Don’t Graduate without Taking Negotiations

Courtesy of Veritas Online.

Written by Devyani Nijhawan

If it were up to me, I’d make Negotiations & Consensus Building a required course for all Stern students. Studying in a Finance-focused school like Stern, one can easily get bogged down with numbers, formulae and Excel spreadsheets, diminishing the importance of relationships and interpersonal skills.

I recall freshman year CLP introducing the idea of how one’s emotional intelligence (or EQ) matters more than one’s IQ for long-term professional success. Reflecting on my four years in college, I realize that my EQ learning stemmed primarily from experiences outside the classroom, especially being an RA my senior year. As an Accounting and Data Science major, I never imagined a class in Stern to literally “teach” me how to improve my emotional intelligence until I took Negotiations & Consensus Building this semester.

The Negotiations course provides hands-on experiential learning by having students tackle a negotiation every week. In the class following the negotiation, the instructor prompts students to reflect on that negotiation, suggests strategies to maximize benefit for all parties involved and offers key learnings that can be applied to future negotiations. And then, we repeat—another negotiation, another challenge, and another set of takeaways.

Every negotiation and class discussion offered valuable insights into dealing with differences. Listed below are three of my biggest takeaways from the course that apply both on and off the negotiating table. While they may seem rather obvious, they can be easier said than done.

  1. Develop interpersonal skills. A recurring theme in the course was that negotiation is at its core an interpersonal interaction. You can be an excellent number-cruncher, but if your counterparty doesn’t trust you, the negotiation is destined to fail. One rapport- and trust-building strategy we learned in class was—before talking numbers—to spend some time “schmoozing”. Simple things like revealing personal information, say about one’s alma mater, and finding similarities, such as sports, facilitate information exchange and ease pre-negotiation anxiety, allowing both parties to work collaboratively during the actual negotiation.
  2. Practice active listening. Communication is a two-way street, but often we get so caught up in what we want to say next that we fail to listen to the other side and are consequently unable to grasp their interests, preventing us from reaching the most optimal and efficient outcomes. Whether you’re at the negotiating table or at brunch with a friend, listen, and genuinely listen; don’t simply pretend by nodding your head in agreement—paraphrase and ask clarifying questions to show the other side that you actually care. In doing so, you will make the other person feel heard—another way of building likability.
  3. Learn to ask the right questions. We live in a world with asymmetric information. Two parties will never have the same information, so it’s critical to ask the right questions to complete the missing pieces of the puzzle. Moreover, framing matters—asking empowering and not leading questions can strengthen your relationship with the other party and induce reciprocity. Knowing when and how to ask the right questions is a skill you will need not just at the negotiating table but in classes, during interviews, at work, and in your personal lives.

In essence, this class offers ingredients to not just succeed at your job but at life in general. Professor Elizabeth Howard, who teaches Negotiations, provides a strong case for taking this class: “Undergraduate and MBA alumni often write to tell me that the negotiation course provided some of the most practical and useful information that they learned in their time at Stern. One of the important insights that they take away from the class is just how often they are negotiating in their day-to-day lives.” She further adds that “our goal is to provide skills and knowledge that will vastly improve students’ ability to make decisions, deal with conflict, negotiate deals, and navigate difficult conversations in both their professional and personal lives.”

If it were up to me, I’d make Negotiations & Consensus Building a required course for all Stern students. Studying in a Finance-focused school like Stern, one can easily get bogged down with numbers, formulae and Excel spreadsheets, diminishing the importance of relationships and interpersonal skills. Usually, students who are not inherently equipped with such skills find themselves struggling during the networking and interview phase of the recruiting process. This is where mentorship from fraternities and other professional clubs comes into play; however, even getting access to these mentorship programs depends on factors like “likability”, if you will. So how do we level the playing field for everyone?

While social impact courses like Org-Comm equip students with public-speaking skills, developing interpersonal skills is still at your own behest. Clubs can certainly help you, but having a required class like Negotiations can give every student an equal opportunity to improve their emotional intelligence through a combination of theory, practice, and feedback.

Daniel Shapiro, founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, concurs: “At the Harvard Negotiation Project, we’ve come to see that negotiation is not just an art but a science. We’ve built systemic methods and concrete tools that can dramatically improve the businessperson’s ability to improve the bottom line and build better relationships. These tools stretch the gamut from rational methods of collaboration (such as those described in Getting to Yes) to tools for dealing with emotions (such as those described in Beyond Reason). And the results are clear in both the lab and in real-life: businesses do better when employees have the tools to negotiate successfully. By implication, I believe that every business school would be wise to have a required course on negotiation.”

While this course is currently not required for Stern students, you can nevertheless take the class as an elective under the Management department; regardless of your concentration or intended career choice, I urge all undergraduate Stern students to take Negotiations before graduating—and if you can, before starting OCR. At the most fundamental level, you will learn to make better decisions both at work and in life.

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