Sneak Preview: Navigating the Negotiation Process

This interview was held for the purposes of publication in the March 2016 issue of Octane magazine.

An integral part of the entrepreneurial journey is knowing how to seal a business deal. Recognized as one of the best business school professors in the world, Deepak Malhotra is the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and a workshop facilitator for EO. In this interview, Deepak shares insights from his book, “Negotiating the Impossible,” and expounds on how to position yourself for success.

What inspired you to write a book about the negotiation process in business?

DM/ “In the past 15 years, I have taught thousands of business owners (including several EO members) and consulted on hundreds of deals. One question that people always ask is how they can negotiate more effectively when things seem hopeless. There are certainly other books out there that offer insight on this issue, but when people ask me to recommend a book that deals with especially challenging situations, I’ve found it difficult to come up with an answer. Meanwhile, after having worked on scores of high-stakes negotiations, deadlocked deals, diplomatic stalemates and protracted conflicts, I have come to believe that even the most difficult of negotiation problems have solutions. That’s why I wrote this book. Not so much to share my conviction, but to make the case for it and give people the tools they need to tackle the mundane and seemingly impossible situations they face.”

You talk about the power of framing, process and empathy. What roles do these factors play in the negotiation process?

DM/ “The first part of my book focuses on the amazing potential of framing. As readers will discover, it is often possible to break deadlock without throwing more money at the table or getting aggressive.  Effective negotiators know that how you articulate or structure your proposals can be as important as what you are proposing. The second part of the book focuses on the decisive role of process in determining outcomes. Crafting the right—or a more advantageous—process can be more important than bargaining hard on the substance of the deal. Finally, the third part of my book focuses on the tremendous power of empathy. We look closely at how, exactly, a dispassionate and methodical approach to understanding the real interests and perspective of all the relevant players can help to resolve even the ugliest of conflicts.”

What is the most difficult or interesting negotiation you’ve ever led?

DM/ The most interesting business negotiations—challenging, but also fun—are when I’m advising small companies (e.g., early stage ventures) who are negotiating with big players for complex or high-stakes strategic deals. As for ‘the most difficult’ negotiations, these are situations where governments are trying to negotiate an end to armed conflicts. There are many parties, a long history of antagonism and grievances, mutual mistrust and interests that range from economic, to political, to ideological, to matters of self-identity. And yet, I believe that any problem created by humans can be solved by humans. It may not be solved today. It may not even be possible to solve today (or on the timescale of a business deal), but we can be smarter and more effective in how we chart a path that might lead to eventual resolution— or at least to an improved outcome for all.”

Read the rest of the interview in the March 2016 issue of Octane magazine, coming soon! To request a hard copy of the magazine, contact us.

During the month of March, EO’s social media channels will delve into the current status of the global economy. Follow #EOeconomy to hear real perspectives on business from the people who know best: entrepreneurs. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram!

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