Reflections on a negotiation workshop: we’re better at it than we know

The Sunday before OSCON, I gathered a group of women who work with open “stuff” to participate in a workshop on negotiation with David Eaves. He talked a little bit about his recent work in open source communities in an interview with Ed Dumbill. I’ve mentioned David a few times in previous posts here, and was excited to finally get to meet him in person.

My goal in bringing people together was to launch an effort among open source communities to recognize negotiation as a core, required skill. I decided to target women in open source as the initial audience.

The day-long training was structured around two simulations, one based on personal experiences, and the other using an entertaining business situation – where two sides come together after about 45 minutes of research to negotiate an agreement.

Much of the “lecture” time was spent identifying key steps in a negotiation, and sharing a framework that helps individuals prepare for difficult conversations. A key feedback loop was:

It’s a very simple loop, but crystalizes much of the core of what negotiation is about. Preparation, execution, targeting a goal and reflection.

Like much of what I covered in the “Mistakes were made” talk, the diagram documents and reveals common sense as a system. Negotiation is a feedback loop, and there’s always opportunity for even better, more collaborative and satisfying deals.

Another revealing point in the workshop was that the goal of a negotiation is not necessarily to come to an agreement, but to find an acceptable resolution. That includes a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Which is to say – enter into a negotiation with a clear idea of what your alternative is, and what your bottom line is so that you can feel comfortable walking away knowing what your next step is (even if it is not your preferred step).

Finally, during the workshop and simulations, I realized how many of the research and bits of process that were suggested I was already doing! It was very nice to leave with a framework for future negotiation, and a set of questions to ask myself and others.

My reaction to the preparation was to consider how I could share whatever I prepared with my negotiating partner in the future. And then I realized that probably wouldn’t always work, but it was a lovely thought. What if we could develop the strength in more of our relationships to be that open and direct?

I highly recommend attending any workshop that David gives in the future, and will be blogging about some suggested reading as I get through the books.

Leslie Hawthorn has blogged about her experience.

We were able to hold the workshop, thanks to the sponsorships of Mozilla, Wikimedia Foundation, Google, Technocation, Inc and O’Reilly.