approach may work in the short term, most negotiations happen again and again, whether they involve spouses or business firms. He acknowledges that sometimes the other side just comes to the table to crush an opponent. But even there, Diamond has a tactic.
“I want to ask why they want to crush me. Are they better off with me adding value or not? ... If they don’t try to crush me, could I meet more of their needs?” he says. “Once you stay calm, take your emotions and theirs out of the negotiation, it is surprising how once-virile opponents will calm down and you will get more of what you want.”
| ©2011 The Pennsylvania
Last modified 8/26/11