I recently traveled to the University of Oxford, meeting one-on-one with some of the most fascinating people on the planet. The meetings were part of a larger project—stay tuned!—but, since leadership often hinges on negotiation, I want to take a moment to share some of the principles I relied on.

  1. Do your homework. I spent many hours setting up a list of people to meet with and learning details about each. During meetings, people asked whom else I was meeting with. When I recited the list, they were reassured that they were in good, influential company and that their time was well spent. More than this, I knew about each person’s research, career path, and interests. This allowed me to move the conversation from my and the Jepson School’s interest to their own work and career choices without losing momentum.
  2. Listen. At Jepson, we emphasize listening in leadership. Before I traveled to Oxford, I spoke on the phone with an experienced negotiator. We discussed the need to lay out some possible ideas and—here is the critical part—ask and listen to what was attractive to that person. One woman I met with said that it was helpful that I approached her with a fairly good idea of what I’m looking for but also left room for a great deal of flexibility around the edges. Only by listening can you determine if you’re on the right track.
  3. Be prepared to adjust. “Pivot” is a buzzword used today, but the idea of being able adjust is well established. If you hear something that seems to throw up a roadblock, think quickly about whether there is a way to adjust and still achieve your goal. To do so, you need to have already thought through what you can and cannot concede. Once you have that in mind, you can adjust within the parameters you’ve laid out.
  4. Keep a laser-like focus on your vision. The conversation will meander. The person you’re meeting with will have had various career interests and footprints. It’s important to allow the conversation to explore their interests and loyalties. However, do not let go of a detail or thread. If you raise a question and the discussions moves away from it, listen and converse, and then return the conversation to your initial query.

While none of these will ensure the success of negotiations, the absence of any one could torch the enterprise. Following these steps isn’t easy; it requires tremendous powers of concentration. If you’re like me, you’ll be exhausted but very happy when you’re finished.

On negotiation and leadership

Sandra J. Peart

Dr. Peart is Dean of the School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. She is an economist with special interests in leadership and economics and leadership ethics. More about her: Go to jepson.richmond.edu and see faculty information.

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