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“Negotiation involves figuring out how disparate individuals can come together,” Kellogg Dean Sally Blount said at the Business Symposium on Oct. 13. “It facilitates relationships; it reduces conflict. It’s the way we’ll save ourselves as a society.”

“Negotiation involves figuring out how disparate individuals can come together,” Kellogg Dean Sally Blount said at the Business Symposium on Oct. 13. “It facilitates relationships; it reduces conflict. It’s the way we’ll save ourselves as a society.”

Masters of negotiation

A panel of negotiation experts — including Dean Sally Blount — share their best practices for reaching agreement

By Rachel Farrell

10/18/2010 - Vanessa Ruda Seiden ’01 counts herself among the millions who were glued to their TV last week, watching as 33 Chilean miners were miraculously rescued after 69 days underground.

But what most interests Ruda Seiden, a consultant for Ruda Cohen & Associates, is what happened before the rescue took place — namely, the negotiations that the miners underwent to decide who would be lifted to safety first, second and so on.

“I have to believe that that negotiation was not about what anyone as an individual wanted, but about what the best solution was for everyone [considering health concerns, family, etc.],” said Ruda Seiden, one of four panelists featured in the Oct. 13 Business Symposium at the McCormick Tribune Center. “It is a brilliant illustration of how negotiations are done.”

Hosted by Northwestern University’s Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry, the Business Symposium is an annual event that convenes NU faculty, undergraduate students and corporate and government leaders to discuss timely business issues. This year’s topic, “The Art of Negotiation,” was addressed by Ruda Seiden; Kellogg Dean Sally Blount; Scott Nehs, former senior vice president of PepsiCo; and Carlos Escobar, vice president of Volkswagen-Mexico.

Each panelist offered insights into good negotiation practices. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Get to know the person you’re negotiating with. “Good negotiation is all about insight into the person you’re negotiating with,” said Ruda Seiden. “The mistake people often make is they only focus on what they want and forget about who they are talking to. Take the time to ask, who is this person? What do I know about them? What are their goals and objectives? If you do that, you are far ahead in the game.” 
  • Prepare, ask questions and listen. “Eighty percent of negotiating is preparation,” says Blount. “If you can prepare and ask good questions and listen carefully to how a person answers those questions, you can be the best negotiator in the world.” 
  • Meditate on your wants and needs. “Think about what your ‘must haves,’ ‘nice to have’ and ‘bonus to have’ buckets are,” said Nehs. “Go in knowing what you really need to go out with.” 
  • Put extraneous issues in the parking lot. “If you’re in the middle of a negotiation and you can’t agree on an issue, sometimes it’s necessary to put that issue in a ‘parking lot,’” said Nehs. “And as you work through the rest of the process, the parking lot issue will likely diminish in importance.” 
  • Choose cooperation over conflict. “In the end, we need cooperation,” said Escobar. “We need a world in which we share information. We need two to tango.” 
  • Consider the broader implications of mastering negotiation. “We have been living in societies for tens of thousands of years,” said Blount. “[But] we haven’t yet developed the tools we need to live in our complex society. We are better at technology than we are at negotiation .… Negotiation involves figuring out how disparate individuals can come together. It facilitates relationships; it reduces conflict. It’s the way we’ll save ourselves as a society.”