Business Today

Negotiating the Impossible

To negotiate, you just need a learning mindset, says Harvard Business School's Prof. Deepak Malhotra.
By Goutam Das   Delhi     Print Edition: January 15, 2017
Negotiating the Impossible
Photo: Vivan Mehra

The example was from more than a century ago. It is still relevant, and forcefully underlines two negotiating aces that can tilt the scales in your favour.

One day, in 1912, during the US presidential campaign, Theodore Roosevelt's campaign manager woke up to a blunder. They had printed three million pamphlets with Roosevelt's photograph without seeking copyright permission from the photographer and his studio. If sued, for around $1 a pamphlet, the cost of the oversight would come to $3 million. The campaign manager came up with an interesting idea. He sent a telegram to the photographer: "We are planning to distribute millions of pamphlets with Roosevelt's picture on the cover. It will be great publicity for the studio whose photograph we use. How much will you pay us to use yours? Respond immediately."

The photographer fell for the bait. He offered to pay $250 to get the photograph printed! What could have been a $3 million cost and embarrassment was turned around creatively.

Professor Deepak Malhotra, Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, narrated the story at Business Today's annual conclave, MindRush, to illustrate two essential skills that a negotiator must cultivate - the ability to create value, which he said was one of the largest leverages one can have and, two, focus on what happens to the other party if there is no deal. He was speaking on 'Negotiating The Impossible'.

The professor's speech, replete with interesting anecdotes and stories, also highlighted the importance of the right mindset. Negotiators, he said, came in all shapes and sizes. For instance, some think long term while others believe in the short term; some have a strategic mindset, others political, and some relational. "You need one mindset - a learning mindset," he told a packed house. Key to the learning mindset is to treat your opponent as a partner. Even those who hurt you. "Because you learn. When we empathise with the other side, we are doing ourselves a favour. We get more options on how to resolve conflicts," he said.

It is also important, he added, to shift the conversation from 'what' the second party wants to 'why' they want what they do. "Negotiate interests, not positions. When you shift the conversation, the options to solve the problems go up."

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