Master The Art of Negotiating
May 27, 2021
Author and award-winning educator Mori Taheripour teaches negotiation and dispute resolution at the Wharton Schoo and is a six time recipient of awards for excellence in teaching.

She also co-founded the Wharton sports business initiative, a resource for business leaders, faculty and students that generates research and provides expertise through educational programs, consulting assignments and global forums. As a consultant she has an impressive client list that ranges from Goldman Sachs to Major League Baseball. Her book, Bring Yourself: How to Harness the Power of Connection to Negotiate Fearlessly was published in March 2020, and explores the psychology of how we communicate and negotiate. Here, her masterclass conversation with The WIE Suite founder, Dee Poku.

Mori: There are a lot of preconceived notions about what kind of person is a great negotiator-- that it's the person who's aggressive, in your face and demands what they want and that's the furthest thing from the truth. What I've learned is the best negotiators are the people who have the courage to show up completely as themselves. Negotiations are about human connection and conversations. So you have to think, how often in the course of contemplating big decisions, do we sell ourselves short? The reason we have those challenges is not only that we think we have to show in up a certain way that maybe isn't true to ourselves but in that process, we tell ourselves this narrative that we are less than. You want to show up from a place of courage, or a true understanding of who you are, what strengths you possess and the power you actually have.

Understand who you are and bring your true authentic self to the conversation.

A lot of people also think negotiations are defined by the actual transaction itself but it's a conversation. It's everything that comes before that transaction that really is the defining part of the negotiation process. It's when you first meet somebody, it's the ability to be really present and really mindful, it's about being able to connect with them in some way, building affiliations, finding something in common. So for that to happen, you have to have a connection and have a conversation. Empathy supports better negotiation. When you approach this place of connection and humanity, you stop looking at these deals from the one time only interaction and start benefiting from this in perpetuity.

Dee: In your book, you say everyone can be a good negotiator. I think that I'm a good negotiator on behalf of someone else, on behalf of my company or on behalf of a friend, but not so much in advocating for myself. How do I change that mindset to become a better negotiator?

Mori: You're negotiating every day, whether it's with your kids or picking out an outfit. You do it without even thinking about it. So if you start there, you're coming from a place of a lot of experience and probably quite successful. There are ways to become better at this through practice. The common negotiation foundations are better preparation, and having the confidence to walk in and show up and appear prepared. That's where your power is. Studies show that when women negotiate on behalf of others, they actually exceed the outcomes that men generally get.

Dee: Tell me about the preparation part. What are the things I should do as far as the materials I should have to hand, but also in terms of mindset?

Storytelling is a huge part of a successful negotiation. You're not speaking at somebody, You're speaking with somebody.

Mori: The one piece of this that people don't necessarily think about in the course of preparation, that I would argue is most important, is spending some time in that preparation phase, in perfect stillness. You're mindful and you're really giving yourself a moment to think about what's most important to you? What are the values I hold? What won't I compromise on? We usually won't give on the things that define us and that we hold true. And as a result of that, on what will I compromise? You're reminding yourself how you want to be remembered, how you want to treat somebody and how you want to be treated in return. Spend some time honoring yourself and then you'll be able to honor yourself throughout that conversation.

Dee: What's the trick to the communication part? In your book you talk a lot about storytelling and persuasion. So it's not just about communicating your demands or ideas but weaving a story that is more captivating for the person on the other side of the table.

Mori: It's really important to think about who you are before you come in. Telling a positive story to somebody else is really hard, expressing your value is really hard if you don't even believe it yourself. So the storytelling part of this is, you can only be as persuasive as what you believe. It's hard to persuade somebody else to believe something that you don't even believe in. So that notion of coming to the table, having the narrative that's really communicating your value proposition, who you are, and being able to do it in a way that's believable, but also backed up. Data is a really big part of storytelling, because you're communicating the objective information that people can understand and hold on to. So when you come to the table prepared, it's actually strengthening your narrative. Because your narrative is not just in the subjective, it's that perfect mix of objective and subjective that works best.

Storytelling is also a huge part of successful negotiation. You're not speaking at somebody, You're speaking with somebody. So part of that is going to be understanding your counterpart as well. Empathy plays such a big role in emotional intelligence, the desire to build relationships, the wanting to sort of walk in somebody's shoes and understand their needs and that wants. So it's not just about you. It's really being able to understand somebody better and the ability to communicate your story to them in an effective way.

Dee: Sometimes, you're sitting across from somebody who isn't necessarily giving you that energy back - it might be in an argument with a spouse for example...

People don't usually dislike what we ask for, they react negatively to how we ask for something.

Mori: If you're negotiating with somebody who happens to have equal amounts of curiosity for you, and they're open, and they want to know more about you then it's a place that you approach from this person's curiosity. What you're committing yourself to isn't a specific outcome but to a process and that process is one in which you're walking. You're maybe slow walking, you're walking sort of in line with somebody where you're trying to learn about them and you're trying to have them learn about you. The more you try to understand somebody, the more you express a sense of sincere interest in someone, the more those walls start coming down. O Openness breeds innovation and conversation and all of this is setting up for that transaction to come. You're not focused on what that transaction is going to get you but on: "I really want to know you". Because that endpoint may change. Once you do this, you may actually have a much better outcome, one you didn't even imagine, because neither one of you were open to possibilities. In relation to domestic stuff, the people we know most are the hardest to be curious about. So if you actually step back and say, "you know what, I really want to hear you, I really want to know what it is that drives your perspective on this, let's just have a conversation about that". All of a sudden, you're leading with curiosity and not this commitment to an ending, or an outcome that you desired. You're committing to this process.

Dee: What are some patterns you see in bad negotiations?

Mori: Lack of curiosity. When ego rears its ugly head, that makes you close off because you start taking things really personally and it's hard to step away from the conversation. I think that anytime we're committed to an outcome and are not open to possibilities, it's really hard to have a great negotiation. And if you don't prepare enough, which then doesn't allow you to have confidence, that makes for a bad conversation and a bad negotiation.

Dee Poku: For me, another reason negotiations start going wrong, is because I get emotional about the conversation. Is there a tactic for managing emotion so that we can stay focused rather than getting into our feelings?

Mori: Our emotions can be really beneficial. Your happiness tells you that you're satisfied with a particular outcome and more satisfied with the way this conversation is proceeding. On the opposite side of that, if something's bothering you, it's informing you of a place that you're not comfortable with. What gets you into trouble with emotions is that you don't prepare for how you will deal with them. If things start escalating in ways you don't know how to handle, then de-escalate the emotions. You don't want them to overtake your rationale, or the way that you're conducting yourself. If get quite passionate, I just step away for a minute and clear my head. But preparation for it in advance is really key. "If this happens, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to breathe, I'm going to take a moment, I'm not going to react, I'm going to think." So it all goes into that preparation process.

Dee Poku: Another potential issue is going into a negotiation with someone you know quite well and there's this fear of damaging the relationship. How would you suggest that be handled?

Mori: So this is the truth, people don't usually dislike what we ask for, they react negatively to how we ask for something. So again, this is the knowing your audience, knowing who you're talking to, knowing that you want to honor the things that are most important to them. That's not at the expense of you and what you desire, but about really giving information away that could be well received. That goes back to emotional intelligence, having a sense of self but also really being quite connected to the person you're sitting across from. So being able to communicate allows people to see that you're not being greedy, or you're not asking for too much. You deserve the fulfillment but do it in a way that's kind, do it in a way that's respectful and do it with empathy.

Dee Poku: I often feel I connect really well but then in the end, walk away feeling like I might have given up more than I'm getting. How can I learn not to give up and still meet them halfway and still be connected?

Mori: There is that tangible part of preparation, which is about goal setting. People set high goals and aspirational outcomes than they desire because you're wanting more and allowing yourself the courage to want more. Those people actually do better in negotiations than people who come from a place of safety. My expectations can actually dictate the outcome, I'm in the driver's seat.

Dee Poku How do you negotiate when the person on the other side doesn't meet you in the negotiation by allowing the space and time?

Mori: That's where the negotiation begins. People think it's actually the transaction itself. It's everything around it as well. Its negotiating where you feel most comfortable and not being rushed into a decision or jumping into an opening offer. You can say "no, you know, I think we need to keep talking, I think we need to get to know each other better". You don't have to operate on somebody else's time or rules, you can establish your own.

Dee: For women of color, what tactics can we use to ensure our services are not undervalued? Because we do have to walk into negotiations and deal with preconceived ideas about who we are, and deal with how we know we're going to be received.

Mori: The really easy answer is to value yourself and do so courageously and know your worth, and have those conversations with yourself. Battle all the scars and the wounds and the biases that you've felt and the prejudice that you've experienced. And as hard as that seems, carrying the weight of that on our shoulders when we go into negotiations, can even physically bring us down. If you free yourself of that, and work on yourself and the stories you tell yourself, and have the confidence in yourself, that's half the battle. But there is bias, there is prejudice. We are guilty of it too - we'd be fooling ourselves to think that we don't judge people. But for women and particularly people of color, we're not only operating under the weight of that false narrative we've told ourselves, but also what society expects of us. Do the work on yourself. Because when you do that, then you are far more likely to be able to persuade people, regardless of what their biases were. That moment where you're connecting with somebody, that's what makes them change their minds. Give them something they didn't expect. Be open to conversation.

Dee: How do you move forward in negotiation when you've been turned down, when your request is denied eg a payrise?

Mori: Just go back and know it is not the end. It just means no to this, but it doesn't mean no to something else. So you know when you're told “no this doesn't work”, then the quick response to that should be “can you tell me why?” That way, it becomes the beginning of a conversation, an ability to extract information, it doesn’t close the door. Go back with more information.

If there was ever a time to work on yourself to form that narrative, to create a place for self love and self compassion, and having empathy for ourselves, this is that time. There's no better time than the present. I talked about having empathy for other people and I want to leave you with the importance of having empathy for yourself and making space for that. This is a great time for you to pivot and move into a place of confidence and growth and opportunity. I hope this opens your heart to negotiations and have it not be something scary, but something very necessary.



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