The Essence of Executive Education - When the Classroom Lesson Becomes a Practical Application
When Robert Weisheit took a course in negotiations at the Kellogg School of Management as part of the Kellogg Management Institute, he listened closely and took careful notes. He did not know it at the time, but the course in negotiations was about to help him make an immediate impact on the practice of management in his own organization.
Weisheit is the CEO of Robert C. Weisheit Industries, manufacturers of precision machinery components for critical industries. “You use our products when performance is a life and death matter,” he says, noting as an example that his firm machines parts for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. “We provide super-precision, close tolerance machined components.”
Putting Learning to Immediate Use
It turned into a remarkable example of classroom learning applied to a real world situation.
Weisheit says that over the weekend before what would be the final negotiation session, he read Thompson’s book on negotiation strategy, The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, and reviewed his course materials. “I had my preparation notes ready in a binder,” he said, including a small wallet card Professor Thompson provides her students that summarizes key points to keep in mind while negotiating. “I’m very careful about advance preparation,” he said.
Classroom Examples Become Negotiation Strategy
“We were told to look for things that don’t cost you anything but are important to the person you are negotiating with,” he said. “So when we were still about $30,000 apart on the price I asked, ‘Is there something which, if we did it, would reduce the price?’” The answer was yes: if he used the sellers financing firm the price could drop. Weisheit realized that the terms were approximately the same as those he had already arranged, so he agreed. “It cost me nothing but it was of great importance to them.”
About three hours into the negotiation, Weisheit says both sides were feeling bogged down and frustrated. “We had been told to let the other side know how you feel during a negotiation,” he said. “So I told them I was not satisfied with how things were going and suggested that if we couldn’t get it done in another hour that we try to do it on another day.” He avoided the temptation to say “let’s do it or else,” and instead suggested that they take a short break. “When they returned,” says Weisheit, they said, “‘let’s get it done today.’”
“We also learned that what you don’t do can be important,” reflecting on the inevitable moment in a negotiation when both sides state their price and someone says, “let’s split the difference.” Thompson had told the program participants to avoid that temptation and to first use other techniques designed to make the gap between the buyer and seller as narrow as possible before using a split of the difference as the final step.
The deal was closed with both sides feeling good about the result, reflecting yet another important point of negotiation strategy. “If I had been going after the last penny, I might have felt good about the deal but they would not,” said Weisheit. “In this case we both feel good about the negotiation. They were just as happy as I was. I need that because I need their support after I buy the equipment.”
Negotiation Techniques Grounded in Research
Negotiation strategy is included in the Kellogg School’s long general management executive education programs, the Kellogg Management Institute and the Executive Development Program. It is also offered as a stand-alone three day program, Negotiation Strategies for Managers which runs several times each year.
“If I took the course a week after I’d purchased the machine I’d have been pulling my hair out,” said Weisheit, who described himself as already being a skilled negotiator. “It was the best job I’ve ever done in terms of preparation, conducting the negotiation, and how I felt after the deal, with the other side feeling good as well.”
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