A Winning Approach to Negotiations: Self-Awareness, Flexibility, and Practice

lee-headshot-2-1Guest post by Katrina June Lee, Associate Clinical Professor, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

On September 21, the Moritz College of Law hosted the incomparable Marya Cody Kolman as its 2016 Lawrence Lecturer, named in honor of lawyer and law school educator James K. L. Lawrence (Moritz ‘65).

A Yale Law grad, Kolman is a long-time adjunct professor of negotiations and coach for The Ohio State University’s ABA mediation advocacy team. For more than 30 years, Kolman has helped train OSU law students to be, in her words, “high-quality ethical representatives.” Kolman’s full-time day job, since 1999, is Director of Mediation Services at Franklin County Domestic Relations Court in Columbus, Ohio.

In giving this year’s Lawrence Lecture, Kolman drew from her deep negotiations experience. The Lecture took place in the law school’s large auditorium and was attended by students, professors, and practitioners.

Kolman’s main theme for aspiring effective negotiators could be summed up as follows: reflect on and identify your own negotiating tendencies, build into your repertoire styles that do not come naturally to you, and practice so that you can adapt to any type of negotiating situation.

She started the lecture with a very telling story that revealed her main theme.  Over the years, as a coach for OSU’s ABA mediation advocacy student team, Kolman noticed that OSU’s team regularly beat teams that had practiced for months and months (sometimes years). Yes, OSU law students were (in Kolman’s words) “simply amazing” and benefited from education in an outstanding law school dispute resolution program. Still, Kolman wondered if there was something about their competition preparation that made OSU law students especially effective.

A winning approach

After some reflection and investigation, Kolman discovered that the OSU teams benefited from not being scripted and not being coached to follow a fixed protocol. Kolman learned that some law schools tried to script the roles for their students or require that they negotiate in a certain way. This approach to preparation differed significantly from Kolman’s approach.

Kolman described the OSU team approach, which emphasized self-awareness and flexibility. Coaches first watched the students and observed their negotiation styles. The coaches noted the students’ strengths and challenges as negotiators. They then helped the students build on their own style and be more effective negotiators using existing strengths. This approach proved to be much more effective than giving students a script or a fixed protocol on how to negotiate.

OSU team coaches had identified a winning approach. The approach focused on developing self-awareness about students’ “natural” negotiation styles and tendencies, and helping students build on their strengths and develop the ability to use other styles when situations called for them.

Raw talent is not enough. Be prepared.

Kolman emphasized that “raw talent” is not enough to be a successful negotiator. Lawyers need to learn about different styles and skills and practice them. Only through that exploration and practice can a lawyer learn what works best for him or her. Kolman coached the audience: Develop strengths and expand on them. Avoid “forcing yourself into a style that does not work for you.”

Even though everyone has negotiated before law school, whether at the grocery store or with family members at home, Kolman cautioned, lawyers should not enter negotiations without training, forethought, and preparation. As I tell my negotiations students, preparation is key.

When Kolman practiced law as a domestic relations attorney, she negotiated with opposing counsel on a daily basis, with 95 percent of cases settling before trial. Most opposing counsel were well-prepared, but some were not. Those who were not would come into the negotiation and start flipping through their files trying to figure out what was going on in the case. Not surprisingly, in those instances, Kolman was usually able to negotiate a very favorable settlement for her client.

Steps to effective negotiating

Kolman offered these steps for any law student or lawyer to become a better negotiator:

Analyze your personal negotiation style and preferences.

One place to start is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument. For a price, a person can assess which conflict-handling modes he or she is overusing or underusing. The five conflict-handling modes are competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising, and collaborating. Kolman noted that, without paying for the T-K Conflict Mode Instrument, you can still assess your conflict-mode tendencies through honest hard reflection.

“Think about what’s you” and work on styles that are “not you.”

Once a person has identified personal preferences and tendencies, Kolman urged audience members to “think about what’s you,” maximize your own tendencies, and work on other styles that may not come naturally. Bringing together the strengths of “natural tendencies” and an ability to use other styles as needed will help a lawyer become a well-rounded negotiator. For example, the lawyer who naturally tends to use an accommodating style will find it helpful to learn how to use a competing style so he or she can use it when needed.

Learn about different negotiation styles and practice.

Training and practice help build effective negotiation skills. Kolman commented that “the beauty of a negotiation class” is that “you can try things out.”

Always be willing to learn the interests of your client and the other party.

Kolman emphasized the importance of learning the interests of a client and the other side. This can help with problem-solving and collaborating to find a solution that all parties are happy with. In our negotiations courses at OSU Moritz College of Law, students learn skills that help with exploring interests, including active listening, asking helpful questions, and achieving an optimal balance of empathy and assertiveness in a negotiation.

Kolman encouraged all aspiring negotiators to work on being more self-aware about personal tendencies, understand that raw talent is usually not enough to be an effective negotiator, and to practice styles that do not come naturally.

After reading this post, consider what your personal style is in handling conflict, and try a different one.

 

Sources cited in the 2016 Lawrence Lecture (arranged alphabetically here):

Roger Fisher, William Ury & Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes, 2nd Ed. (Penguin Books 1991).

Gary Goodpaster, A Primer on Competitive Bargaining, 1996 J. Disp. Resol. 325.

Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Toward Another View of Legal Negotiation: The Structure of Problem Solving, 31 UCLA Law Review 754 (1984).

Robert H. Mnookin, et al., Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes (Belknap Press 2000).

Andrea Kupfer Schneider, Shattering Negotiation Myths: Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness of Negotiation Style, 7 Harv. Negot. L. Rev. 143 (2002).

Richard Shell, Bargaining Styles and Negotiation, 17 Neg. J. 155 (2001).

Listen Like a Lawyer is grateful for this post by Katrina June Lee, Associate Clinical Professor and a member of the Dispute Resolution faculty at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where she teaches Legal Negotiations and Settlements. Moritz’s DR program is No. 1 in the 2017 U.S. News & World Reports ranking of law school DR programs. Professor Lee notes her thanks to Marya Kolman for her insightful Lecture and for sharing her notes and slides for use as background for this post, and to Professor Ellen Deason for her review and comments on this post.

 

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